Best Friends Animal Society: The best of both worlds

Sponsored: Best Friends has been named one of Utah’s top places to work by The Salt Lake Tribune.

(Molly Wald) Cat World director Amy Kohlbecker reading to a feline leukemia positive cat named Ken at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah.

You don’t normally think about nonprofit organizations when you think of the best places to work, but when it comes to rating workplaces, Best Friends Animal Society takes the cake — or, rather, the award. Best Friends has been named one of Utah’s Top Places to Work by the Salt Lake Tribune.

The leading animal welfare organization working to end the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters by 2025, Best Friends is an organization unlike any other. Best Friends was founded in 1984 by a small group of friends in the red rock canyons of southern Utah. The organization is guided by its mission of bringing about a time when there are no more homeless pets and by five straightforward principles: Kindness, positivity, leadership, authenticity and transparency.

It’s those principles that guide the organization’s lifesaving work at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary — a home-between-homes for up to 1,600 dogs, cats, bunnies, birds, horses, pigs and other barnyard animals, located in Kanab, Utah. It’s what inspires Best Friends’ lifesaving teams in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, New York City, Houston, Atlanta and Bentonville, Arkansas. And it’s what guides the work to save the lives of homeless dogs and cats all across the country.

Led by CEO Julie Castle, a Utah native, Best Friends is a mission — and passion-driven organization that attracts dreamers, visionaries and animal advocates from a variety of industries and backgrounds — each offering a unique perspective, and all of them talented and passionate about saving lives. And they don’t work alone.

Best Friends’ 750-plus employees (half are based in Utah and the other half work remotely) work alongside volunteers, passionate individuals and a network of more than 3,400 shelters, rescue groups and other animal welfare partners. Together, they’ve accomplished so much for homeless pets. In fact, they’ve helped reduce the number of dogs and cats being in killed in shelters from an estimated 17 million per year when Best Friends was founded to about 347,000 today.

So what keeps them going? A shared vision. Each and every person at Best Friends — every employee, volunteer, member and donor — shares a love for the animals and a commitment to saving their lives. They are dedicated to saving every wagging tail and every whiskered face and creating a no-kill country by 2025.

Of course, providing great benefits for staff members doesn’t hurt motivation. Working in a nonprofit that involves caring for others (furry and feathered others, in this case), Best Friends’ leadership believes that self-care is extra important. That’s why, in addition to all the usual perks, like health care and dental benefits, staff get free mental health sessions, pet bereavement time and paid leave for adopting or fostering a pet. They also get flexible holidays, paid pet-sitting and (we probably don’t have to say it) every day is “Take your pet to work” day.

Though Best Friends is based in Utah and many of its employees live in the Kanab area, about half the staff benefit from the flexibility of a remote work environment. Of course, remote employees are free to visit the Sanctuary and the animals there anytime they wish.

(Sarah Ause Kichas) About half of Best Friends employees work in Utah, and the other half works remotely, often with their personal pets as their officemates.

It’s probably no surprise, then, that some Best Friends staff stay for quite a long time — years, in fact. Does that mean they’re set in their ways? Nope! The opposite, actually.

Culture is fluid, as the pandemic has shown us all, and that’s something Best Friends has always believed. So, in addition to looking for new ideas, innovative ways and outside-the-box programs that save lives, Best Friends is focused on changing what needs to be changed and fixing what needs to be fixed. To see an example, you just have to visit the pet lifesaving dashboard (bestfriends.org/2025).

Years ago, people had no idea how many lives were being lost in shelters. And how were animal welfare organizations supposed to save lives if they didn’t have that information? That’s why Best Friends launched the largest shelter data collection effort ever, ultimately leading to creation of the pet lifesaving dashboard — a first-of-its-kind interactive online tool that allows anyone to see where pets need help and how to help them.

That shelter data also allows Best Friends to see how best to allocate its resources to save the most lives, and how to help partners do the same. Because of the dashboard, Fast Company magazine put Best Friends on its list of the world’s most innovative companies, recognizing Best Friends in the top 10 for data science.

Whether it’s ways to improve lifesaving, the well-being of employees or the organization’s culture, Best Friends is open to it. Nonprofit and top workplace? It’s the best of both worlds.