Best Friends helps save nearly 90,000 lives in 2012

By Gregory Castle

Thank You! Best Friends directly saves or fixes tens of thousands of animals in 2012.

The mission of Best Friends Animal Society is to bring about a time when there are No More Homeless Pets, and 2012 was a watershed year for homeless pets and the no-kill movement. Because of your support, we collectively saved nearly 90,000 animals across the country.

The year rang in and out with a bang! In January, Best Friends Animal Society was named the Harris Poll EquiTrend Non-Profit Brand of the Year for the second year running, beating out over 100 well-known charities, such as the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and UNICEF. The year ended with the announcement just last week that the sale of puppy mill animals at the popular Westside Pavilion Mall in Los Angeles had come to an end after four years of dedicated work by our volunteers, who spent their precious weekends educating unsuspecting shoppers about the horrors of puppy mills and the puppies who are sold at pet stores, and the wonderful adoption alternative that awaits at local shelters.

In between, there were multiple stunning victories and accomplishments for homeless pets in which Best Friends played a leading role.

Best Friends initiatives

Our initiatives focus solely on animals who are at the highest risk of entering and dying in America’s shelter system: puppy mill castoffs, pit-bull-terrier-type dogs, and community cats.

Puppy mill initiatives: Best Friends drives dozens of cities to ban the sale of puppy mill dogs

For decades, the focus of ending abuse by puppy mills has been placed on the mills and breeding practices. Four years ago, Best Friends decided to take a different approach by focusing on the consumer, the sale of these dogs, and the stores where these dogs are sold. In my estimation, this has moved the dial in ending the cruel practice of milling more effectively, quickly, and efficiently than any other effort thus far. Take the message to the people, and they will respond. They will do the right thing, and the right thing they did!

L.A. made history this year with a municipal ordinance drive to end the retail sale of dogs, cats and rabbits in the city. Best Friends national puppy mill initiatives manager Elizabeth Oreck, who worked closely with ordinance sponsor Councilman Paul Koretz, was instrumental in drafting the code and orchestrating its passage. Elizabeth has led similar efforts across multiple Southern California cities and has provided expert support for such ordinance campaigns around the country and in Canada. This is important because, despite media exposés and puppy mill busts over the years attesting to their horrors, puppy mills have seen decades of continual growth. But now, Best Friends’ approach of combining local education outside pet stores with local legislation has begun to turn the tide against the industrialized breeding of pets, which ultimately burdens shelters with more animals while retail pet sales compete adversely with local rescue and shelter adoptions. This is a big win for the animals, and we are pleased and proud to have had a leading role in it. Join us in 2013 and get involved in our puppy mill initiatives.

Pit bull initiatives: Over 400,000 pit-bull-type dogs’ lives spared due to progressive action by Best Friends

Elsewhere, Best Friends pit bull initiatives, under the leadership of Ledy VanKavage, were critical to the passage of Ohio House Bill 14, which ended the only statewide breed-discriminatory law that banned the shelter adoption of American pit-bull-terrier-type dogs, their mixes, and, in fact, any dog who looked like it might have some pit bull in its background, regardless of how friendly the dog might be. The law also declared these dogs to be vicious by definition and imposed onerous burdens on responsible owners. Thousands of such dogs had died in Ohio shelters for no reason other than their appearance prior to the passage of HB 14, and thousands of lives will be saved because of it.

Thanks to the work of Ledy and her team in 2012, Best Friends has been able to positively impact the lives of nearly 400,000 dogs and their loving families by upending such laws or interceding in the passage of new breed-discriminatory laws and offering rational behavior– and reckless owner–based dangerous dog laws that are breed neutral and have proved to be much more effective in protecting the public from dog bites and attacks than laws that blindly discriminate against a category of dog based on appearance. Find out how you can help pit-bull-terrier-type dogs in 2013.

Cat initiatives: Model lifesaving programs for community cats lead the way nationally

Cats, along with pit-bull-type dogs, comprise a disproportionately high percentage of the animals dying in our nation’s shelters. Cats are a priority for Best Friends, and in 2012, under the leadership of Community Programs and Services director Holly Sizemore, we expanded our range of innovative model programs and public/private partnerships that are leading the way nationally and saving cats’ lives.

