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The City Journals

CEO works to improve lives of animals and people

Dec 16, 2021 11:14AM ● By Katy Whittingham

Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, received the Salt Lake Tribune’s only 2021 Leadership Award in their large business category. (Best Friends Animal Society)

By Katy Whittingham | [email protected] 

Best Friends Animal Society based out of Kanab where they run the country’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary has been named one of Utah’s Top Workplaces for 2021 by the Salt Lake Tribune with CEO Julie Castle receiving the Tribune’s only 2021 Leadership Award in their large business category. 

“Some days can be hard, especially with the work we do. Animal welfare work can be physically, intellectually and emotionally taxing, but I’ve never once regretted the work I’m doing or joining this incredible organization,” Castle said. “Our work is truly changing the country and making better lives not just for the animals but for people as well.”

Best Friends Animal Society also has a location in Sugar House.

Since starting work at Best Friends in the mid-90s, Castle worked her way up the ranks to become the organization’s first female CEO in March 2018 and has helped to build the organization into an 800-employee national leader in animal welfare. 

Following her graduation from Southern Utah University in 1994, Castle’s career aspirations were headed in quite a different direction when she happened upon Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab between a road trip to Mexico and law school in Virginia. 

“I’ve always loved animals, but I never thought I would be where I am now. Growing up, I had dreams of becoming a lawyer and working to promote justice and good in our society,” Castle said. However, struck by the beauty of the sanctuary and the compassion of their vision, Castle made a life-changing decision. “Back then, when everyone else thought that the only viable solution to dealing with homeless pets in shelters was to kill them, Best Friends flipped that notion on its head, and looked for viable solutions through the lens of compassion and sparked the no-kill movement. And I wanted to be part of it. I made the decision to forgo law school and instead joined Best Friends as employee number 17,” she said. 

Fast forward to 2018 when Castle started her tenure as CEO, this motivation remained as she made the strong commitment “to end the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters by the year 2025. “I knew we had to be bold and make a commitment to hold ourselves accountable and finally put an end to the killing of cats and dogs in American shelters,” she said. 

In 2020, the number of cats and dogs being killed in shelters was down to 347,000 from 17 million when Best Friends started. “While these numbers are incredible to see, it’s still too many lives being lost,” Castle said. Through the creation of their comprehensive national dataset, they are able to see one of their biggest obstacles is that cats are being killed two to one compared to dogs. “Which tells us that we need to focus more programs to save cats, in particular community cats,” Castle said. “We’re also starting to see adoption numbers decline from 2020, which is putting added stress on the shelters and more animals at risk. By increasing the number of people who foster and adopt pets from shelters, and implementing community cat programs, we will be able to see real progress towards our goal.”

In addition to being the leading animal welfare organization working to end the killing of dogs and cats in America through “Save Them All,” Best Friends credits their mission-driven work, emphasis on data and innovation, and a culture rooted in kindness and the Golden Rule as the keys to creating an energized work force. They also offer unique benefits to their animal-loving staff such as paid time off for adopting or fostering pets, and the ability to bring dogs, cats—and occasionally even a pig—to meetings. 

Best Friends runs lifesaving programs all across the country, not just in Utah, and works collaboratively with a network of more than 3,300 animal and shelter partners, and community members nationwide. 

“In order to reach no-kill, however, we need the public’s help,” Castle said. “Even if you can’t adopt a pet right now, fostering a pet—even for just a week, can make a huge difference to the life of that animal. People can also help by getting pets spayed/neutered, volunteering, supporting our advocacy work by joining the 2025 Action Team, and of course, donating to Best Friends or your local shelter. There are many different ways for people to help us save them all.”

For more information about Best Friends, including ways you can help visit bestfriends.org