2013: A benchmark year for Best Friends and the animals

When my colleagues and I broke ground for Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in the cold, high desert (we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of that memorable day in just a few weeks), we could never have imagined how powerful and enduring the impact of that first shovel strike would be. As it turned out, we weren’t simply creating a sanctuary with that first turn of red earth – we were helping to create the no-kill movement. Over the intervening years, Best Friends has continued to break new ground, challenge convention, and change the face of animal welfare at home and abroad. And 2013 was no exception. Here a few of the notable achievements from the past year that your generous support and partnership have helped to win for the animals:

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is the nation’s largest refuge for abandoned, abused and special-needs domestic animals. On any given day, over 1,700 dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, horses, pigs and wildlife (that are being rehabilitated) call the Sanctuary home. The Sanctuary is the heart of Best Friends, and it is here that the no-kill values and philosophy that guide our work around the country were born and continue to be nurtured. Over 26,000 animal lovers visited the red rock home of Best Friends in 2013, with more than 6,000 volunteering their time to help on site.

At the Sanctuary in 2013, more than 1,000 animals were adopted into new, loving homes, having received the personalized medical, emotional and training rehabilitation that they needed to enjoy success in their new lives, while our medical team performed over 3,500 spay/neuter surgeries. Many of these were provided free or at low-cost to meet the needs of rural community cat caregivers and the underserved animals on the Navajo reservations.

Understanding that we may never be able to safely place some of the animals that we take in, the Sanctuary provides the gold standard of quality lifetime care if needed through the dedicated work of our animal care staff, veterinarians, trainers, techs and volunteers.

In keeping with these benchmark standards of care, in 2013 we built new animal care buildings at Piggy Paradise, Rabbits and Cat World. Also, we are entering the final stages of completion of our most ambitious construction project ever – a state-of-the-art clinic that will meet the changing needs of our Sanctuary residents. These critical additions were made possible entirely by special donor gifts, large and small, from committed Best Friends members and friends.

Save Them All is Best Friends’ call to action that we launched as a national campaign in the fall of 2013. Save Them All is a concise and positive framing of our organizational mission, which is to bring about a time when there are no more homeless pets. We know that it will require the work and commitment of many organizations and individuals to Save Them All, but we are prepared to lead, and we believe that together, we can Save Them All.

The biggest step toward mission achievement is to end the killing of homeless pets in our nation’s shelters. Everything that we do and every donor dollar that we spend beyond the boundaries of the Sanctuary is targeted toward ending shelter killing either through the direct action of Best Friends programs or through the empowerment and funding of more than 1,000 Best Friends Network partner organizations in communities throughout America.

In Los Angeles, we are engaged in the most ambitious campaign ever, led by a national organization to change the face of public animal sheltering. Our goal is to transform Los Angeles into a no-kill city by 2017. To accomplish this goal, which we believe will set the trend for other cities across the nation, we have entered into a groundbreaking public/private partnership with the city to operate one of the city shelters as the Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center. Also, we have created and are funding the No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA) Coalition, which has grown in the last year from 55 to 73 partner organizations. In 2013, we opened a second pet adoption center, this one in West Los Angeles under the NKLA banner. The new center includes daily adoption space for our coalition partners.

Best Friends performed more than 6,000 spay/neuter surgeries at our L.A. center and funded an additional 8,000 surgeries targeted to pets of low-income families through our NKLA partners. We found homes for 3,400 city shelter pets, while our new kitten nursery, operating with the 24/7 support of 400+ volunteers, took on the care of 1,766 neonatal kittens. Such kittens are routinely killed in municipal shelters because they are so vulnerable to disease, and most require hand-feeding every two hours – care requirements beyond the capabilities of large city shelters. Topping off our lifesaving efforts in Los Angeles this year was the safe transport of over 3,000 mostly small dogs from L.A. city shelters to adoption-guarantee partner organizations around the country.

The bottom line is that shelter killing at L.A. Animal Services shelters was reduced over the previous year by 4,300 dogs and cats, resulting in a total of more than 8,500 fewer shelter deaths in city shelters since we began the NKLA campaign in 2012.

