Proven Strategies

White pit bull type dog with mouth open looking at camera with conference text to the right

The Best Friends National Conference is Back!

I think I speak for most of us when I say how disappointing it was to not be able to offer the National Conference last year. We had such big dreams about the incredible event we had planned in Orlando, and when the pandemic shelved in-person events, we sadly didn’t have time to pivot and make the conference virtual.  

But 2021 is a new year and on June 23 and 24, the Best Friends National Conference is back in virtual form! While we are still working out all the exciting details, I can share a few high points: 

  • Drawing on the lessons of 2020, we will be incorporating elements of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the content. DEI is a critical element of a strong company culture and we have moved to add it into our mission, so it only makes sense that the conference content reflects this vital component. 
  • We’ll be offering a robust career center that includes links to job boards, articles and blogs that discuss ways you can elevate your animal welfare skills. The center will also offer opportunities to connect with the team that developed our masters-level Executive Leadership Certification course and our human resources department. 
  • Past attendees always appreciate having the opportunity to connect one-on-one with speakers, so we will be offering that again this year. In addition, we are creating ways for attendees to connect with one another and replicate a bit of the social networking that exists with a traditional conference. (The virtual aspect is a bonus for those who aren’t typically social butterflies!) 
  • Just because we’re going to be virtual doesn’t mean there won’t be an exhibit hall! We know this is a major draw to the conference and we’re busy talking with vendors now! 
  • The usual high-quality content will be presented in shorter sessions that combine presentations and a live question-and-answer segment.  
  • Lastly, because we know that cost of conference fees plus travel is often a barrier to attendees, this year’s conference not only eliminates the expense of lodging and airfare, but the fee will be extremely affordable. By removing those hurdles, we hope that people who often are not able to attend—especially animal control officers, kennel techs and front-line customer service staff—will be able to tune in.  

If you’ve never attended one of our conferences, now’s your chance. Not to toot our own horn (OK, maybe I’m tooting it a little), but this event is a shot of caffeine that inspires animal welfare advocates of all kinds to get back out there and dig into lifesaving. Don’t believe me? Here are some “a-ha,” groundbreaking moments that past attendees shared with us: 

Robert A. Gruhl, director of Montgomery County Animal Resource Center (ARC) in Dayton, Ohio 

In 2019, I attended Best Friends’ conference in Dallas with ARC’s outreach coordinator Steve Glardon. We left with a ton of great information, but our biggest takeaways were: 

  • Never underestimate the power of networking, especially when you’re new to the field. 
  • If you don’t engage the community with transparency and trust, your chances of success deteriorate day-by-day. 
  • We must take the opportunity to build rapport with every single citizen who we interact with, not just with those we easily engage with. Most people do care and will do the right thing for their pets. 
  • Data, data, data. The more data you have, the better outcomes you will achieve.  

Kim Kamins, president and CEO of Fearless Kitty Rescue (FKR) in Scottsdale, AZ  

My biggest a-ha moment was when Best Friends unveiled the data dashboard, which started a mission to see where we needed to put our resources. I had no clue just how many people were asking us for help and for what kind of help. Now I can tell people that in 2019 we were asked to take in 5,032 kitties, and we were only able to take in 200. That in turns give our supporters their own "a-ha" moment understanding what we’re up against. 

Lorna Barrett, founder of That’s What Friends Are For, Inc., in Augusta, Georgia 

When I walk around among other attendees, speakers and Best Friends leaders, I feel such kinship. Even speaking with new friends between classes, at meals, etc., and learning what they do and what excites them about our work fills my heart. It is wonderful to be among so many people who care deeply about animals and are doing many things to improve their lives. 

Liz Dubuis, volunteer with the SPCA of Texas and East Lake Pet Orphanage in Dallas and with Red Rover at the national level.  

