By the time Best Friends opened its doors in 1984, most of the founders had been involved in one aspect or another of animal rescue or advocacy for some time. Like most rescuers, then and now, they were focused on the needs of the animals who were right in front of them. However, as the reputation of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary spread, the organization began to grow into the role of a powerful voice for the no-kill philosophy.
At that time, animal welfare at the national level was dominated by traditional agencies that supported local organizations run either by animal control or humane organizations that held animal control contracts and were run by animal welfare professionals who had certifications, credentials and letters after their names. To them, the founders of Best Friends were a bunch of brash newcomers and their message to them was this: “Stand back and let the professionals handle it.”
Trouble was, the professionals weren’t handling it; 17 million animals were dying in our nation’s shelters. The response from Best Friends to those naysayers was pretty much what the title of this blog, a riff on a famous movie quote, suggests: Saving lives isn’t rocket science and your credentials and the letters after your name don’t mean a thing if you are not using them to save more lives and end the killing in shelters.
For the most part, they wrote Best Friends off as a bunch of kooks in the desert, but that condescending dismissal began to change in the early 1990s, when, of necessity, the founders took the no-kill idea and the message of Best Friends on the road. The founders began connecting with animal lovers face-to-face at tables set up at local markets, health food stores, malls and street fairs across the West.
They met people up and down the West Coast — San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Jose, San Francisco and Seattle. They took road trips to Phoenix, Flagstaff, Sedona, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Denver, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Many of the people the founders met in that way are still members and supporters of Best Friends today, but something a lot more powerful than meeting people was taking place.
When those early emissaries from Best Friends took to the road to spread the Best Friends message, it was clear to them that they were fulfilling a dream for thousands and, as it turned out, millions of people. It was also clear that this small band of true believers could never fulfill all the hopes that so many people attached to their vision, but they could certainly help the people that they inspired begin to fulfill those hopes themselves.
After all, Best Friends was the “We don’t need no stinking badges” folks, so if the founders didn’t need official permission to save animals, then neither did anyone else. The organization began to focus on empowering those who wanted to take up the cause. Best Friends magazine, our resource library and, eventually, our website, conferences and sanctuary workshops have always been designed as “how to,” self-empowering opportunities.
In Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, a good number of the current local rescue groups were created by one-time Best Friends volunteers who went on to make their own contribution to working toward the no-kill vision of Best Friends.
Then, as now, we are driven in all of this by a dual imperative: to help save more lives and to fulfill our obligation to those who choose to follow our lead. When the founders of Best Friends started sharing their DIY expertise, practical know-how and go-for-broke approach to animal welfare, they didn’t know it, but they were helping to start a movement of people intent on loosening the grip and ultimately grabbing the reins of leadership from the old school of animal welfare professionals.
They didn’t “need no stinking badges” to save the lives of shelter animals, and neither did those of us who followed in their footsteps — and neither do you.
The 2015 Best Friends National Conference that will take place in Atlanta, Georgia, from July 16 to July 19 is the latest in a long line of events geared entirely to empowering individuals and organizations to do more to help end the killing in shelters. Unlike in the early days, we are now joined by a new generation of animal welfare professionals, who, like you and me, are committed to bringing about a time when there are no more homeless pets.
Together, we can Save Them All — badges or not.
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Chief Development and Marketing Officer
Best Friends Animal Society