Imagine: An animal utopia in the middle of the southern Utah desert whose sole purpose is to enrich the lives of abused and abandoned animals.
No, it’s not a fantasy—it really exists. Best Friends Animal Society is a leading animal welfare organization working to end the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters by 2025. Founded in 1984, Best Friends is a pioneer in the no-kill movement and has helped reduce the number of animals killed in shelters from an estimated 17 million per year to around 355,000.
Best Friends runs lifesaving programs across the country, as well as the nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary. On any given day, they provide a healing home for up to 1,600 animals, including dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, horses, pigs, and other animals. The backdrop of the canyons in southern Utah turns an ordinary animal rescue into an extraordinarily magical place, complete with themed areas for each type of animal (Dogtown, Cat World, and Horse Haven, to name a few). With the ability to visit and even take part in the caretaking as a visitor, this sanctuary truly feels like a sanctuary.
HOW IT ALL STARTED 35 years ago, a group of friends decided to change the lives of animals in need forever. Their vision: To create a sanctuary for abandoned and abused animals. With that vision (and a lot of work!) Best Friends Animal Sanctuary was born. It is now considered the nation’s largest no-kill shelter and has helped save the lives of millions of dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, and other animals since its opening in 1984.
When the founders first started the sanctuary, their mission was simple: They wanted to do the right thing for creatures who couldn’t speak or act for themselves. Best Friends and the work of their mission has had a ton of influence over how people view the way animals are treated. Through the Save Them All® initiative, which has now taken hold all over the country, more people are taking the lives of animals seriously. Thanks to Best Friends, a third of all communities with sheltering service are now no-kill.
The story of Best Friends and its founders was truly a pivotal movement in the animal welfare world, but the founders developed the sanctuary with the goal of living a life of kindness, compassion, integrity, and a connection to something greater than themselves. The belief that all life has intrinsic value is what built the foundation of what Best Friends is—and what it will continue to become.
With all the animals they’re saving daily, the people who work for Best Friends are instrumental in making sure the work continues with the original mission in mind. Mike Bricker, the Operations Director for Sanctuary Animal Care, started with Best Friends in 2018. “The Vicktory Dogs are what led me to my current position with Best Friends,” he said. “Up until that point, I really didn’t know anything about the organization.”
Bricker oversees all of Best Friends’ animal care teams, including the clinic. “I get to work with some of the most compassionate, driven, and hardworking people, while getting to meet and help care for some of the most adorable animals, in one of the most beautiful places in our country. Tough job, I know,” he said.
It’s those compassionate, driven, and hardworking people who make things happen when the sanctuary is dealing with tough issues, like finding places to house incoming animals when things are already crowded. “My favorite part about working for Best Friends is watching people from all over the sanctuary come together and help each other,” Bricker said.
He used a recent example of cats that were needing to be placed during a particularly busy part of the year: Summer. “This time of year, shelters and rescues have the highest intake, especially for cats. When our Cat World director got these calls, she knew she wanted to help, but it was going to be a bigger project than Cat World could take on alone,” Bricker said.
When that call for help came, the whole sanctuary jumped in to help: The clinic director came in on his day off to help vaccinate animals, the founders opened up their homes to foster, and the chief sanctuary officer allowed two groups of kittens to take up residence in his office. It truly was (and is) a full team operation.
Since starting there in 2018, Bricker says it’s like a dream come true—for both the animals and the people. “Prior to working for Best Friends, I never thought a company like this really existed,” he said. “I mean you can plainly see how much this organization cares about animals, but they care about us, the people, just as much! From the CEO down, Best Friends truly lives its values.”
It’s not all fun and games working at a sanctuary though. Bricker’s least favorite part about working at Best Friends? “When we’re too full and have to say no to a partner that needs our help,” he said. “It’s tough all year but we see the most animals enter shelters in the summer months.”
To help, Bricker recommends reaching out to your local shelters or rescues and ask about volunteering, fostering, donating, or adopting. With your help, we can all honor the mission of the founders of Best Friends, and make life for the animals in need in our own communities a lot friendlier.
To learn more Best Friends Animal Society and their sanctuary in Utah, visit bestfriends.org.
More Sanctuary Photos
CityDog Magazine is pleased to partner with Best Friends Animal Society to bring you amazing animals looking for their forever homes. The animals we feature have been waiting two months or longer to be adopted, so please check them out on our CityDog Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta and New York sites, share with friends and family with the hashtag #bestfriends, then visit one of their Best Friends Lifesaving Centers where you can fall in love with your new forever friend.
about the author
Stephanie Olson is a dog lover who also happens to love writing. Her passion for sharing people’s stories led to a journalism degree at the University of Washington, and quite by accident, a career in advertising. When she’s not crafting creative tag lines and writing dog-centric articles, she spends her free time taking long walks with her dog, Annie, cultivating in the garden, and testing out new recipes in the kitchen.