Southern Utah University to teach students how to run a no-kill animal shelter

(Photo courtesy of Southern Utah University) SUU President Scott Wyatt pets a dog after announcing a new partnership with Best Friends Animal Society on Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019.

Teach Rufus to roll over — and give him a safe place to do it — and you could earn class credit.

That’s the idea behind a new certificate program at Southern Utah University.

Starting in January, students at the school can sign up and get six credits for learning how to run an animal shelter. It’s part of an expanding partnership with the Best Friends Animal Society near Kanab that will now include coursework in how to set up a haven for cats and dogs and how to operate it in a humane, no-kill way.

“What this program represents to us today is that we are training and teaching a whole new generation of people who want to get into the field of animal welfare and want to do it the right way,” said Julie Castle, executive director of Best Friends, at a news conference announcing the certificate program Tuesday.

The audience of nearly 50 people and a few dogs cheered, clapped and barked after her remarks, sitting in a redrock amphitheater in Kanab just outside the southern Utah shelter. The society’s goal is to have all shelters in the United States be no-kill by 2025. Having started in the 1980s, the shelter is now the largest such haven in the nation.

The program at SUU will include mostly online classes taught by the professionals and animal keepers at Best Friends. Students will study how to reduce the killing of companion animals in shelters and how to create and run their own shelters where they are.

The certificate is offered online, specifically, so that students anywhere nationwide can sign up for the courses. SUU spokesman David Bishop said that Texas and California, for instance, have more shelter kills than any other states — a total of 225,000 kills in 2018 — so it might be of particular interest to individuals there. Students will also visit the Kanab shelter one or more times, to see how it works and participate in an annual conference there during the six-month program.

(The shelter is about 80 miles from SUU’s campus in Cedar City, so it’s not ideal for students to travel there every day.)

The credits earned will translate to a certificate in executive leadership but can also count toward any bachelor’s or master’s degree at the university, too, particularly those in business, public administration and interdisciplinary studies, said SUU President Scott Wyatt. And students can add an emphasis in animal services to their studies.

“Our goal is to help strengthen the quality of the education and deliver credit in a format that’s helpful to all of the students who want to be engaged in this great mission,” he added. “Perhaps this will even evolve into a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in animal services in the future.”

The school expects about 75 people each year to sign up for the program, Bishop said. The shelter was already offering the training, but the partnership will “essentially put it on steroids,” he joked.

The hope is to spread the idea of no-kill shelters nationwide and “professionalize this industry,” Castle said. Only one other university in the nation — the University of the Pacific — offers a similar program.

Castle, who graduated from SUU in 1992, said she started Best Friends to “end a societal ill” of companion pets being killed in too-full shelters. About 30,000 people visit it each year and it sometimes hosts up to 1,600 animals (including pigs, guinea pigs, bunnies and birds).

“I am so excited for this program,” Castle said, “and I can’t wait to see where it goes from here.”