Live from the Oxford Union: It’s Best Friends!


The Oxford Union Society is the second oldest and most respected debating society in Great Britain. Founded in 1823, the Oxford Union not only hosts debates, but also speakers from almost every imaginable field, including the likes of the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Richard Nixon, Johnny Depp and professor Stephen Hawking. The list of notables goes on and on.

Needless to say, we were delighted and a bit surprised to receive a letter last year inviting us to speak to the members of this prestigious institution. The Oxford students themselves actually voted for Best Friends as an organization they wanted to hear from!

Much as it is in the states, celebrity culture is revered in Britain, so we asked Oscar winner Hilary Swank, our longtime friend, a dedicated animal welfare supporter and someone who understands the issues, to take part in a presentation with Best Friends CEO Gregory Castle. Hilary has also started the Hilaroo Foundation an organization which aims to bring youth who have been given up on, and animals who have been abandoned, together to help heal one another.

The cause of ending the killing in shelters is dear to British hearts. Just about every humane animal movement in history had its start in the U.K. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) was founded in 1824, and was the model for the ASPCA (founded in 1866) and countless other groups around the world. The RSPCA is the largest animal charity in the world, with a budget of more than $200 million and includes international outreach work across Europe, Africa and Asia. The RPSCA acts as Britain's "animal cops" and were the subject of a reality T.V. series long before the genre hit the U.S.

Dogs Trust, another 19th century humane venture, cares for 16,000 dogs per year at 17 facilities across the United Kingdom and Ireland. Their slogan rings true for us: “Dogs Trust never destroys a healthy dog.” The charity says about 1,400 dogs are in their care at any one time.

Surprisingly, the U.K. is not yet a no-kill country, as healthy and adoptable animals there are still tragically dying in shelters. They face familiar issues, although on a much smaller scale than in the U.S.

Hopefully our talk here this week will inspire some action, and perhaps we can also learn from our British counterparts and bring some worthy no-kill ideas back across the pond. We are appreciative of the recognition of our work to end shelter killing by such a respected body as the Oxford Union and very grateful to Hilary Swank for taking the time from her busy schedule to join in the presentation.

Together, we can Save Them All.