Interview with Best Friends Animal Society Co-founder Faith Maloney

Best Friends Animal Society was founded in 1984 with a mission: to end pet homelessness in the United States.

Best Friends runs the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals at their Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. They also operate lifesaving programs in partnership with more than 1,300 rescue groups and shelters across the country. The Sanctuary gained national attention when it was featured on the National Geographic Channel. Here, co-founder Faith Maloney answers 10 questions about the organization.

How many animals does Best Friends care for each day?

Faith Maloney: On average, we take care of 1,700 animals a day here at the Sanctuary. These are mostly dogs and cats, but we also take care of horses, potbellied pigs, sheep, goats, rabbits and parrots. We also do wildlife rehabilitation for our region. The Sanctuary is just a little over 3,700 acres. We use around 300 acres for the animals and the rest is for the abundant wild animals that live here, like mountain lions, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, snakes, squirrels, quail and wild turkeys to name a few. Nearly 30,000 people visit every year to meet the animals and tour what has become the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals.

How many people does it take to run BFAS?

Faith Maloney: 675 people help do the work of Best Friends Animal Society around the country. Around 400 staff work at the Sanctuary helping to take care of the animals and in the numerous support jobs required to run a place this large. For example, we need a large maintenance staff to keep the place up and running every single day.

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What was it like being featured on the National Geographic Channel? Did it help drive awareness?

Faith Maloney: We were very glad when National Geographic approached us to do a show about Dogtown. It gave us a platform to show people how we relate to special needs dogs and help them find new homes when in many cases others had given up on them. It helped drive awareness of our work here, and in addition the program was also picked up internationally so that has brought people from many countries around the world here as well.

Can you tell us about one of your favorite animals currently looking for a family?

Faith Maloney: Coffee is a large mixed breed dog with some Rottweiler in him we think, but who knows. He came to us from a shelter in Albuquerque, NM. We help a lot of our No More Homeless Pets Network partners (public charity rescue groups, spay/neuter organizations and shelters actively saving lives and reducing shelter deaths locally) with animals that are being overlooked in their facilities. Coffee is good with all people, passed our cat and small dog encounters test and is also good with large dogs. He is between 7 and 8 years old and is a big, gentle guy. He is on our site, but somehow he’s been overlooked, which really surprises me!

What’s something that an animal welfare person would be surprised to learn about BFAS?

Faith Maloney: The thing we hear over and over again is how surprised people are at the size of the Sanctuary. Having a large area of land means that we have the various animal areas in different parts of that acreage. For example, Horse Haven is three miles from Dogtown even though it’s all on the same piece of property. We all need vehicles to get around from one area to another.

What’s one of your memorable success stories?

Faith Maloney: One of my favorite success stories is about a wonderful, kind lady in Colorado who has adopted several dogs from us throughout the years and they are always “old-timers.”  As one passes away, she’ll bring the second dog she has to the Sanctuary to meet another dog. Most recently she adopted Pirate, who had been here for many years, as a companion for 17-year-old Tabitha, a former Best Friends old-timer. Pirate is doing really well in his new home!

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We know it’s not all glamourous. What’s something that’s difficult about working there? Are there day-to-day struggles?

Faith Maloney: We do not have enough space to list all the struggles Best Friends has experienced in the 31 years we have been here in Kanab. The struggles at the beginning are not the same as the ones we have now, but every day there are challenges to meet. For example, raising enough money to do this work was very hard in the early days. People did not know us as well as they do now, so thankfully that area is a bit easier now. Finding homes for animals that have been overlooked due to age or temperament is an ever-present challenge. And knowing that there are still around four million animals dying every year in our shelter system is a constant struggle, but also a huge incentive to keep on doing this work.

What’s a typical day like?

Faith Maloney: For animal care staff the day might well start at 7 or 8 a.m. in all weathers. We have four seasons here in Kanab, so it might be very hot or very, very cold. The animals need to be given food, water and companionship every single day. Their dwellings need to be cleaned inside and out. Medical issues need to be related to. Exercise and training programs relevant to that species are done every day. Our support staff will start around the same time every day as well. In snowy weather the day might start at 5 or 6 a.m. for our maintenance staff as they get the access roads cleared of snow so that the care staff and volunteers can get in to the Sanctuary.

The staff that oversees volunteers get ready to greet the number of volunteers for that day, which could be as high as 140 people all wanting to spend time with our animals. The cafeteria staff will be preparing a vegetarian/vegan noon meal for upwards of 175 people. The financial people are making sure all the money is accounted for and spent wisely. Human Resources is helping find people for jobs here and taking care of the staff we already have. Best Friends is a big place and it takes a lot of dedicated staff and volunteers with skill and enthusiasm to get the job done every single day.

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Beyond sheltering animals and adopting them into homes, what else does BFAS do?

Faith Maloney: At the core of Best Friends’ work is the dream that one day animals will no longer be killed in America’s shelters. By implementing spay/neuter and trap/neuter/return (TNR) programs to reduce the number of animals who enter shelters, and increasing the number of people who adopt pets, we know we can end the killing.

Best Friends is also running critical initiatives targeted at core issues that impact shelter deaths: puppy mills—one of the major contributors to animal homelessness; cats, who comprise the majority of animals dying in shelters; and pit bull terrier-like dogs, which like cats, represent a disproportionately high number of animals dying in shelters. We also work collaboratively with other groups, government and individuals through outreach programs that get to the very root of animal homelessness nationwide.

How can someone get involved with BFAS?

Faith Maloney: Best Friends has many opportunities for getting involved with the work we do. Volunteering at the Sanctuary and at the many events we do nationwide, such as Strut Your Mutt, our annual Network Partner fundraising dog walk and the Super Adoptions we do in many states is always welcome. For more information on how to sign-up as a volunteer, please visit our website. Best Friends works on legal issues affecting community cats and breed discriminatory laws affecting pit bull-type terriers. Help on those issues by taking action in your area is much appreciated. Finding out who is a Network Partner in your area and offering to help them helps Best Friends achieve our goal to Save Them All. Helping to financially support the work we and our partners do is vital. In order to get the word out and to help the millions of animals that need us, we need those funds coming in. Large or small those donations make it all possible.

Meet the Author: Maggie Marton

Maggie is a writer and author, whose first book, Clicker Dog Training: The Better Path to a Well-Behaved Pup was published by Open Air Publishing. When she's not writing (or reading books about grammar), she teaches writing courses to college students and professionals who want to nail down the basics of communication. Outside of work, she hikes, throws dinner parties, plays with her three dogs and cat, and travels as much as possible.

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