The drive to no-kill by 2025


Last month, I completed my first year as CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, and what a wild ride it has been!

Our work over the past year has been reported in this blog. Looking forward, I want to tell you about some of the exciting things that are on the horizon for Best Friends, the no-kill movement and the animals we all serve.

Using data to guide lifesaving efforts

You probably know that animal shelter data is one of our major areas of focus. Accurate information is the stepping-stone to so much of what is central to the no-kill movement. Shelter data enables us to quantify how many dogs and cats are being killed, where and why. That information enables all of us to target our resources and apply programs appropriate to the local need. Accurate data means transparency and accountability. It also helps local rescue groups design supporting programs and informs the public how to best help their shelter as volunteers.

Best Friends has been collecting and analyzing shelter data on a scale and with a precision never achieved or even attempted before. And we will be sharing this information freely.

If this conjures up an image of data geeks toiling away on networked computers from remote locations in their jammies, I can neither confirm nor deny your imagination, but I can say that as far as the animals are concerned, 2019 will be remembered as “The Year of the Nerd”! Kudos to some seriously talented Best Friends staffers driven by our shared passion to save lives.

Helping key communities on the ground

Data alone, without legs — without boots on the ground — can easily turn into just numbers on a computer or a report that collects dust on someone’s shelf. For Best Friends, data is the arrow that points the way to what needs to be done. Not surprisingly, many of the communities where most of the shelter pets are being killed in this country are under-resourced and operating on animal control and shelter protocols that harken back to another era, often simply because of lack of training and basic resources.

Enter the Best Friends embed program.

Since 2012, Best Friends has had great success with our community cat programs model, which embeds a two-person team of our staff into partner shelters to create a sophisticated shelter-neuter-return program (think trap-neuter-return on steroids). We have executed this model in places as varied as Baltimore, Albuquerque, Philadelphia, Tucson and elsewhere. Invariably, the positive impact on the shelter save rate for these stray or feral cats is eye-popping and equally impressive is the fact that the success of the program continues following the hand-off to local operators.

Last year, we piloted an expansion of this concept by embedding Best Friends staff in already existing shelter operations, first at Harris County Animal Shelter in Houston to help increase adoptions and improve operational protocols, and then at Palm Valley Animal Center (PVAC) in Edinburg, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley on the Texas-Mexico border. Best Friends staffer Mike Bricker has been serving as interim executive director of the shelter, which serves a population of 750,000 people in Hidalgo County. 

The PVAC Board of Directors had reached out to Best Friends for help, support and mentoring as part of their commitment to making Edinburg a no-kill community. Best Friends began working with that team in May 2018 and since July of last year, Best Friends staff have been embedded there as acting executive director and operations manager, while the Petco Foundation has provided financial support to PVAC. In that brief time, lifesaving has increased from a 36% save rate to a 51% save rate. That represents 6,848 more lives saved compared to the same period a year before.

Vet care outreach and pet transport 

This kind of hands-on, targeted engagement and mentoring is key to the success of no-kill 2025. It is the most effective and sustainable method for transforming shelter operations in under-resourced communities. In the service areas of the shelters that are killing the most animals, accessible veterinary and basic pet wellness options are often few and far between. That makes one of the most critical shelter responsibilities — protecting the health of the pets in their care — an uphill battle on a good day because infectious disease is so prevalent in local animal populations. 

That’s why Best Friends recently brought on Aimee St. Arnaud to serve as the director of national veterinary outreach programming. Aimee is a highly respected and accomplished leader in this area of animal welfare. Community pet wellness and accessible, affordable spay/neuter services are critical to success in places like south Texas. We will be developing partnerships and coalitions to expand these kinds of services to areas where they are needed most. 

Back in 2008, Best Friends began transporting shelter pets from parts of the country where there was a surplus of certain animals (putting them at risk of being killed) to areas where those same dogs or cats were in high demand and could find safe new homes quickly. Transport programs have grown in scope and popularity as a way to make a positive impact on lifesaving. In addition to our fleet of sprinter-type transport vans, we have acquired two transport buses to serve the two regions of the country — inland Southern California and south Texas — where shelter animals are being killed in the highest numbers. In the coming year, large-scale transports will become an increasingly important leg of our regional strategy.

Join us on the road to no-kill 2025

And without question, the biggest game changer in the coming year will be you — the animal-loving public! We have some pretty cool items up our sleeve that we will be rolling out this summer. The public has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to no-kill. You save lives, volunteer your time, support your favorite programs and, probably most important of all, you set community expectations for the highest possible care and commitment to life for shelter pets. You drive the decisions of local leaders and you set the bar for no-kill. An informed and engaged public is a shelter pet’s best friend.

We are going to make knowing about and supporting your local shelters easier and more effective than it has ever been. You are the engine that will power the drive to achieve no-kill nationwide by 2025.

Together, we will Save Them All.

Photo by Erica Danger of Best Friends CEO Julie Castle with Olivia, one of the dogs being treated for distemper after being rescued following Hurricane Harvey. Julie is dressed in a disposable gown and gloves to prevent further transmission of the virus to other dogs.

Julie Castle with Sunny the dog
Julie Castle
Best Friends Animal Society