2014 Best Friends National Conference a success

I must confess that I don’t know much about fine wines, but those in the know assure me that they get better with age, exactly the way the Best Friends National Conference just seems to get better and better each year. The 2014 edition, held once again at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, was attended by more than 1,700 participants from around the world, each committed to ending shelter killing. And yes, that is a record number!

The conference is a powerful event, and more than any other conference that I have attended, ours conveys the palpable sense of a movement. It’s a mission-affirming experience for every attendee, including the leaders and innovators of the no-kill movement who are the featured presenters. The positive energy is infectious and no one, regardless of long they have been at this, is immune.

The weekend included a special 30th anniversary celebration to commemorate the 1984 founding of Best Friends, and in keeping with that theme there were two sessions dedicated to our founders. Founder sessions tend to be understandably heavy on nostalgia, and these were no exception. But thanks to the audience Q&A session, there were a lot of questions that touched on the underlying values that continue to guide Best Friends. They were wonderful to be a part of, but I’ll save the details of those conversations for another blog.

Julie Castle’s Save Them All celebration keynote speech was a highlight of the weekend. She presented a powerful and compelling picture of how the no-kill movement has been striving to Save Them All since its inception in the 1980s by continuously pushing the envelope on the definition of “adoptable” and on how to expand lifesaving when it comes to homeless pets.

Her focus was the emotionally charged story of the 22 Michael Vick dogs who came to Best Friends and how their rehabilitation has been a game changer for pit-bull-terrier-like dogs. But her narrative wove together the diverse, out-of-the-box thinking that has characterized our movement since the San Francisco SPCA’s Rich Avanzino began prioritizing the mostly overlooked shelter animals. (Rich liked to call them the “old and uglies.”) Best Friends also helped to put special-needs pets on many people’s wish lists.

The 30th anniversary celebration was capped with a 1980s-themed dance party at the hotel pool. The delicious food was overshadowed by dancing that went long into the evening.

My big takeaway from the national conference is something that seems obvious and may have been identified long ago by someone else. This is a women’s movement. I don’t mean that there is not a place and a need for men in no-kill, or that ours is a subset of the feminist movement. What I do mean is that the inexorable power and pulse of the no-kill movement is driven by women and we are better off for it. The conference was alive with this power that harnesses unabashed emotion, natural networking, easy friendships, trust and a bedrock appreciation of the intrinsic value of the lives of the animals we seek to help.

These are givens. They don’t need to be explained, rationalized or taught. The power of women as a force for good ensures the success and the social sustainability of the no-kill movement. That insight, however late in coming, makes me happy and reassured about our future. This is a big topic in itself and I don’t want to shortchange it with just a paragraph here — so I plan to do a blog dedicated to this and will look forward to your feedback.

In 2015, the conference will move to the summer, so less time to wait for the next one. And, if you’re an east coaster, more good news, because the Best Friends National Conference is coming to Atlanta, Georgia, July 16-19. For updates, make sure you’ve liked the Best Friends Conference Facebook page.

See you there!