Embracing change

By Julie Castle

As I sit here on the cusp of 2020, and look back at the last decade, it’s stunning to see just how far we’ve all come in this lifesaving movement, how much we’ve done, and of course how much we have left to do.

Saving the lives of animals in need is intensely emotional work. Whether you’re a loud and proud no-kill champion or a quiet lifesaving force to be reckoned with who questions the idea of no-kill itself, the deep, profound passion that you bring to the table every day is what drives you. And that’s why this field we’ve chosen is so beautiful and often so challenging.

The evolution of animal welfare

Animal welfare has gone through quite an evolution over the last decade, as have Best Friends and the thousands of other organizations that comprise this rich, wonderful field we work in. With that kind of change comes challenges and difficult decisions. With each day comes the need to thoughtfully examine what we’re doing to save every pet who needs to be saved, and what we need to improve upon and tinker with to make sure that progress keeps happening.

Saving homeless pets around the country

It’s hard to believe that it was only seven years ago when we launched No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA). Because so much has happened since then. The city of Los Angeles is now saving 89% of the animals entering its shelters, in comparison to the mere 57% being saved before NKLA started. Best Friends lifesaving centers in L.A., Salt Lake City, New York and Atlanta and our programs in cities like Houston and Bentonville are setting the tone for collaborative work on behalf of animals in those communities.

A remarkable team of leaders from Best Friends and other animal welfare organizations from every corner of the country are spearheading collaborative regional lifesaving plans and professional training to support communities of all shapes and sizes. National data collection efforts and groundbreaking shelter partnerships have led to new blueprints for sending expert help and support where they’re needed most.

A LOT has happened. If I’m being honest, there are days when this kind of change scares the hell out of me. If it didn’t, I guess it wouldn’t be worth the effort. More important, though, our colleagues in the trenches, the animals who depend on them and the communities they support can’t afford the luxury of moving at a more comfortable pace. They are facing life-and-death decisions every single day. Who lives, who dies, right now.

From Palm Valley Animal Society in Texas to Pitt County Animal Services in North Carolina, from Riverside County Department of Animal Services in California to Hall County Animal Shelter in Georgia, shelters and communities with vastly fewer resources at their disposal are making big change happen on behalf of homeless pets.

My punchline is this: If they are slugging it out on the front lines every single day, willing and determined to try things that are new and uncomfortable for the sake of the animals, then Best Friends is going to do the same.

Pace of positive change speeding up exponentially

For those of us who have worked at the Sanctuary for years or even decades, and who call it home, the change that Best Friends has undergone over the last several years feels like we’ve gone from driving a car to manning a rocket ship in the blink of an eye. But that’s the pace that these animals we love so much deserve — and need us to move at right now. Best Friends has always been committed to ending the killing in this country’s shelters. We didn’t say “Let’s get to no-kill by 2025” because it would be easy. We did it because it’s necessary. We did it because every day, about 2,000 dogs and cats, just like the ones we spoil and snuggle with every night, are being killed in America’s shelters.

For every dog named Gingersnap who is playing in his pool here at the Sanctuary, there’s a Luke in Texas or a Clementine in Florida also in need of help and homes. For every Lightfoot and Lincoln strolling around Cat World, there’s a Kale and Cookie in Georgia waiting for their chance to survive and thrive. Just as important, there are people who’ve put their blood, sweat and tears into saving those animals, just like we do here, and who would move mountains to do it. This means we’re going to help those friends help those animals. Because we can. Because it’s the right thing to do.

Our commitment to the animals

We figured out a long time ago that just one organization, even Best Friends, can’t be all things to every animal in need. But together, if we decide to take everything we’ve done, everything we know, everything we’ve learned and are still learning, everything others have learned, and share that with people who care as much as we do, we can in fact save all those animals who aren’t irreparably sick, injured or dangerous.

This is what drives me every day. This is what makes me willing to choose change and growth over comfort and fear of the unfamiliar every day.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society