A new type of animal sheltering

By Julie Castle

We recently broke ground on a new project in Northwest Arkansas that is a window into the future of sheltering. Yes, it will save animal lives, but not in the way you might expect.

This exciting opportunity began when residents of Bentonville, Arkansas, recognized that they needed to do better for the animals in their community, and they reached out to Best Friends looking for the most progressive ideas for this forward-thinking region. With so much changing in animal welfare, so many more lives being saved in new ways, and the chance to build cutting-edge programs from the ground up, we knew it was time for a revolution in animal sheltering. From there, the concept of a pet resource center was born.

The Best Friends Pet Resource Center will be very different from what you’ve come to expect from an animal shelter. Rather than a building filled with rows of cages and kennels, visitors will find services, support, events and, most important of all, opportunities to volunteer or provide foster care for homeless pets. It’s truly designed as a community destination for all things pet-related.

The 20,000-square-foot facility will sit on six acres, surrounded by park space. While much of the work will focus on the needs of the Northwest Arkansas community, we want to inspire and empower local animal lovers to join us in saving homeless pets throughout Arkansas.

Central to this revolutionary model is the concept of community-supported sheltering, which involves community members, government leaders and shelters all playing a role and collaborating for the welfare of pets in the community, rather than just relying on an animal shelter and its staff to solve every problem. To that end, we’re partnering with other nonprofits and municipal organizations throughout the region to provide low-cost spay and neuter services, vaccinations, foster and adoption programs, animal transport and other efforts to save lives. And each of those programs will provide opportunities for community participation and volunteering.

The center will also host resources to help people and their pets, such as a pet supply pantry, trap loans for trap-neuter-return programs, and assistance for pets who need extra training or attention. There will be an educational center for animal welfare leaders and volunteers in Arkansas and surrounding states to learn the latest in lifesaving, and we will have lots of fun activities for people of all ages. And these are just the services we’re planning right now.

Many people don’t think about the relationship between human services and animal services, but there are many ways in which they intersect. We know, for example, that housing challenges are some of the most common reasons that people surrender pets to shelters. People who are facing hospitalization may not have anyone to care for their pets while they’re away. And, tragically, victims of domestic violence may not want to leave a bad situation because they don’t know what to do with their pets. We want to find the answers to how we can help in these situations, and this new resource center is the start of those conversations.

Throughout this process, we have worked in close partnership with the community about what programs and services residents might need and where we can fill the gaps. We are designing the center with community input, and it is our goal to be there for residents when they need help — whether it’s an issue with a pet or a family crisis that perpetuates uncertainty about a pet’s care. We want to identify where we can provide assistance and change the way people think about the role of animal shelters in the community.

The Best Friends Pet Resource Center will undoubtedly look and feel different than a traditional shelter because it’s so much more. We believe that with success in Northwest Arkansas, other communities around the country will embrace this model. The best place for pets is in loving homes — and we want to do everything we can to keep them there. A pivotal step in the no-kill movement, the center will support and nurture community members’ love for their animal companions while creating a safety net for pets who are between homes.

Rendering of the front of the Best Friends Pet Resource Center in Northwest Arkansas

Rendering of the Best Friends Pet Resource Center in Northwest Arkansas from above

With the groundbreaking, the project is officially underway, and we will be sharing what is in store as progress is made. This project would have never gotten off the ground without our numerous partners and the depth of support from the Northwest Arkansas community, and we look forward to a lasting partnership that will save countless lives.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society