In Jacksonville, we continued our support of Feral Freedom, a collaboration between First Coast No More Homeless Pets and Jacksonville Animal Control, which we helped launch in 2008. Feral Freedom is, in effect, a public/private trap/neuter/return program that keeps community cats out of the shelter by bypassing it entirely and reducing feline shelter deaths in the city by over 50 percent in its first year of implementation.

In San Antonio, Best Friends provided a $450,000 start-up grant for San Antonio Pets Alive, and, thanks to funding provided by PetSmart Charities, we partnered directly with San Antonio Animal Care Services to create a comprehensive Community Cats Project. These model programs have combined to reduce the shelter killing in San Antonio by more than 5,000 animals in 2012 compared with 2011.

In Albuquerque, Best Friends staff, working closely with the Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department, has realized a 67 percent reduction in shelter cat deaths in the first year of a three-year project.

In Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Atlanta, our community cat program targeting low-income communities has resulted in the reduction of the shelter cat population from the target areas by significant margins and is demonstrating the effectiveness and efficiency of targeted programs.

Best Friends program communities

Utah: 7,435 more animals’ lives saved statewide this year over last year

Utah is Best Friends’ home state, and we have a special commitment to the animals here. The words “record lives saved” are music to the ears of each person who has ever stepped up to help reduce homeless animal deaths, and we heard that loudly and clearly in 2012. We all had a collectively joyous response to the just-released nine-month progress report that shows Utah on the fast track to taking the entire state no-kill. Under the leadership of our Utah executive director Anna Gonce, nine months in a row – from January through September – Utah experienced consistently declining shelter intake numbers, as well as 7,435 fewer animals dying in the shelter system.

There were many victories in Utah, but the highlight came from a no-kill contract partnership we struck in June with Utah’s largest municipality, West Valley City, which is located in the heart of Salt Lake County, to make the city no-kill. City officials agreed, and within three months of endorsing no-kill, the numbers at the shelter plunged significantly, and 2012 ended with an 82 percent save rate for shelter animals over 2011’s 58.7 percent.

Thanks to adoption and spay/neuter campaigns, combined with the development of a statewide coalition of 56 shelters and 26 rescue organizations, 10 Utah communities are now no-kill, and the entire state is on the verge of following suit. Our work in Utah is nationally recognized and imitated for its innovation and creativity. Since starting the program, Utah has delivered 237,000 spay or neuter surgeries, 331,000 adoptions by Best Friends and our coalition partners, and an 83 percent statewide save rate for dogs.

Los Angeles: 4,000 more animals’ lives saved citywide this year over last year

Throughout this blog post, I have been talking about innovation, public/private partnerships, and Best Friends’ commitment to ending shelter killing. Nowhere is all of that more to the fore than in Los Angeles.

In America’s second largest city, under the leadership of Julie Castle, Best Friends pulled together and is sponsoring a 53 member coalition to take L.A. to no-kill. The coalition, NKLA – No-Kill Los Angeles – launched in April of 2012 with an extensive advertising campaign created pro bono by advertising legend Lee Clow, who brought this country the stand-out creative for companies like Apple, Nike, Energizer and Nissan. He and his team at TBWA\Chiat\Day and their project content team, Let There Be Dragons, developed the NKLA ad campaign with an urban, edgy look that is direct and has generated buzz – and, more to the point, awareness of the NKLA initiative.

An important component of the initiative is Best Friends’ public/private partnership with the city of Los Angeles. In January of 2012, we signed a contract with the city to operate the Northeast Valley Shelter – a beautiful new facility that had never opened to the public due city budget shortfalls – as a pet adoption and spay/neuter center. In the first year of operation, under the leadership of Judah Battista, the Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center has saved over 3,000 dogs and cats from L.A. city shelters and provided low-cost and free spay/neuter services to those pet owners most in need. The NKLA coalition led by Best Friends has helped to reduce the deaths of L.A. city shelter animals by more than 4,000 in the first year. Visit for more information.

