2016 Best Friends National Conference comes home to Utah

By Julie Castle

Best Friends was founded in 1984. It was in that year that the Best Friends founders acquired the Utah property that would become home to the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary for abandoned, abused and special-needs animals.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary remains the heart of our national organization and is home to more than 1,700 dogs, cats, horses, bunnies, birds, pigs, goats and assorted wildlife at various stages of recovery and rehabilitation. Each year we welcome more than 30,000 visitors to this beautiful place, which continues to blow my mind every single day.

Utah is our home state and another crucial moment in our history (and arguably the movement) occurred in the year 2000 when we created a statewide program. No More Homeless Pets in Utah (NMHPU) was the original name of that coalition, which included 26 humane organizations and 54 municipal shelters. NMHPU heralded a deliberate expansion of our no-kill philosophy to tackle killing in shelters with a comprehensive statewide strategic plan.

Some people were incredulous when we first introduced the idea of a no-kill state 17 years ago. Imagine some of the most rural areas in America embracing a progressive idea like no-kill. No way — not when some shelters in the state were still hooking up their old Chevy exhaust pipes to barrels of live animals and gassing them.

It took a series of what we call “apple pie ministry” visits to all corners of the state — places like Ephraim, Tabiona and Enoch. We were spreading the word about positive solutions that could lead the state to no-kill through our NMHPU coalition. The coalition is now known as No-Kill Utah (NKUT), and the entire state of Utah is on the threshold of no-kill with an 84 percent save rate.

Given the importance of Utah to our organization and to our movement, choosing Salt Lake City as the location for our national conference feels very appropriate. Hundreds of committed no-kill advocates, all involved in helping this nation end the killing of shelter pets, will descend on the city, ready to be educated and inspired. But most important of all, they will leave the conference recharged and ready to save more lives than ever before.

The conference has evolved greatly over the years. The first one, held in 2001 in Virginia Beach, Virginia, was called the No More Homeless Pets Conference, and it attracted about 300 attendees. This year’s Best Friends National Conference is expected to draw upwards of 1,500 people and is a must-attend event for people working to save animals. The conference team has been working the entire year to provide attendees with essential information, networking opportunities and an unforgettable experience.

It’s not just about being surrounded by hundreds of like-minded individuals who just like you are committed to saving them all. It’s not just about an exhibit hall filled with dozens of the most informative companies and organizations that can help you save more lives. It’s not just about inspiring messaging everywhere you look. And it’s not just about general sessions that make you feel like you’re ready to reach for the stars. It’s about all of those things and more.

The conference is a deep dive into the “how-to” of no-kill. Whether you are a rookie or a seasoned veteran, you will walk away from this conference with new tips and tricks on how to save more lives. The experience of learning from and hearing other no-kill leaders tell their stories has so inspired some attendees that they have gone home and engaged with their local shelters to help lead them to no-kill. We’ll be doing profiles in upcoming blogs of a few such individuals who are now speakers at our conference.

Can’t wait to meet you this year in Salt Lake City.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society