Game Plan: Jim Irsay Steps Up for Animals

Issue 1|Winter 2024

A Dog and a Dolphin Captured the Indianapolis Colts Owner’s Heart


Jim Irsay, the owner of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, is a man of action and compassion. Inspired by Drake, his beloved mixed-breed “holy dog” who is always by his side, including at Colts training camps and games, Irsay donated $1 million to develop Drake’s House, an Indianapolis shelter dedicated to providing animals in need with care and love. He’s also given millions to Kicking the Stigma, an initiative that he, his daughters, and the Colts launched in 2020 to raise awareness for mental health and destigmatize mental illness.

© Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Colts
The dog who started it all: Drake inspires Irsay’s actions for animals.

Irsay’s Seaside Sanctuary

When he learned about the plight of the orca Lolita (also known as Tokitae), who was kept in a small concrete tank at the Miami Seaquarium for over 50 years, Irsay pledged $20 million to build a seaside sanctuary in her home waters off Washington state, where she had been abducted from her family, and to transport her there.

Lolita the orca at Miami Seaquarium

Lolita was headed for a seaside sanctuary, thanks to Irsay’s generosity.

The Miami Seaquarium agreed to Lolita’s transfer following a massive PETA campaign that included dozens of protests; support from the late Bob Barker, PETA Honorary Director Kate del Castillo, and other celebrities; hundreds of thousands of actions from PETA supporters; multiple lawsuits; and many behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Rest in Peace, Lolita

Tragically, Lolita never got to return to her home waters. After spending her life in the smallest, bleakest orca tank in the world, she died as she had lived – deprived of any semblance of a natural life.

“I am heartbroken that Lolita has left us,” Irsay said in a statement. “Her story captured my heart, just as it did millions of others.”

Irsay’s generosity not only marked a milestone in the push for animal liberation but also sparked a broader awakening, shedding light on the plight of captive orcas worldwide.

“No one asked for suffering, but it gives you great compassion and understanding. … That’s where we can’t get overwhelmed in trying to help change the world.”
– Jim Irsay

Hope for Corky

When Lolita died, PETA held a vigil outside the Miami Seaquarium. We’re determined to get other captive orcas out of their concrete prisons. The next day in San Diego, PETA supporters descended on another marine abusement park – SeaWorld – to demand the release of Corky, who’d been violently captured the year before Lolita. Used as a breeding machine, Corky has grieved the deaths of all seven of her babies and has spent 54 years in captivity, longer than any other orca in the world. Her siblings still swim free, and PETA is urging SeaWorld to give her a chance to be near them, by sending her to a seaside sanctuary.

Changing the Game, From the Stadium to the Sky

Under Jim Irsay’s watch, Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Colts, has revolutionized the culinary landscape by adding an array of animal- and Earth-friendly options to its menu. And Irsay has taken vegan design to new heights by giving his private plane a vegan makeover with the help of his partner, PETA Vanguard member Michelle Paul. Together they used animal-free materials to replace leather and wool in the carpets, seat covers, headliners, and sidewalls – all featuring the Colts logo. He renamed the plane the Blue Vegan.

The interior of the Colts' plane, the 'Blue Vegan'© Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Colts


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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind