Is Best Friends your third place?

By Julie Castle

Last week, a member of Best Friends sent me an article from the New York Times about the importance of having a “third place,” especially if you live in a city. 

“Home is the first place, and work is the second place,” the article says. But your third place can be even more important than the first two. It may be a local hangout or a coffee shop, a library or a church — any place where people gather.

Sociologists often say that third places are the cornerstones of communities. And for many animal lovers across the country, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is their third place. Their special place. The place that’s not their home or their work, but where they always feel welcome, at peace and connected.

The Sanctuary is also a cornerstone of the no-kill community, and there’s nowhere else like it in the world. Here, animals come from completely hopeless backgrounds, with no families to care about them. And no matter how that has affected them, no matter how many bad habits they’ve picked up or phobias they’ve accumulated or illnesses they’ve come down with, here they get a promise. We will do everything that it’s possible to do to help them, to heal them and to give them a chance at a nice life with a loving family. They can stay here as long as they need to.

It’s a place where people, too, find sanctuary as they come to meet like-minded folks, experience the peace, witness the love and soak up the beauty of the canyon. For many, the experience is life-changing.

Before I moved to the Sanctuary and became employee number 17, it was my third place, too. I would come down here for the weekend whenever I could. I’d spend time with the dogs and cats, or maybe the pigs (always my favorites!). And I’d go for a hike or hang out with a book, and soon I’d find myself just gazing out over this marvelous red-rock canyon that was created over millions of years. Time itself seemed to dissolve around me. 

Years later, when I was spending a considerable amount of time in Salt Lake City setting up lifesaving programs on behalf of Best Friends, I’d visit the Sanctuary along with my colleagues from the city for meetings about our early No-Kill Utah (NKUT) work. These were long meetings, full of charts and stats and plans, but I always came away feeling a sense of renewal, a sense of homecoming. It was my place. It was my tribe. 

The other thing that stood out to me in the newspaper article about third places is that they are a place of “informal sociality that is so crucial to the maintenance of civic engagement and just civility.” In my case, whenever I came for a visit to the Sanctuary, I would find myself chatting at lunch with other people who were spending a few days here. Many of them were from other countries and they had very different backgrounds, cultures and religions. Their politics and worldviews were diverse, too. But we all shared something in common that was far more fundamental: our deep and abiding concern for the animals.

Over the years, the Sanctuary has become a third place for countless people. And for me, it is the heart and soul not only of the work of Best Friends, but of a community of shared values and an extended family of people that reaches all across the country and beyond.

So, if the Sanctuary has become something of a third place for you, too, please let us know about it. We’d love to hear more. And if you haven’t had a chance to visit yet, I hope you will soon.


Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society