In our home state of Utah, where Best Friends began pioneering no-kill programs in 2000, we have seen our lifesaving work continue to bear fruit. Twenty Utah communities are now regarded as no-kill. We are currently working most closely with the two highest population communities in the state – Salt Lake County and West Valley City. In another public/private partnership, Best Friends created a nursery for neonatal kittens from Salt Lake County Animal Services. Six hundred kittens were brought into the program, easily surpassing the target goal of 500.

Thanks to the work of our staff and volunteers, both West Valley City and Salt Lake County are on the brink of a 90 percent save rate for all animals entering their respective systems – generally considered the qualifying threshold of a no-kill community.

In the greater New York area, we began 2013 with continuing support for the animals displaced by Hurricane Sandy and provided reconstruction grants to 20 Best Friends Network partners. Our two New York–area Super Pet Adoptions helped to find new homes for 750 homeless pets, while the New York Strut Your Mutt event raised over $250,000 for local rescues and shelters. Capping 2013, we were greatly honored to be co-presenters of the Blessing of the Animals, along with Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine and the New York Post. The multi-denominational event took place at the venerable Christ Church in Manhattan and was co-led by senior minister Stephen Bauman and senior Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein. More than 650 animals were brought to the altar to receive a blessing.

Community Programs and Services (CP&S) is that component of Best Friends outreach that includes our initiatives targeting the three major factors contributing to animal shelter populations: community cats, pit-bull-type dogs, and puppy mills. CP&S also coordinates our support of Best Friends Network partners.

Taking a bite out of the puppy mill business … when Best Friends entered the fray in the decades-old fight against the abuses of puppy mills, we initiated a new and effective strategy. What better way to shut down puppy mills than to reduce consumer demand and close retail channels for what the abusers were selling? We took the fight out of the hands of reluctant federal and state lawmakers and regulators, and put it firmly into the hands of the animal-loving public in their role as consumer and taxpayer. By mounting rigorous public education campaigns at pet stores selling mill-bred pets and working with city councils to address the negative effect of puppy mill sales on local animal shelter populations and adoptions and associated taxpayer costs, Best Friends changed the conversation about puppy mills, and the effect was immediate. Just a few years on from that fundamental change in strategy, 43 municipalities and county governments have enacted a ban on the retail sale of milled dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores, unless the animals are from shelters or rescue groups. The biggest win was this year’s passage of the law by the Los Angeles City Council. Like many others, it was written with help and consultation from Best Friends puppy mill initiatives staff. The domino effect has brought communities as diverse as Los Angeles and San Diego, California; Phoenix, Arizona; and Toledo, Ohio; along with several Canadian cities; into the movement to end puppy mill abuse.

Our community cat partnerships, made possible by supporting grants from PetSmart Charities, has enabled Best Friends to create shelter-integrated trap/neuter/return (TNR) programs in cooperation with municipal shelters in San Antonio, Albuquerque, and Baltimore. These collaborative projects have greatly reduced the number of cats entering those shelters and consequently greatly reduced the number of cats dying in those shelters. In our home region of Southern Utah, Best Friends active TNR program has been a key element in bringing several communities to no-kill.

Best Friends pit bull initiatives are aimed primarily at the legal challenges posed by breed-discriminatory legislation (BDL), which range in nature from outright bans on this type of dog, to shelter adoption prohibitions, to restrictive and punitive regulations for owning a pit bull or pit mix. Our legal team has helped to defeat or repeal BDL in 36 cities and four counties nationwide, positively affecting the lives of over 500,000 family pets.

Best Friends Network partners are key to our Save Them All call to action. We know we can’t do this on our own. We need strong, effective partners around the country. There was no better example of how this is working than the record attendance at our annual conference held this time in Jacksonville, Florida. There were 1,500 people who came together to discuss, learn and network about cutting-edge rescue programs around the country. And in 2013, Best Friends Strut Your Mutt fundraising events in 11 cities raised close to $1.7 million, with about $1.2 million going directly to our Network partners.

I, along with the entire staff of Best Friends Animal Society, send you our very best for a happy and prosperous New Year. You are our partners in this important work and we are immensely grateful for your support.

We believe that every life has intrinsic value and we are committed to working in collaboration with individuals and organizations everywhere to end shelter killing in this country. Together, we will Save Them All.