Southern Utah University and Best Friends team up to offer nation’s first university-backed leadership program

SUU_860 x 450.jpg
By Julie Castle

Full disclosure! I am a proud graduate of Southern Utah University (Go T-Birds!) so I am particularly pleased that our leadership advancement team has collaborated with my alma mater to recognize the Best Friends Executive Leadership Certification Program.

From the moment I arrived in the majestic landscape of southern Utah and during my college days in Cedar City, those experiences shaped how I view the world and how I could make a difference. Because of the university’s personalized approach to education, my time at SUU jump-started my leadership foundation. I also truly believe some of my experiences at SUU helped guide and instantly connect me to the Sanctuary and the mission of Best Friends. I’m just over-the-moon excited to see these two very important aspects of my life reconnecting serendipitously to benefit existing and future leaders charging forward with us on this mission.

Creating transformational change in animal lifesaving

Today’s leaders in animal welfare utilize a complex skill set as professionals working on transformational change. For 35 years, Best Friends Animal Society has been at the forefront of innovation and learning in developing model programs and lifesaving practices, so it is fitting that proficiency and leadership in this field will be formally recognized by an accredited academic institution.

Executive Leadership Certification program endorsed by Southern Utah University

The Executive Leadership Certification (ELC) program is the first of its kind in our nation, tailor-made for animal services leadership at the highest level, to be endorsed by a university. Southern Utah University recognizes the academic rigor of the ELC and cohorts will receive an Institutional Certificate of Executive Leadership in Animal Services upon fulfilling program requirements.

I am so proud of the ELC for being rooted in proven techniques, skills, programs and policies and know it will be pivotal in transforming this field as a profession and ending the killing of companion animals in shelters. I am ecstatic to be engaged in such a powerful academic partnership.

While other educational certificates may exist, none of them have the academic rigor and customized learning modules for working professionals coupled with a focus on the high-level professional excellence necessary to sustain no-kill protocols into the future.

Look, you guys, this program packs a lot in during the six months! The students meet for nine in-person classroom sessions, complete 13 modules and come together weekly on 90-minute cohort calls. They get access to national leaders in animal services and in my opinion one of the most important components is that they form a community of lifesaving professionals. I’m so thrilled that now our ELC graduates will have a university certificate that they can frame and hang on their wall!

During the six months, cohorts of the ELC program create an action plan based on data analysis of the pets in their shelter, a professional development plan and a business plan specific to their organizations. What makes this partnership even more unique and exceptional is that SUU is creating a learning block focused on the skills, knowledge, programs and policies of lifesaving animal services leadership that can be applied to a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

An educational opportunity for those involved in animal welfare, sheltering and rescue

This incredible opportunity will be open to Best Friends employees and any employee of a Best Friends Network partner or organization working with Best Friends. A counselor from SUU will be assigned to each student to facilitate the entire experience and process.

For more detailed information, check out or contact

Together, we will Save Them All.

No-Kill 2025

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society