A salute to Gregory Castle


I am following up on my blog from yesterday to take some time to salute my friend and colleague Gregory Castle, and all that he has done for the animals and the organization during his tenure as CEO of Best Friends.

Recapping from yesterday, after almost nine years as CEO of Best Friends and with more than 34 years of service to the animals, Gregory will be transitioning to other responsibilities for Best Friends beginning in mid-April. This may come as a surprise to many, given Gregory’s extraordinary level of energy and the success of his tenure in the leadership role for the organization, but this move has been in the works for four years as part of our succession planning.

I have known Gregory a long time. He is a remarkable man with a great story. He’s a graduate of Cambridge University, England, where he studied engineering and philosophy and was in Footlights, the university’s dramatic club that spawned three of the founders of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He dabbled in film, but fortunately for us, he took a road less traveled — much less traveled, all the way to the desert of southern Utah!

Gregory is an impressive endurance runner. He seems to run a marathon every year. He has completed the Boston Marathon three times and a couple of years back, at age 73, he ran the Grand to Grand Ultra, a six-day, seven-night, 170-mile run for maniacs that starts at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and finishes up by Bryce Canyon and the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. You have to set out with all your own food for seven days, bedding and personal gear in a backpack. I kept an eye out for circling vultures, but Gregory just kept going and going.

While Gregory appears to be very staid and upright with Cary Grant good looks, he has this ridiculous comedian side to him. Back in the day, when all we could afford was our own entertainment, we regularly put on skits and absurd talent shows. I have seen Gregory perform as a type of Ming the Merciless space villain, Elvis, someone from the Village People and assorted loopy characters of the John Cleese variety. He loves to laugh. Sometimes, he laughs so hard that he almost falls out of his chair. He is quite happy to be ridiculous.

He is also the most responsible and reliable person I know.

Gregory is from Folkestone on the southeast English coast, across the English Channel from Calais in France and the area where some of the civilian fleet came from that evacuated the British Army from Dunkirk in 1941. Folkestone itself was evacuated early in World War II in anticipation of a Nazi invasion, but Gregory’s father, Folkestone’s city engineer, stayed behind to keep everything running. So, Gregory’s ethic of community responsibility was bred in the bone. Gregory’s mother was relocated to a safer location and Gregory was born in a country house as an evacuee in the town of Cranbrook.

Endurance, service, sense of humor: Each of these snapshots of Gregory’s life gives insight into his success as Best Friends’ CEO from 2009 to 2018. When the board of directors turned to him and asked him to step into the CEO role, Best Friends was in considerable turmoil.

Our landmark work during Hurricane Katrina had set a new standard for responding to animals in disasters. We committed ourselves to the lives and well-being of the thousands of animals who came into our care at our emergency shelters in Tylertown, Mississippi, and Metairie, Louisiana. Katrina thrust us onto the national stage, but also blew us off course from our mission of working to end the killing in shelters. We emerged from Katrina with a significant disaster response operation with tons of gear: boats, trucks, RVs, generators, portable buildings, a mountain of cages and kennels, radios and satellite phones. We trained and ran mock disaster drills. When natural disasters didn’t happen, we found them in hoarding situations — rescuing 1,500 rabbits in Reno and 800 cats in Pahrump, Nevada — and then helped out after disasters in Lebanon, Peru, Haiti, Mexico and even Ethiopia.

This was all great and valuable work, and each was a remarkable demonstration of principle, but none of them advanced our mission to bring about a time when there are no more homeless pets. Meanwhile, a disaster on the scale of Katrina was happening every week in our shelters.

Gregory stabilized the organization and got us back on track with our mission. He led Best Friends through the challenging exercise of prioritizing our allocation of resources around a very simple standard: reducing noses in and increasing noses out. That is to say, every program that we had (and we had a lot) had to measure up with regard to two simple criteria: Did it reduce the number of animals entering the shelter system (noses in) or increase the number of animals leaving the shelter system (noses out)? If a program didn’t meet one of those criteria, it was cut or de-prioritized. This was tough work, and almost everyone had to say goodbye to a pet project that we were doing for legacy purposes rather than proven impact on achieving our mission.

Gregory provided the stability, cohesion and calm that allowed us to focus our resources on efforts that moved the needle toward no-kill. Under his watch, we launched the NKLA and NKUT initiatives, grew the Best Friends Network to more than 2,200 partners, developed community cat programs across the country, expanded our annual national conference, retooled our digital and information technology infrastructure, and built and empowered a team to achieve the Best Friends mission. Best Friends now has regional centers in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, and we have programs in 30 cities. Each of these is mission-focused and measured by the noses-in, noses-out standard.

Gregory has also set the stage for what comes next: a national campaign to end the killing in shelters nationwide by 2025. In shifting his energy and attention to the inter-organizational 2025 National Steering Committee led by Best Friends, Gregory brings to the role his decades of experience, knowledge and strong relationships across the animal welfare world. As a universally respected leader, he will guide our collaborative relationships with other no-kill leaders to help achieve the 2025 no-kill goal. He will also continue his important work as a founder and ambassador with our major donors team, as well as fulfill an internal consultancy role for Best Friends.

As an expression of recognition and appreciation for all that he has contributed to Best Friends and the cause of the animals, the board of directors has bestowed on Gregory the honorary title of CEO emeritus. Gregory will continue to be a force for the animals, he will continue to run marathons, and he will continue to guide Best Friends.

Together, we will Save Them All.