New Orleans Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone volunteers his time with Animal Rescue New Orleans in hopes of helping find shelter animals permanent homes. Anzalone poses for photos with different dogs to help show their personalities and increase their adoption potential.
The interactions were, in a word, "golden."
Alex Anzalone smiled easily, laughed genuinely and operated dutifully while he nuzzled, hugged and steered. The dogs with which he was being photographed weren't totally attentive to all commands, and perhaps that made the session at Animal Rescue New Orleans all the more adorable.
Imagine the New Orleans Saints' 6-foot-3, 241-pound linebacker talking baby talk, trying to convince each of six dogs (in separate photo shoots) to look toward the camera, or sit still long enough to strike a pose, or not wriggle as he cradled them or, in one instance, held one up for a Simba-style presentation.
This isn't the Anzalone that Saints fans are accustomed to seeing.
That guy – blonde hair flowing from beneath his helmet, almost lengthy enough to cover the name across the back of his jersey – doesn't handle opponents with any measure of delicacy.
The fumbles he forced against two elite receivers in 2018 – pounding Minnesota's Adam Thielen in the second quarter with New Orleans trailing 13-10, and walloping Atlanta's Julio Jones in the second quarter while the Saints led 17-3 – were indicative of the level of wrath Anzalone can unspool.
But there's no wrath-unspooling when he's at ARNO. There, Anzalone is, well – you knew it was coming, but it's appropriate – a Saint.
If he's not a lead spokesman for the organization, he likely is its most notable and recognizable.
"There are tons of different charities but it's something that really strikes my chord," Anzalone said. "It's something I love to do, and I like spending time with animals and people who love animals, as well."
It's no act. He linked with ARNO in his rookie season, 2017, and has been a regular presence since. He takes the relationship personally, for good reason.
"It's something that I got into in college," he said. "I have a rescue dog myself – Sammy – and just learning throughout the process how adopting an animal works and everything like that kind of drew my interest.
"My fiancé (Lindsey Cooper) kind of introduced it to me a little bit. She grew up adopting animals. But doing it myself, and with her, kind of opened my eyes up to it. And then, kind of just researching it more and more kind of opens your eyes that there are dogs out there you can adopt, pure-bred dogs that you can find that are perfectly normal and not spend a lot of money on, either.
"When I got drafted here I came out, checked it out and met up with everyone there. I try to help out where I can. I've taken pictures with dogs, tried to incentivize adopting an animal – 'You can adopt this dog and get this picture with myself.' Just try to give back like that."
The level nearly is immeasurable of appreciation for his work.
"He's our only (athlete spokesperson)," said Ginnie Boumann, vice president and one of the directors of ARNO. "And we call him the biggest animal lover in the NFL. And I haven't been challenged yet, so I'm going to keep saying it. He and his fiancé are so devoted to animals.
"Alex comes here every so many months in order to do a photo shoot. However, he tweets, he retweets pictures of the animals, he comes by to help out. When we have a call for 'laundry angels' because we're trying to get enough people to help out, because it's cold and we have all these extra blankets, he and Lindsey are angels and they help us in any way they can."
Boumann said Anzalone's celebrity status obviously works to their favor.
"It's extraordinary," she said. "There's such a following for the New Orleans Saints, that the moment you put a dog or anything about ARNO with Alex, it's retweeted all over the place. There's such a following. It's really significant, and it helps bring about more awareness to the need for rescue – not only adopting, but volunteering here or at events.
"Lindsey is incredible. Her grandmother is into rescue, so she has it in her blood. So even as they're making all of their own (wedding) plans, they're always checking in on us, always seeing how they can help."
Anzalone appears to have found his sweet spot there, as much as he did on the field last year, his second in the NFL. He played all 16 regular-season games (he had a season-ending injury in his fourth game as a rookie) and totaled 59 tackles, two sacks, an interception, three forced fumbles and two passes defended.
For ARNO, he isn't able to invest as much time as he'd like, but it's valuable nonetheless.
"I spend time with the animals, just showing everyone that these dogs are lovable," he said. "It's fun to do and it's good to give back.
"I'm able to come every once in a while per my schedule. When I do, I try to put some time into it and do some things that help out and give back. A little bit goes a long way."