Remembering Diana Asher

Best Friends Animal Society co-founder Diana Asher outside with a white horse whose mouth is open
By Julie Castle

I’m very sad to share the news that Diana Asher, one of the co-founders of Best Friends, passed away last week. While you may not have had the pleasure of knowing much about Diana, who preferred being behind the scenes, you certainly shared in her legacy. Diana was Best Friends’ original “cat lady” and the one who started what is now Cat World at the Sanctuary.

It all started like this: One day, shortly after the founders committed to taking on animal services for Kanab, Kane County, Fredonia, Garfield County, and the Kaibab-Paiute Tribal Police, there was a phone call that went like this, as recently recalled by Diana: “I was talking to (co-founder Faith Maloney), and Faith said, ‘I will do the dogs.’ And so I said, ‘I’ll do the cats.’”

That was a powerful conversation between two powerful women, who were prepared to do whatever it would take to save the lives of homeless pets.

It was a defining moment in the creation of the no-kill movement, and these two women would help set the course for Best Friends and ultimately thousands of organizations around the world.

Big things come in small packages

Diana was about 5 feet, 2 inches with platinum blond hair. She was quirky, eccentric, and intuitive verging on psychic — which, as history attests, was just what was needed to step into the uncharted territory of lifesaving in 1984 and lay the foundation for a movement that would change the world.

Diana was deeply distressed and highly motivated by the fundamental unfairness of how animals are treated. Like every animal lover, she didn’t need a philosophical framework to decide that killing homeless pets in shelters that were supposed to protect them was just flat out wrong.

Before arriving at Angel Canyon, Diana had honed her cat-care skills at the little sanctuary the founders operated near Prescott, Arizona. A very generous veterinarian aptly named Dr. Doctor helped her learn the supportive care needed to provide for the many kitties with feline leukemia virus (FeLV) whom the founders took in from the local shelter before the FeLV vaccine was available. At that time, virtually all cats with FeLV were being killed to prevent contagion. It was an early exercise of the no-kill ethic to protect such cats by giving them immune-boosting nutrition and staying ahead of any common infections all while segregating them from healthy cats.

She carried on that work at Best Friends with the amazing Dr. Christy, who enabled the Sanctuary to grow. The vaccine changed the world, but by the time its impact was felt, we had the largest colony of non-symptomatic cats with FeLV, who aged and passed with grace and dignity under her care.

Diana started and led Cat World from 1984 until 1994 and saw it through its transition from bare-bones enclosures to the beginnings of what Cat World is today.

The level of care and attention that she brought to cats was unprecedented at the time. In 1984, when millions of healthy cats were being killed in shelters across the country each year, Diana was evaluating and grouping cats based on their individual needs so that they could be given the greatest level of care. And because Best Friends accepted animals regardless of their health or history, along with healthy cats, Diana addressed the challenge of cross contamination by creating separate areas for cats based on their health conditions. She was the visionary behind our areas for cats with special needs — what are now known as Colonel’s Barracks, Benton’s House, Quincy House, and Casa de Calmar.

Each day, she and her small team would do a health check on 300-plus cats and provide care as needed. She never said no to a person or an animal in need.

Diana was born on April 12, 1946, in Eastbourne, Sussex, England. Her father was a schoolmaster and her mother an aristocrat in the line of the Duke of Cornwall.

Diana was one of four children, some of whom are accomplished musicians. Famed music producer and performer Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon), who helped launch the careers of performers such as James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, and actor Jane Asher (Paul McCartney’s girlfriend of the mid-’60s) were her first cousins. But celebrity meant little to Diana. She was all about the animals.

She attended Eastbourne public high school and learned to speak both German and French. One of Diana’s earliest passions was dance, in particular ballet. She moved to London after high school to study dancing and acting for two years. It was the swinging ’60s, and Diana was all in — from knee-high vinyl boots to mini skirt. Think Austin Powers. Soon after that, she met a group of friends who would eventually go on to start Best Friends.

When the need arose in the early 1990s for all available hands to be on deck to fundraise to keep Best Friends going, Diana packed up her kit and went tabling with other founders throughout northern Arizona, Utah, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Eventually, her love of horses led to her helping at our Horse Haven area, where she also taught volunteers about grooming and caring for horses, until she was sidelined by complications resulting from a stroke. She always considered starting Cat World her greatest contribution to Best Friends.

Diana pitched in wherever she was needed. She loved to dance and laugh. She was asked once about her hope for the future of Best Friends, and she said, “I hope it maintains its fervor and passion and sense of mutual cooperation.”

We will miss you, Diana. Thank you for all that you did to help the world understand that we can indeed Save Them All.


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Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society