NEW YORK -- In 1995, Pedro Rosario went to an animal shelter in the Bronx, looking to adopt a dog. Only he didn't leave with just a dog. He left with a job, too.
Rosario spent the next 16 years of his life working for New York City Animal Care and Control, and he's still helping animals to this day. He founded New Beginnings Animal Rescue in 2010, dedicating his life to helping dogs, cats and other animals find good homes.
On Wednesday, the Yankees surprised Rosario at his shelter as part of HOPE Week, an annual set of community outreach events the team has done since 2009.
Outfielders Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki, reliever Shawn Kelley and a group of people from the Yankees' front office, including Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal, walked into the Bronx shelter at approximately 11 a.m., each carrying a bag of dog food with them.
"I was speechless. I couldn't say [anything]. I was in shock," Rosario said. "I'm still kind of in shock that they're here."
Rosario gave everyone a tour of the facility, which featured four rooms filled with rescued animals, then put his guests to work. Gardner and Steinbrenner helped give Trixie, one of Rosario's dogs, a bath outside the shelter.
The Yankees brought Rosario onto the field for batting practice, and they also opened an information booth for him to talk to anyone interested in adoption inside Gate 4 at Yankee Stadium. The booth will be open until the fifth inning of Wednesday's game.
"I'm an animal lover. I have a dog," Gardner said. "I just wanted to come out and see what Pedro has been doing for so long and come out and be a part of a great cause.
"I know what it means to have a dog be so close to you and be such an important member of your family. Hopefully we can bring a little awareness to what's going on out here and help these dogs find a home."
New Beginnings Animal Rescue currently has 35 dogs and 50 cats under its roof, and it has room to house up to 65 or 70 dogs. It also has a seagull as one of its current residents, but Rosario said it's just a shelter pet.
Four paid employees and seven volunteers work with Rosario, doing daily chores that include walking, feeding, bathing and training the animals. Many of the volunteers are local youths who have an interest in working at a shelter or become veterinarians in their futures.
Much of the money to fund the shelter comes from Rosario's kennel, NYC's Top Dog, and donations.
"It's a testament to how much he cares about these animals," Kelley said. "It's really cool. You can really tell how much passion he has for the animals."
Rosario puts prospective owners through extensive screening processes before they can adopt an animal, checking references, their ability to pay their rent and the suitability of their home. They won't approve of a new owner until Rosario feels comfortable with where the dog is going.
"I would love to have pet owners out there really take care of their animals and be responsible," Suzuki said. "They are a part of your family, and to really take care of them so things like this doesn't happen."
It's a labor of love for Rosario. He told the story of a Great Dane named King, who he found at someone's home. The dog was emaciated, and, at six-and-a-half months old, was nearly 30 pounds underweight. So Rosario brought him to the shelter and rehabilitated him for almost four months.
Now, King lives in with a "happy family" in Queens with other dogs and children.
"That's what we're all about," Rosario said. "When an animal comes, however, they come, we're able to help put them where they belong health-wise, weight-wise, issue-wise, and make sure they get the right home."
Gardner, Suzuki and Kelley all own dogs. So as soon as they heard about Rosario and his work in the Bronx, they knew they wanted to go to the Bronx and give New Beginnings Animal Rescue a little more hope for its cause.
"I love dogs, animals, and I have a couple little dogs," Kelley said. "So when I saw one of the days had to do with helping find homes for animals, and I read a little about what Pedro has done in the bio, I was like, 'Yeah, that's all me.' I signed up right away."
Josh Vitale is an associate reporter for MLB.com.