2016 Best Friends National Conference is almost underway

By Julie Castle

Note: The conference starts on Thursday, July 14. Online registration has officially closed. We will accept walk-in registrations starting on July 13 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

Can you feel the excitement in the air? I definitely can. This time of year is easily one of my favorites as we gear up for the Best Friends National Conference.

If you’ve never attended, you'll be forgiven for thinking it’s just a series of one-note seminars combined with an exhibit hall (in other words, just like any other conference). Nothing could be further from the truth! The national conference has grown over the years and so has its personality. It’s become this almost living thing — a visualization of the Best Friends brand, along with a gathering of the brightest and best among the folks in the no-kill movement.

We bring together the best speakers, who collectively are working on the front lines of the sheltering and rescue worlds and are innovating to save more lives. For example, here are a few of this year’s new speakers who are bringing their expertise to the table:

  • Hannah Shaw is probably better known as the “Kitten Lady.” Through her advocacy work on behalf of neonatal kittens, Shaw guides people through the perilous work of saving newborn cats. She does that by presenting seminars and by leveraging online platforms such as YouTube and Instagram, where she has thousands of followers.
  • Serving underserved pet owners is a new frontier in animal welfare. In Louisville, Kentucky, one organization realized that the less they judged and the more they helped, the more lives they saved. Maureen Keenan and Kelsey Westbrook with Saving Sunny Inc. will teach you how maintaining a “judgment-free zone” translates into not only compassionate outreach, but more effective outreach.
  • Foster care programs can save lots of lives in a community — especially targeted programs for dogs suffering from kennel stress and fear-based aggression. Kelly Duer of Fairfax County Animal Advocates and Kristen Auerbach from Austin Animal Services will describe how foster programs have helped them achieve no-kill status in their communities.

Each year as we lead up to this event, I write a post on this blog that attempts to describe the conference experience. I’ve used words like “inspiring” and “life-changing.” If you’ve never been to a Best Friends conference, you might think that I am just feeding you a line. But honestly, it really is that kind of event. Immersing yourself in this annual conference along with 1,200 like-minded people (all of whom are working to Save Them All) is a very powerful and life-affirming experience. It’s a unique conference, unlike any other I’ve ever attended.

The general sessions (which everyone attends) are especially compelling. This year I am excited to talk about the future of our movement — although I can’t reveal too much more than that. Jon Dunn, Best Friends’ senior manager of policy, will moderate Friday morning’s session with four titans of animal welfare: Tawny Hammond, Scott Giacoppo, Rebecca Guinn and José Ocaño. You’ll leave eager to get back to your community, full of understanding and ideas about how you can do what they’ve been able to achieve!

The networking is as good as the information presented, but to call it “networking” makes it sound a hell of a lot stuffier than it is. It’s really an excuse to let off a little steam and party! The annual Yappy Hour, held on Friday night this year, is always a great time. And on Saturday, after the “Save Them All Celebration,” where I will deliver my keynote address, we’ll be screening The Champions — the beautiful and heartwarming documentary that tells the story of the dogs rescued from the Michael Vick dogfighting case. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s another opportunity to see this incredible film among friends.

So don’t delay: Register right now and join us in Salt Lake City. Help us celebrate the accomplishments of the no-kill movement at this very special, one-of-a-kind event. Online registration ends today.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society