New York: To the rescue during Superstorm Sandy

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, and thanks to the generous outpouring of support from our members and friends, Best Friends New York programs, led by Jamie Rubin, and Best Friends Emergency Response team, led by John Garcia, was able to provide emergency support to shelters and rescues impacted by the storm from West Virginia to Connecticut. We transported shelter animals from the New York and New Jersey area to Network partner organizations beyond the storm’s reach and provided grants and support to rescues and shelters damaged by wind and floodwaters. In Staten Island’s worst-hit communities, we continue to distribute pet food to residents struggling to repair their homes and preserve their communities.

No More Homeless Pets Network: Over 29,000 animals helped through Best Friends support and funding, and $1.3 million raised for local rescues via Strut Your Mutt

We know we can’t accomplish our mission alone. Beyond all the work done by Best Friends staff across the country, we know that to achieve our mission, we need the strength and participation of like-minded organizations across the country, and that’s what the Best Friends No More Homeless Pets Network is all about. The Network is comprised of over 1,000 rescues and shelters that share our vision.

In 2012, under the leadership of our senior manager for Community Programs and Services Liz Finch, Best Friends helped over 29,000 animals across the country via our Network partners through a variety of grants, resources and intensive specialized casework. Network partners work in their local communities to help end shelter killing and benefit from their participation in the Network in a variety of ways. For example, last year, Strut Your Mutt, Best Friends’ annual dog walk led by our senior manager of events Greta Palmer, raised $1.3 million for local Network partners. Strut Your Mutt is a great example of sharing the wealth to benefit the animals. In 2012, Best Friends organized, produced and promoted Strut Your Mutt in nine cities. Local partners were invited to sign up sponsors for their teams, with all the funds raised by each group going directly to their programs. For many rescues, that meant their entire annual budget. For others, it meant they could cover vet and boarding bills for more rescues.

No More Homeless Pets National Conference: Now one of America’s largest Animal Welfare conferences with 1,500 people in attendance

This year’s annual conference in Las Vegas, led by Cathie Myers, was the biggest and best yet, with over 1,500 people in attendance from around the United States and abroad. The conference was four days of presentations and workshops by the leaders of our movement sharing best practices and new ideas and building inter-organizational relationships that will translate into lives saved. The power and importance of the No More Homeless Pets Conference cannot be overstated, and I am pleased to announce that next year’s conference will be on the East Coast in Jacksonville, Florida, October 10-13.

The Sanctuary: Our heart and soul

And finally, there is the Sanctuary, the heart and soul of Best Friends.

It is here where it all began, and it is here where we continue to break new ground, under the leadership of Animal Care director Judah Battista, in working with special-needs animals and those dogs, cats, bunnies, birds and horses who need just a little extra TLC in order to find a permanent loving home.

Every day, the talented and unbelievably devoted staff at the Sanctuary cares for 1,700 to 2,000 animals with personalized attention to their medical, behavioral and emotional needs. In 2012, thanks to your support, we expanded and improved Piggy Paradise and created a new satellite vet clinic at Cat World. Our cats, many of whom are very shy, will no longer need to be taken to the main clinic located at Dogtown for routine exams and dental care. The new clinic reduces stress on the animals and enhances our ability to provide better care to more animals more efficiently. We also added a new macaw flight aviary so that these large, beautiful parrots can stretch their wings as nature intended.

The Sanctuary is located at Angel Canyon in the spectacular red rock canyons of Southern Utah and represents the heart of who we are and provides our true “north” to keep the animals and our mission front and center. Angel Canyon is a miracle of nature, but what happens here every day for the Sanctuary animals is a miracle of love.

So, thank you. Thanks for sharing our vision that a better world is possible through kindness to animals and that our mission to bring about a time when there are No More Homeless Pets is worthy of your commitment and your support. We launched many milestone projects for the animals in 2012, and we are looking forward to 2013 being an even better year for the animals. I look forward to meeting you, too, here at the Sanctuary, at the No More Homeless Pets Conference in Jacksonville, or on one of my visits to the many communities in which we are helping homeless pets.

It is only because of your love for the animals and your support of Best Friends that we are able to do what we do for homeless pets. My very best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year to each and every one of you.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society