Calling all animal services professionals and lifesaving revolutionaries!

By Julie Castle

Across the country, in pretty much every professional and personal space, people have been looking for silver linings to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a tough task, but a necessary one. The last several months have once again proven that when the going gets tough, the tough get really freaking creative. One exciting result: a new Best Friends online symposium coming to your living room this fall.

Since early March, lifesaving innovation has been rippling through the animal sheltering world, along with countless other professional fields, transforming traditional in-person interactions, including pet adoption and fostering, into virtual experiences. This has also been the case for numerous professional conferences and workshops swiftly canceled and moved online for a safer, coronavirus-free learning experience. Well, I’m excited to announce that Best Friends is using the opportunity to revolutionize professional development for the animal services field.

When the 2020 Best Friends National Conference, scheduled for this past June, was canceled, our learning advancement team put their heads together to come up with other ways to offer learning and development opportunities for people working and interested in animal sheltering and welfare. The result is a dynamic online symposium presented in partnership with my alma mater, Southern Utah University (SUU), that will take place September 16-17.

While the symposium, titled “Reaching New Heights in Contemporary Animal Services,” is not intended to replace our national conference, it is a chance to continue learning and networking opportunities for those devoted to creating real change for both pets and people. And since it is a online event, attendance doesn’t have to be limited by where you live or the cost of travel. In fact, we anticipate animal sheltering leaders and learners being able to connect in exciting new ways through the event.

This new format helps meet two critical needs for learning in our field: (1) It helps better define animal services as a professional field of study and (2) it creates new pathways for professional development and learning for students.

Presenting during the symposium will be a blockbuster line-up of leaders and experts in our field who work and think at the intersection of animal services and human services, including dynamic speakers like James Evans, CEO of Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity (CARE), and Jessica Dolce, founder of the Compassion in Balance Program and creator of compassionate badassery. My good friend and the president of SUU, Scott Wyatt, will join me for the keynote address to kick off the event.

Thanks to our groundbreaking partnership with SUU, created late last year, the symposium also offers college students working toward a bachelor’s degree or certain master’s degree programs the opportunity to earn additional college credit. Submissions for academic research critical to progress in our field that helps examine root causes of pets entering shelters and looks at the intersection of fields like sociology and psychology are also being accepted as part of the event. And following the symposium, attendees will have access to a full suite of related tools, resources and presentations, including a special series of Best Friends podcast interviews with each of the symposium speakers.

In a nutshell, we’re mixing up a learning and lifesaving elixir for animal professionals and advocates this fall that will be one for the history books. We’ll talk cats, community-supported lifesaving, contemporary field services, language and leadership, and a whole lot more. All with the goal of catapulting our work toward creating compassionate no-kill communities nationwide by 2025.

So, who’s ready to make history and geek out over all things lifesaving?

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society