Looking back on the lives of two incredible animal lovers


So much of what we do is focused on the animals and putting an end to the terrible injustice of the killing in shelters, but it’s equally important to remember that it is dedicated people who make up our movement and do the actual lifesaving that drives our mission.

I am saddened to report that in the last week, Best Friends suffered the loss of two members of our immediate family. There is no way to do justice to their memory in a blog, but I believe it is important to remember their kindness and commitment, which so characterizes all those who devote their lives to protecting and saving homeless pets.

The passing of Maia Astor-Drayton, Best Friends co-founder

Maia Astor-Drayton was one of the founders of Best Friends and she passed last Friday following a severe stroke. Maia had long striking auburn hair and a pixie smile with a mischievous glint. As did all the Best Friends founders, Maia worked in animal care in the early days of the Sanctuary and did whatever work was required on a given day. She was also part of the team of founders who did grassroots fundraising across the Southwest and managed a legion of counter donation canisters throughout Utah, Arizona and Southern California, all to help keep the lights on and the animals fed before Best Friends was a thing and when no-kill was regarded as the lunatic fringe. 

In those early days, when every founder’s accommodation was considered an extension of the Sanctuary as far as animal care was concerned, Maia made it possible for others to travel on extended road trips by looking after their animals, many of whom had special needs, while they were away. Maia’s work was largely unsung and unpublicized, but her co-founders, colleagues and friends know how essential she was to the lifesaving success of the organization. 

Remembering an extraordinary Best Friends volunteer

There is power in positivity, and that was Sally Spencer. Sally was a Best Friends “super volunteer,” someone who, along with her husband Layne Dicker, became a critical part of Best Friends’ operations in Los Angeles and a familiar face in Dogtown at the Sanctuary. With a ready smile and a quick wit, she lit up the room with positive energy and enthusiasm. 

After routine visits to the Sanctuary over the years, Sally and Layne built a home in Kanab and were on a path to a new life centered around the Sanctuary when she received the shattering news early this year that she had developed leukemia and would need an extreme and risky treatment requiring a bone marrow transplant. Courageous and optimistic, Sally sailed through the first several phases of treatment and was in the home stretch when, tragically, transplant rejection took place and the cascading effects took her life this past weekend. 

Beyond being a rescue hero to many homeless pets and being loved and admired by all who knew her, Sally was a professor of special education at California State University, Northridge. She published three books, was published in academic journals and was recognized for her work in special education by an international award committee. Sally’s passing is a shocking loss for Layne, her family and friends, and the animals who meant so much to her and for whom she did so much.

Animal lovers and their contributions

We should never be so preoccupied with the lifesaving task before us or overwhelmed by the faces of the animals in need to forget that it is animal-loving individuals like Maia and Sally who make up our movement and stand up on behalf of the animals.

I’m sure there are others in the extended Best Friends family and beyond who have dedicated their lives to the welfare and protection of animals and whom we have lost in the recent past. I welcome your inclusion of their names along with a few words of remembrance in the comments below.

Let us remember them as we work together to Save Them All.

Photos: Maia Astor-Drayton on the left, Sally Spencer​ with husband Layne Dicker and dogs Ryder (white, who is a Best Friends in Los Angeles dog) and Cherry on the right

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