No More Homeless Pets Conference in Jacksonville, Florida

Best Friends Conference in Jacksonville, Florida, focuses on how to make communities no-kill for shelter dogs and cats.
By Erin Fell

Over 1,500 of the country's brightest and most determined participants arrived at the 2013 No More Homeless Pets National Conference in Jacksonville, Florida, with one goal in mind - to identify the tools they need to save more lives and take their communities to no-kill.

Saving shelter dogs and cats

Audience at the No More Homeless Pets Conference in Jacksonville, FloridaRegistration transported me back to college orientation. It's the energy - a potent mix of anticipation peppered with the excitement that comes with feeling that you're on the precipice of something vital. In this case, you're part of a movement to Save Them All.

Best Friends' new call to action, Save Them All, embraces the idea that we can save every pet in every shelter. It might seem like a lofty goal, but among the remarkable people I met, I never once heard anyone say, "Can we do it?" I only heard, "How can we do it?" One of nearly 350 No More Homeless Pets Network partner participants, Chris Padmore of First Coast No More Homeless Pets, says, "Being at the conference gives us so much motivation, increases our energy and our drive to achieve the goal to Save Them All."

From the 14 x 20-foot video wall offering a virtual Best Friends Animal Sanctuary experience to the 50-plus workshops and general sessions, networking lunches, exhibit hall, evening socials, and message board hub, this year's conference seemed to catch even the attention of folks at the hotel who were not attending the conference.

Eager attendees came from 46 states, five Canadian provinces, the Cayman Islands, Australia, Brazil and the Bahamas … all to soak in four days of out-of-the-box ideas from over 80 innovative speakers from across the country. With topics ranging from "Zeuterin: Fast, Easy Neutering for High-Volume Programs" to "Saving More Kittens with Kitten University," there was something for everyone.

The workshops were as diverse as the people attending, and whether you are a one-man (or one-woman) rescue crew from rural Georgia or a metropolitan municipal shelter, the atmosphere was one of genuine excitement with a spirit of collaboration. It's just the kind of can-do attitude that's behind our new call to action.

Florida animal conference attendees' reactions

Tia Williams, director of Miami's Smitten with Kittens, sees the conference as a neutral oasis of sorts - a place where people, who may not always agree in their communities, can come together, lay down their differences, and embrace the big picture of saving lives. Says Tia, "The conference was a one-of-a-kind opportunity to network, get motivated and inspired. There was a model here for everybody, and if all these places around the country are making it work, there's no excuse we can't all do it, too. We don't have to agree on everything, but we all agree that we want to Save Them All." Tia and fellow director Ismailia Rashid are returning conference-goers. Three years ago, they attended the conference in Las Vegas, which they say was a deciding factor in starting their rescue group.

Then there is Jay Elliot, director of Health and Human Services with Edison Municipal Animal Shelter in the township of Edison, New Jersey (Health and Human Services oversees the shelter). He couldn't be more jazzed about making their new trap/neuter/return (TNR) program a success. A health department going door to door in their community to promote TNR isn't just surprising, it's pretty darn progressive. Says Jay, "It's sound public health, and it's working."

A New Leash on Life with Charlie at the No More Homeless Pets Conference in JacksonvilleBut then animal welfare has always attracted people who just don't give up - people with a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of mentality who embrace challenge and believe that with a little sweat and ingenuity, we can accomplish anything.

It's why Debbie Dodd and her crew from A New Leash on Life stopped during their conference drive from Huntsville, Alabama, to Jacksonville to spend two hours at a freeway truck stop to rescue a frightened shepherd mix they now call Charlie.

Making it happen

Gandhi said, "Your words become your actions," and if you asked any conference participant as they packed to go home Sunday, they'd tell you without hesitation that, together, we will Save Them All.

So if you didn't have a chance to come to Jacksonville, be sure to join this year's attendees who are already planning for the 2014 Best Friends National Conference, October 23-26, in Las Vegas. Best Friends chief marketing and communications officer Julie Castle reminded us in her keynote address that now is the time to take action in our communities. So please save the date while you help us Save Them All!

See what other Best Friends events are coming up.

Photos by Valerie Eikenberg