2013 No More Homeless Pets National Conference: Save Them All

The 2013 Jacksonville edition of the No More Homeless Pets National Conference is in the (record) books. There are so many great storylines, it’s hard to know where to start. There is much more that I’d like to share with readers than I can do justice to in one blog post. So, over the next couple of weeks, we plan to highlight important, informative topics that emerged in various sessions. Here is a quick overview to get started that will give you a sense of the event.

How about we start with the record attendance of over 1,500 animal lovers from 46 states and various countries, with folks traveling from a handful of Canadian Provinces, Brazil, Spain, and as far away as Australia. The best news, however, is that this was the first No More Homeless Pets Conference for 70 percent of those in attendance.

With a topline theme of Save Them All, the energy and excitement in Jacksonville was like an electric current running through the crowd from Thursday to Sunday, and with good reason. The conference is much more than an extended assembly of “how to” sessions; it is a celebration of the no-kill movement philosophy, achievements, history and vitality. It is a spiritual refresher and an assertion of collective purpose and power to change the world of animal welfare.

The first general session set the tone. Following a brief welcome address from Best Friends co-founder and CEO Gregory Castle on our mission and the Best Friends’ Save Them All call-to-action campaign, the session moved into a no-kill timeline panel discussion, moderated by Julie Castle, featuring Best Friends co-founders Faith Maloney, Gregory Castle, Steven Hirano and me. The panel provided first-person observations of the unfolding of events and the evolution of the philosophy that have shaped our movement going back to the watershed events of 1984. That was the year when Best Friends Animal Sanctuary was launched and Richard Avanzino gave the city of San Francisco five year's notice that the San Francisco SPCA would be out of the animal control business by 1989 – probably the single most important decision in the history of modern animal welfare. Enriching and enlivening the session was the presence in the conference hall of featured no-kill icons, such as Rich Avanzino, Mike Arms, Becky Robinson, Susanne Kogut, Bonney Brown, Ellen Jefferson, Rick Ducharme and Brent Toellner, each of whom joined the panel on stage at the end of the session to a standing ovation.

This year’s conference also included a Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program track filled with continuing education credit–eligible sessions for veterinarians on the front lines of shelter work. Topics included seriously important lifesaving issues, such as a Kitten University to help save more of those delicate lives in challenging shelter environments and Ringworm Roundup sessions aimed at helping shelters understand and get a handle on this highly contagious infection that can hamper shelter operations and cost lives if not managed quickly and effectively. It is difficult to overestimate the important role that progressive shelter veterinarians play in achieving and sustaining no-kill for animal control shelter facilities.

The conference was capped with a powerful closing celebration and keynote address by Best Friends chief communications officer Julie Castle. A crowded ballroom got into a celebratory mood with music from Jacksonville cover band Last to Leave that put the room into high gear. They were followed by Save Them All testimonials from a cross section of presenters, volunteers and Best Friends staff, which set the table for Julie’s inspiring speech that focused on the “why” of Best Friends’ call to action, Save Them All, as an essential extension of the no-kill philosophy. We’ll have a video of that session available for everyone to enjoy in a future post.

The conference was rich in information for individuals and organizations at every stage of no-kill evolution and accomplishment from beginner to “been there, done that” old hands, and we are eager to share our take on some of that in upcoming posts.

Audio CDs of the entire conference will be available for purchase in a few weeks, and I highly recommend them to anyone who was unable to attend. Playbook digests of no-kill model cities will be available for download in about a month.

Jacksonville, which has hit the no-kill threshold through a collaborative community effort led by Rick DuCharme of First Coast No More Homeless Pets, Scott Trebatoski of Jacksonville Animal Care and Protective Services, and Denise Deisler of Jacksonville Humane Society, was a great host city for the conference, and the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront was the perfect venue. A big shout-out to all concerned from a grateful team at Best Friends.

If you were with us in Jacksonville, we’d love to hear your feedback.

Francis Battista