Movement leader, game-changer and 70th birthday guy

In the March issue of Dog Fancy magazine, Francis Battista is honored as one of the “45 people who changed the dog world.” The writer points out Francis’ significant involvement in the launch of No-Kill Los Angeles (NKLA), the groundbreaking Best Friends initiative that since 2012 has helped reduce the killing of shelter animals there by nearly 50 percent.

And today also happens to be Francis’ 70th birthday!

When I started working for Best Friends in the mid-90s, the organization was nothing like the Best Friends of today. Obviously it was much, much smaller and was still a “family run” organization, consisting of the founders and 17 non-founder employees (including me). I had given up a promising future in law to rescue animals in the desert, much to the chagrin of my father.

The group of friends that founded Best Friends was then (as they are now) deeply committed and dedicated to a dream of a nation that no longer kills animals in shelters. I’ve called them mad geniuses before, and I’ll stick with that moniker. These visionaries were (and still are) incredible people who have given the world so much.

I’ve grown close with all of them over the years. Heck, I even married one of them. But my relationship with one founder, in particular, is very special to me.

Francis Battista turns 70 years young today, and while I know he doesn’t want the attention that this blog will bring, I think he deserves it — so I’m writing it anyway!

That kind of defiance has a long history in our relationship. In the early years, Francis and I would butt heads — sometimes in a big (and loud) way. I guess you could say it was an intergenerational idealist conflict. We both wanted the same thing, but our styles were very different.

However, over time our mutual understanding grew, and Francis became a mentor to me, as well as to others at Best Friends. Today, just as he is with many of the staff, we are close friends. Francis has one standout trait and that’s integrity. You know, above anything else, that you can always count on him to be truthful and honest. As much as you might not want to hear it, Francis always delivers the truth in his brusque, New York style, speaking his mind regardless of the situation. While others sit quietly, afraid to voice an opinion, Francis is always in the middle of the scrum, pushing for all that is right for the animals.

And that is his North Star — the animals.

His integrity, passion, intelligence and commitment are unparalleled — like no one else I know in this movement. He is so giving of his time and his expertise. He is in touch with people around the world, offering advice and expertise on everything from helping an animal in distress to providing expertise on running events. In fact, I can think of many organizations here and abroad that got their start because of Francis and his influence. Not only is Best Friends better because of him, the animals everywhere are as well.

Like all of the founders, Francis has held many positions at Best Friends over the years. He was once co-director of our animal care division, managed our rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina, and for 18 years led our animal welfare efforts in Los Angeles. (Here we are pictured at a Los Angeles peaceful protest outside a pet store to fight the sale of puppy mill dogs.) I think he even started our horse department, too.

In the early days, Francis and his wife, Silva, would travel back and forth from Kanab to Los Angeles in order to run lifesaving programs and man tables in front of grocery stores asking for donations. During those chance encounters while tabling, Francis and Silva met many of the celebrities, volunteers, directors, producers and influencers who are still integral in shaping our future today. It was through that work that the brilliant Lee Clow, one of the world’s top advertising minds (pictured below), became involved in building our NKLA initiative and guiding Best Friends’ national messaging.

Today Francis is still on the job, serving as chairman of our board of directors and working as an internal advisor on just about everything we do across the country. And of course, he continues to mentor me and teach me something new every day.

So here’s to you, Francis. Happy birthday! (Sorry about all those names I called you back in the day.)

Please, friends, feel free to comment and leave a birthday greeting for Francis.


Most immediately, our work is helping the animals and ending shelter killing. But on another level, this is about saving people. It’s about saving our relationship to the animals and the planet.” – Francis Battista


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