Remembering Faith Maloney, Best Friends co-founder

Faith Maloney, co-founder of Best Friends Animal Society, with a scruffy dog

The first time I met Faith, she was hip-deep in dogs at Octagon 2 in Dogtown. It was the mid-1990s and she was preparing food for around 600 dogs — as she did, by her own count, every day for 11 years straight, seven days a week with no days off.

The scene was organized chaos with a cacophony of barking dogs, clattering steel dog bowls, a golf cart and a pickup truck rotating through to be loaded with bowls of food, some with special recipes for individual dogs, for distribution to the various areas of Dogtown. Faith was wearing her signature denim jumper dress, the type with straps, which she wore over a long-sleeved shirt along with ear-muff-type hearing protectors to reduce the impact of the jet-engine-level decibels. She was covered in paw prints and smudges of dog food here and there. A couple of staff and volunteers whom she directed with authority rounded out the indelible scene. The dogs were happy; everyone was happy and the whole crazy scenario served as just another confirmation point for my decision to commit my life to this work and this organization.

Faith was about courage, kindness, grit, selflessness, no fear and absolutely no excuses. If you worked with Faith, there was “no crying in baseball.” She totally embodied the “get it done” attitude of Best Friends. Her work ethic was unrivaled, even up to her last days with us. She just got on with the job, no complaints. No self-pity. The job was the job.

I would soon learn that Faith was equally at home on her hands and knees cleaning up a mess as she was addressing an international convention of animal professionals, or appearing on television and radio.

In the early days of Best Friends, while most of the other founders were pushing out the boat in places like Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix, Faith held down the fort at the Sanctuary. She was the dog, rabbit, chicken, turkey, guinea pig and sheep person. She managed the veterinarian and the clinic, greeted all visitors, served as our first president and coordinated animal housing with co-founders Paul Eckhoff and John Fripp. Faith’s energy and good nature were the fuel that made Best Friends Animal Sanctuary the beacon of the no-kill movement.

At the same time, Faith was the de facto animal control officer for the entire region. She answered calls from the Kanab police, the Kane County sheriff, the Fredonia marshal and the Paiute tribal police. She would turn up at the scene of a dog bite where a supposedly dangerous dog was being watched warily by a pair of very large officers. Faith would just stand nearby chatting with the police until the dog caught a whiff of her jumper. Then she would effortlessly load the dog into the front seat of her mini-pickup and drive off happily with the officers looking at each other in disbelief.

As the Sanctuary expanded to as many as 2,000 animals at one point with relatively few staff, Faith oversaw it all, but she was about much more than animals. She knew every volunteer and was concerned about the lives of every caregiver. Over the years, she gave thousands of tours of the Sanctuary, complete with lively stories, and met with guests at the village lunchroom every day. Her warmth and genuine interest in people and their perspectives made so many feel welcome at the Sanctuary.

Faith was the OG of social networks. She was seemingly everywhere and knew everyone. Faith was at the center of a national social network long before social networks were a thing.

As Best Friends grew beyond the boundaries of the Sanctuary, she continued to lead and co-created Best Friends’ How to Start an Animal Sanctuary workshop, an incubator for programs and leaders from around the country and the world. It is now part of an accredited course at Southern Utah University. I used to marvel at how she remembered so many of the people who attended those workshops, even decades later.

Faith appeared at events in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City or hosted TV crews from around the country. She loved writing and teaching, and she was award-winning at both. She wrote for every single issue of Best Friends magazine and penned a weekly column in the local newspaper for 30 years.

When Best Friends transitioned operational control from the founder group to a new generation of leadership, Faith was our greatest cheerleader. She was in the front row of every Best Friends National Conference, and every event or gathering we hosted. Her unmistakable laughter, which rose above everyone else’s in the audience, let me know we were on the mark.

After the first episode of DogTown, the National Geographic series about Best Friends, she called me literally squealing with joy to tell me how proud she was of “us kids,” the next generation of Best Friends, and I can’t tell you how much that meant to me because she was much more than a doting soccer mom. Faith knew her stuff, she was exceptionally well-read and very current until the end on the issues of the no-kill movement and Best Friends. She occupied a place at the moral, ethical and spiritual center of Best Friends and could tell you without equivocation if an idea or a proposal passed the sniff test on what did or didn’t fit within that center. She was the first person who exposed me to veganism and the benefits to the animals and the planet of a plant-based diet.

Faith was kind, but in her terms that meant being brutally honest and she was never, ever afraid to set you straight, on the spot, without blinking. She had a gift for sizing people up within minutes and often offered up her opinion about hiring someone — or not. And she was rarely wrong.

In her last video interview, Faith shared that she saw her legacy not as something personal or individual, but as being part of a group of people who have always put out that thing to strive for, as embodied in Best Friends’ commitment to achieving no-kill nationwide by 2025.

Death is a brutal thief who takes our lot and leaves behind sorrow. How do you say goodbye to someone you’ve known for 27 years? Faith Maloney was a mentor, visionary, leader, teacher, champion of doing the right thing … always.

Faith, you helped found both Best Friends Animal Society and the no-kill movement, and I’m just so sorry you won’t be here in 2025 to witness us crossing the finish line to no-kill in this country. It’s the completion of the work you helped start so many decades ago, with nothing to your name, in a remote canyon in southern Utah.

I promise you, Faith, it is my deep honor and privilege to finish what you helped start, and to be leading the organization you founded, to help carry out your legacy to completion.

There will never be another Faith.