Best Friends recognized as innovators

By Julie Castle

There are those rare times in your life when you recognize you’re in a “moment.” I knew when we began work on our national pet lifesaving dashboard that it had the potential to be a seismic game changer for animal welfare. Upon its release, I was even more confident that it would empower the public to save lives and put our goal to reach a no-kill country by 2025 on hyperdrive. I recognized that we were in a historic moment.

Today, that moment was acknowledged by one of the world’s leading voices in disruption, innovation and business leadership. Fast Company magazine announced its annual list of the world’s most innovative companies for 2021, and Best Friends Animal Society is recognized in the top 10 in data science.

Here’s the pet lifesaving dashboard elevator speech: It’s a data visualization map of the U.S. that provides any individual or civic leader with the most current lifesaving statistics for every shelter in the country. It is designed to empower a grassroots movement to end the killing in shelters by translating raw data into actionable information.

Creating this dashboard seems like a no-brainer. Why is it considered so innovative? Here’s why: In 2016, when I announced that Best Friends would lead the effort to make the entire country no-kill by 2025, I invoked JFK’s famous moon shot speech in which he famously said we would have to create new alloys that had not yet been invented, which could stand heat half that of the sun and work with the precision of the finest watch. Such powerful stuff. I drew on that inspiring message as an analogy because I knew that, like the moon landing, we were committing to a goal for which there was no road map or footsteps to follow. New ways of thinking and new technologies would be required to get us there.

You see, when I made that speech at our 2016 national conference, almost 150 years after the first U.S. animal shelter opened, no one in this country even knew how many animal shelters there were, let alone how many dogs and cats were being killed in them. How could this possibly be true? It was simply incredible to think that none of this data existed in today’s big data and digital environment.

You can’t solve a problem that you can’t measure, so we began the mapping and data collection work that resulted in the pet lifesaving dashboard. This was our newly invented alloy — something entirely innovative and much more powerful than I could have imagined in 2016.

Now, we can target our work and that of our partners very precisely, based on the specific needs of a local community and its shelters. The dashboard also allows us to overlay datasets such as demographics, income and pet-related community resources so that we can better serve animals and the people who love them.

To say this is a high point in my professional career is an understatement. It’s not just because Fast Company has always been one of my go-to reads for all things business, innovation and technology, but because recognition at this level validates the impact that Best Friends’ pet lifesaving dashboard, via innovation and technology, is having right now for the pets we love so dearly, and for our greater society and our greater good.

It’s a rare day when a publication like Fast Company recognizes a nonprofit as a top innovator, which is why I am so massively in awe of the dedication, commitment and vision of our team who worked around the clock to make the dashboard a reality. As I celebrate this award from Fast Company, it really comes down to celebrating and recognizing our team who made this happen.

It’s not surprising that previous winners on Fast Company’s list include another one of my favorite companies, Apple. Being included on a list with Apple is especially meaningful to me because both Best Friends and Apple were started with the same pioneering, creative and innovative spirit geared toward empowering people and changing the world. In fact, 1984 was the year that the founders established Best Friends and it was that same year that Steve Jobs debuted the first Macintosh.

There is no innovation without risk, but there is no progress without innovation. By continuing to innovate, together, we will Save Them All.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society