Best Friends Blog

The right stuff

Brent ToellnerWhile it’s common knowledge within the animal welfare movement, you may not be aware that Best Friends is assembling a team of no-kill superstars to join our own already impressive leadership group.

Over the past few months, Brent Toellner, Scott Giacoppo, Tawny Hammond and José Ocaño have joined our ranks, and they are with us for one reason — to end the killing in our nation’s shelters.

Last July at the Best Friends National Conference, Julie Castle, Best Friends chief development, marketing and communications officer, put a stake in the ground during her closing address to a packed hall at the Salt Lake City convention center and committed Best Friends to leading a movement to end shelter killing in this country by 2025. This is our “moon shot” and like President Kennedy’s commitment to put a man on the moon by the end of that decade, Best Friends is prioritizing our organizational resources and efforts to achieve the goal laid out so powerfully by Julie.

Brent, Scott, Tawny and José are proven leaders (see their bios at the bottom of this post) who represent a veritable “who’s who” in animal welfare. Each of them has led or had a leadership role in transforming major municipal shelters and cities into no-kill communities.

They will be serving in roles that vary, but the great thing is that we couldn’t expect or demand more from them than they expect and demand of themselves — an end to the killing in shelters. The point of all this horsepower is to support a regional focus to achieve no-kill nationwide by 2025. Whether you’re working toward no-kill in upstate New York, southern Oregon or somewhere in between, you’ll have access to the leadership and resources of Best Friends.

Of course, we already have superstars on board, such as Holly Sizemore, Judah Battista, Marc Peralta, Arlyn Bradshaw, Elizabeth Jensen, Ledy VanKavage, Peter Wolf and Elizabeth Oreck, along with their staff, who constitute a super-group in their own right.

I’m really only scratching the surface. Julie Castle, who heads up our marketing, communications and development division, was employee number 17 at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary back in the mid-1990s. She went on to lead the programs of No More Homeless Pets in Utah and led the charge in getting our NKLA initiative started.

Our digital and IT teams are also rescue wonks, and anyone who has visited the Sanctuary in Utah has firsthand experience with the talent and dedication of our animal care staff. Everyone is a part of this effort — from our Sanctuary ambassadors to the maintenance team and the staff who prepare the meals at our Sanctuary café.

All of this extraordinary talent works under the leadership of one of our co-founders and lead architect of our campaigns, CEO Gregory Castle.

When I say that Best Friends is on a mission to end the killing in shelters, I am not speaking in platitudes or expressing vague intentions or alluding to a collection of good works. I am referring to a mobilization to lead collaborative work all across the country and continue to enlist proven leaders to save the lives of our animal friends. This is the promise and commitment of Best Friends Animal Society.

Together, we will Save Them All.

Francis Battista

Best Friends Animal Society


Brent Toellner (shown above), his wife Michelle and a few others formed the Kansas City Pet Project (KCPP) to bid on the contract to run the shelter in Kansas City, Missouri — a place where, for decades, more animals died than were saved. Since KCPP took over in January 2012, adoptions have increased by more than 200%. KCPP has had a live release rate of more than 90% for four consecutive years while remaining an open-admission shelter, making it one of the largest open-admission no-kill shelters in the nation. In 2016, KCPP finished the year with a 94% live release rate. Brent still serves on the board of directors for KCPP and is the author of the “KC Dog Blog.”

Scott Giacoppo
Scott Giacoppo serves on the board of the National Animal Control Association and has been involved in animal protection since 1989, when he became an animal caregiver in Minneapolis. For the next 17 years, Scott worked for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in a variety of positions, including his work with shelter operations, the humane law enforcement department, the media relations department and the advocacy team. Prior to coming to Best Friends, he was the chief community animal welfare officer for the Washington Humane Society in Washington, D.C., overseeing the organization’s community-based programs.

Tawny HammondTawny Hammond served as the chief of animal services for the city of Austin, Texas, and has spent the last 30 years working in the public service arena, creating and implementing programs and services for people and their animals. For six years, Austin Animal Services has been a leader for municipal shelters around the country, saving more than 95% of the more than 17,000 animals who come through the doors each year. This past year, Austin reached a new milestone, achieving live outcomes for nearly 95% of those animals and is currently at 98.7%. Austin is the largest no-kill community in the nation. Tawny has a proven track record of success, serving for more than 25 years in municipal government in Fairfax County, Virginia, and bringing the Fairfax County Animal Shelter to no-kill in less than three years.

José Ocaño
José Ocaño, a native of Tucson, Arizona, was the executive director of operations for Pima Animal Care Center (PACC). He started as a shelter technician over a decade ago, at an open-admission shelter that took in more than 30,000 pets each year. After he spent his first day on the job euthanizing dozens of saveable pets, José considered leaving animal welfare, but he decided to stay and work for change at the county facility. During his tenure, José focused on community engagement and implementing progressive lifesaving adoption, rescue and volunteer programs that increased live outcomes and decreased intake to 18,000 pets per year. José helped launch PACC’s Pet Support Center, overhaul the shelter’s medical operations, and push the open-admission shelter’s live release rate to the 90 percent it is today.

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  • michellenevada

    Very impressive achievements by all of them! I’m especially interested in Mr. Ocano’s reduction in shelter intake from 30,000 to 18,000. How did he do that? Low cost spay/neuter of pets? TNR? programs to help keep pets in their families? ordinances to regulate/reduce backyard breeders and puppy mills? Please feature each of these remarkable people at this summer’s conference!