Best Friends Animal Society and SUU announce first-of-its-kind partnership to end killing of shelter animals

Maxine, a mutt of a cat who was rescued from a kill shelter in Las Vegas, Nevada, Aug. 15, 2015 | Photo by David Louis, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — In a first of its kind partnership, Southern Utah University and Best Friends Animal Society have banded together to create a six-month animal services leadership program to help foster the society’s goal for no-kill animal shelters across the nation.

It’s been 20 years since San Francisco helped start a revolution, becoming the first U.S. community to guarantee a home to every adoptable dog and cat. Since then, the no-kill movement has been credited with greatly reducing the number of dogs and cats that are euthanized, from some 20 million down to about 3 million annually.

There are an estimated 14,000 shelters and pet rescue groups in the U.S., taking in between 3-8 million animals each year. One of which is the Kanab-based Best Friends Animal Society.

In a first of its kind partnership, Best Friends and Southern Utah University have entered into an agreement for the school to provide a six-month animal services leadership program to foster the society’s goal of having no-kill animal shelters across the nation by 2025.

Animal rights advocates say that preventing the killing of the nation’s pets is tied to professional excellence, compassion, community wellness and social justice.

Tuesday, Best Friends and SSU joined in partnership to announce the Nation’s first higher education endorsed animal services leadership program for working professionals, a concentrated effort to create clarity on what success looks like when dealing with animal welfare.

A small dog being held by a Best Friends Animal Society worker, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of the Best Friends Animal Society, St. George News

The six-month blended university program will train top-level animal service leaders and animal welfare professionals with the goal of ending the killing of companion animals in shelters across the nation.

The program will create organizational action, professional development and business plans that are tailored to specific needs. The program will connect the students with innovators, natural experts in animal services and welfare, and provide opportunities to advance in higher education.

Upon completion, the university will award six academic credits as well as credits that can be applied to a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree program.

Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends, is excited about the partnership.

“It is so appropriate that we are coming together,” Castle said. “To be successful is not about money, it is not how you grew up or where you grew up … it’s about grit. We are all about grit. Whatever it takes to get the job done.”

According to, only one out of every 10 dogs born will find a permanent home.

Each year, approximately 2.7 million dogs and cats are killed because shelters are too full and there aren’t enough adoptive homes.

Approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.9 million are dogs and 3.4 million are cats. According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, less than 2% of lost cats and only 15 to 20% of dogs are returned to their owners.

It’s impossible to determine how many stray dogs and cats live in the United States. Estimates for cats alone range up to 70 million.

Only 10% of the animals received by shelters have been spayed or neutered. Overpopulation, due to owners letting their pets accidentally or intentionally reproduce, accounts for millions of these “excess” animals killed annually.

According to the Humane Society, there are about 3,500 brick-and-mortar animal shelters in the US and 10,000 rescue groups and animal sanctuaries in North America.

The university’s president, Scott Wyatt, is also excited about the partnership with Best Friends, saying it was a pleasure to become part of the organization’s family and to help achieve their goal to end the killing of animals who are stranded in shelters across the country.

“This is one of the most audacious goals ever thrown down, and you are right on the verge of achieving it,” Wyatt said. “There is a few high-hanging fruits left to achieving that goal by 2025, but we hope the Best Friends Leadership Program will help accomplish the goal.”

Wyatt added that without the tireless efforts of Best Friends, the creation of such a partnership would not be possible.

“We want to be with you on the celebration day of the last shelter, (ending) the killing of … animals,” Wyatt said.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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