Best Friends Animal Society hopes to ‘Save Them All’ through NKUT initiatives

Story and gallery by KEATON SHIRK

The well-known scenery of Utah red rock complements the vast, open landscape that is home to 1,600 rescue animals in Kanab, Utah. Tucked away between national parks, these animals are living the good life.

The Best Friends Animal Society is a nonprofit organization providing a safe shelter for rescued animals brought in from around the world. Its strict policy as a no-kill animal organization aims to bring to the public’s attention solutions to help reduce the number of sheltered animals.

At the Best Friends Animal Society’s sanctuary, high-spirited and irresistibly lovable dogs greet you with wet kisses and the eagerness to tell their rescue story. They long for the right companion to come along with the willingness to lend an ear (maybe even a gentle belly rub too), while they grab your heart and prove why their life is valuable.

Pigs, bunnies, and parrots live at the sanctuary too and leave people impacted in unfamiliar yet awe-inspiring ways.

The Best Friends Animal Society was founded in the 1980s by a passionate group of individuals determined to save the lives of animals.

Despite the lack of public support and funding, Best Friends built the nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary in Kanab in 1984. The sanctuary encompasses 3,700 acres of land.

“We had no visible means of support. We were hung out to dry. We were all in it together,” said Francis Battista, co-founder of Best Friends, on the website.

Euthanasia is the chosen method for population control in most animal shelters. In the 1980s, Best Friends Animal Society reported, “17 million animals were being killed each year in U.S Shelters.” Particularly, cats and dogs suffer from the highest kill rates among all sheltered animals.

Best Friends has initiated a campaign to make Utah a no-kill state. The initiative is called No-Kill Utah and it is hope to be reached by 2019.

The NKUT initiative began after the originators of Best Friends found themselves disturbed by the staggering statistic of cats and dogs killed yearly.

Best Friends has been working closely with animal shelters around Utah in an effort to break the rising trend of overpopulation in animal shelters. Overpopulation causes shelters to defer to euthanasia to reduce financial costs of caring for animals and maximizing space.

Right now Best Friends has partnered with 58 animal shelters in Utah. This number is growing as the campaign reaches new audiences.

All animals at Best Friends are given second chances, the kind of second chances that quite literally change their lives.

The slogan, “Save Them All,” is an anthem for employees and volunteers. It also serves as a compelling reminder, that killing homeless animals is an unnecessary solution to an issue that can be changed.

The sanctuary welcomes animals that have been neglected, treated unjustly or suffered life threatening physical conditions. The founders hoped, “to give homeless animals the chance to live a fulfilling life.” 

Their hopes still reign true today. Every year, data is collected and shows more animals successfully leaving shelters alive to live in homes with welcoming hearts. 

Because of the impact Best Friends had on the community of Utah animals, expansion is taking place in other cities in the United States. Best Friends adoption facilities are open in Atlanta, New York and two in Los Angeles. 

Joan Filla, from Wisconsin, has been coming to Best Friends for nine years. She visits only three times each year.

She has witnessed the physical growth at Best Friend’s sanctuary. Filla said in an interview that there are more buildings available to care for animals.

Not only has Best Friends grown physically, Filla also said that awareness for sheltered animals is extending farther than Utah boundaries. She found the best way for her to advocate about the mission of Best Friends is to simply wear her volunteer T-shirt.

Filla said people consistently approach her and ask what Best Friends Animal Society is. She uses this interaction as a way to promote and advocate for the organization and the no-kill initiatives currently in effect.

Best Friends has initiated a campaign to make Utah a no-kill state. The initiative is called No-Kill Utah and it is hoped to be achieved by 2019.

This would mean all animals in the state of Utah are guaranteed their life, regardless if physical space in animal shelters is not available. If space is unavailable, animals are transported to partnering NKUT shelters that can accommodate them.

Best Friends encourages the type of community involvement, like that of Filla, to help spread the word about NKUT.

To successfully achieve NKUT by 2019, Utah must have a “combined save rate of 90 percent” in all animal shelters.

In other words, 90 percent of animals that enter shelters must leave alive. The remaining 10 percent takes into consideration natural deaths and terminal illnesses of animals.

Deb Parker, a previous volunteer who now works full time at Best Friends, moved from upstate New York to join the community and support the work of Best Friend’s sanctuary.

In an interview, Parker said, “In fiscal year 2017, we had an 87 percent save rate in the entire state of Utah, had close to 2,000 adoptions and did over 37,000 spays and neuters in the state alone.”

Parker added, “Yes, we are on track for both No-Kill Utah 2019 and No Kill 2025. Spread the word, the more people helping to achieve this, the better.” Best Friends plans to make all U.S. cities no-kill by 2025.

The NKUT initiative began after the originators of Best Friends found themselves disturbed by the staggering statistic of cats and dogs killed yearly.

In 2000, “nearly 38,000 healthy and adoptable animals were being killed in Utah every year,” reported Best Friends in an online news release. 

That’s when NKUT was initiated. It was an aggressive attempt to reduce the rising yearly deaths among sheltered cats and dogs.

As of 2017, the number is down to roughly 2,400. Nearly half a million dogs and cats have been saved from 2000 to 2017.

Best Friend’s aspirations have been manifested by its work within Utah. Resources are available so Utah communities have the ability to promote NKUT and make the campaign a success by 2019.

Best Friends offers legislative empowerment to those who wish to take action through lobbying elected officials. Reaching out to elected officials is an efficient way to take action on pertinent bills regarding Best Friends and animal welfare.

Advocacy enables people to speak directly with lawmakers and become a voice for animals that have no representation. You can sign up online to join the legislative action network, receive emails, and connect with other Utahns. 

Fighting breed-discrimination is another initiative of Best Friends that educates the public about breeds that are viewed as aggressive. Unfortunately, the media has given negative attention to pit bull terriers and other alike breeds because of their reputation in illegal dogfighting and aggressive behavior.

Eliminating breed-discrimination practices reduces the amount of dogs entering shelters that would be brought in from public enforcement and animal control groups.

BSL, which stands for breed-specific legislation, is a body of laws that aims to regulate breeds or dogs who resemble certain breeds, that are potentially dangerous. On Best Friend’s website, it said, “breed discriminatory legislation force many people to give up their beloved pets.” After such force, dogs are put into animal shelters and not adopted. 

Best Friends refers to BSL as a “misconception” and usually enacted “to ease fears over public safety, but these laws are ineffective and very costly.” 

In Utah, House Bill 97, signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, “protects pet owner property rights and allows responsible citizens to own any breed of dog they choose.” House Bill 97 was effective Jan. 1, 2015.

Events are held annually in Utah to offer community members the chance to get involved and show support for NKUT. Strut Your Mutt, NKUT Super Adoption, and training workshops and classes are happenings that occur throughout the year. 

Best Friends provides spaying and neutering as another resource to reach NKUT. All animals admitted to shelters have the procedure. This procedure is routinely done and requires minimal downtime for pets. Low cost and potentially free spays or neuters are offered to community members’ pets too, courtesy of Best Friends

Best Friends reports, spaying and neutering, “is one of the greatest gifts you can provide your pet, your family and your community” because it reduces the number of animals that initially enter shelters.

NKUT reported services will be provided “where they are needed most so that fewer animals go into shelters, and increase adoptions so that more animals are placed into new homes.” 

NKUT strives to ensure that all sheltered animals are given the gift of life. Communities in Utah are being called to action.

Now is the time to spread the word and “Save Them All.”

Advertisements