Being from Dallas, one of the highlights of the 2019 conference was meeting director Ed Jamison and hearing all the great changes going on at Dallas Animal Services.  In fact, I was so inspired after seeing them, I not only volunteered to work the "Clear the Shelter" Day a few months later, I adopted a 16-year-old kitty myself the day of volunteer orientation!  I also got inspired to TNR a large colony and ended up spaying and neutering 56 cats over three to four months.   

Amber Kostoff, executive director of MCPAWS in McCall, Idaho 

I definitely have a-ha moments associated with specific workshops/talks/ideas, but the biggest a-ha moment is always, "I'm not alone in addressing these issues. Other organizations are doing the same work and together we can have a cumulative impact." That has always been the biggest benefit for me.  

Stacy Rogers, regional director, Midwest and Great Plains region for Best Friends Animal Society  

I attended my first national conference in 2012 when I was the executive director of Almost Home Humane Society in Indiana. During one session, I remember the speaker said, "the most dangerous place for a dog is in your building" and it really hit me.  We were doing everything wrong. Nearly every program we had was preventing animals from leaving alive.   

The two of us from the organization who had attended the conference s and spent the plane ride back home devising a plan to save more lives and reach no-kill. We created a barn cat program (TNR was illegal at the time), dropped pit bull-specific policies, kicked off adoption specials, changed our messaging and overhauled our adoption application. What we learned at the conference really changed our entire organization and drove the efforts to push us over 90%.  

Kristi Maryman, senior manager of corporate relations and events at Sacramento SPCA 

Our agency had never used LinkedIn as a tool to reach the business community. We had an agency page but with no activity. I learned that using LinkedIn to engage local prominent business owners and corporations through tailored messaging on your organizational page could have major benefits in the partnership realm.  

We began implementing a weekly LinkedIn post in January of 2020 and later developed a once or twice weekly posting schedule throughout the entire calendar year. Our followers grew by more than 300 people, engagement increased on the platform and we were able to thank our corporate donors on this platform while we utilized Facebook and Instagram for more programmatic highlights. It was a simple, free, tool we already had, we just needed to start using it! This lesson was actionable and just from this one tip, we have gained much more visibility for our shelter.  

Carolyn Evans, executive director of Cincinnati Animal CARE Humane Society  

The most memorable moment for me was in 2017, when Julie Castle was talking about the progress that had been made to getting to no-kill. It really struck a chord hearing her say, “We are making progress, but we need foot soldiers. We can lead and guide and mentor, but we need people in the communities where the animals are dying to carry the torch and be part of this movement.” And I thought, “I guess she’s talking to me.” 

At that time in my community in the Cincinnati area, we had many important components—a strong rescue community; the United Coalition for Animals (UCAN), a low-cost spay/neuter clinic; and My Furry Valentine mega-adoptions—but animals were still dying in the shelters. I ended up reaching out to people I’d met at the conference—primarily national director of learning advancement for Best Friends Tawny Hammond, executive director of American Pets Alive! Ellen Jefferson and senior director of national programs for Best Friends Brent Toellner—as well as those in my own network for advice on how to put together a bid to run a shelter. By January 1, 2018, my brand-new humane society had the contract to run the Clermont shelter.  

Having those connections from the conference was invaluable because even though I was committed to the no-kill philosophy, I didn’t know what it would look like. I just took a leap of faith, and I learned that you don’t have to have everything boxed up with a pretty bow before you start moving forward. It’s a scary proposition but I think you have to not be afraid to ask for what you need, and sometimes all the stars will align. 

From all of us here at Best Friends, we’re thrilled to be able to bring back the National Conference this year and are positive it will be filled with even more a-ha-worthy moments for those who attend. For the latest updates about the conference, sign up here.  

If you’d like to be a speaker (and I think people at all levels of animal advocacy have important information and experiences to share), we are always looking to hear from new voices in the industry. You can submit a proposal between now and February 3.  

Can’t wait to “see” you all there!  

Rachel Hyde 
Senior specialist, national events   
Best Friends Animal Society

If you enjoyed this program spotlight, you can find our complete catalog of spotlights here