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Best Friends National Conference 2018

Best Friends National Conference 2018

From left to right: Daniel Gonzales-Shelter Intervention Counselor, Michele Soto-Operations Manager, Leanna Taylor- Executive Director, and Jess Unger- Communications & Development Specialist

The Arizona Pet Project team hit the road and headed west to the Best Friends National Conference in Los Angeles last week to learn, share, and connect with animal professionals from all over the country.

The glitz and glamour of L.A. didn’t go to our heads, we promise! However, we cannot wait to implement new ideas and strategies to save even more pets in our community with your support!

Below, each of our team members has provided a recap of their experience and what they learned. We hope you feel as inspired and excited as we do!


Operations Manager, Michele Soto:

“I was not certain what to expect or what I would learn as a first-time attendee of the Best Friends National Conference. I was familiar with Best Friends Animal Society’s stellar reputation as a leader in animal welfare and an organization that values its partners (like The Arizona Pet Project), but I was unsure how this experience could affect our work here in Arizona.

From day one it was undeniable that I felt a renewed sense of energy simply from seeing so many people from different states, working in diverse animal welfare environments (rescue, municipal, volunteer, administrative) with various programs come together in one place. We were all there to learn, grow, and take away information that will help us better serve our communities.

Learning from my peers was one of the best gifts of the conference. I experienced many “light bulb moments” when meeting new people. From talking to a woman from New York who has been working in animal welfare for 30 years, to a young man from Tennessee who started volunteering this past year, to our session speakers discussing successful programs and common roadblocks, I gained valuable ideas to strengthen our programs, our organization and the people and pets we serve.

In addition to networking, I attended a variety of sessions that covered topics from volunteer engagement, coalition building, addressing the needs of cats, and utilizing data in our efforts. It also reinforced for me one of The Arizona Pet Project’s core beliefs; when we work together, both locally and nationally, it saves the lives of pets in, and out of, shelters.

It can be easy to get stuck in the weeds, and feel overwhelmed in this line of work, but having these tools helps all of us focus on our goal and reminds us of the fact that we are all a team, we are all a community, and together we can all make a difference.”

Shelter Intervention Counselor, Daniel Gonzalez:

“This was my first experience attending the Best Friends National Conference and I was most amazed by the great folks I met. I could feel how passionate they each were about helping animals. I think when like minded people get together and learn from each other, pets everywhere benefit. At a conference lunch, I was chatting with some of the hotel employees when I was approached by a lady named Maria. She asked me what the conference was about as she only knew that it involved animal welfare organizations. As we talked, she mentioned she was embarrassed to approach anyone and ask questions. She lives and works in Los Angeles and has an 18-year-old chihuahua whose quality of life has been quickly declining, and she didn’t know where or who to turn to for help.

I gave her The Arizona Pet Project’s information and assured her that we will connect her with our colleagues at Downtown Dog Rescue in California. What really impacted me was that of all the folks she could have talked to , she approached me and I belong to an organization who is able to offer her a resource. I see it every day working as our Shelter Intervention Counselor, but it took a chance encounter to remind me of the immense need for shelter prevention and support services for low-income families with pets. I was very overwhelmed with emotion after meeting Maria. The encounter reminded me I am exactly where I need to be in life, helping The Arizona Pet Project assist pets and people.”

Communication & Development Specialist, Jess Unger:

“For a long time, the number of pets killed in shelters annually was estimated at 17 million. As programs to save pets and data on that progress get better, that number is falling. The most recent data collected has revealed that about 1.5 million per year, or more than 4,100 pets a day, are killed in America’s shelters. That’s still far too many, but it’s so much better than ever before. And best of all? Our stepped-up research shows that more than 1,500 communities around the country are surpassing a 90 percent save rate, the threshold for no-kill.” – Best Friends Animal Society

“Although I had attended the Best Friends National Conference in the past, being able to do so again with The Arizona Pet Project was an eye-opening experience. I have worked in animal welfare for many years and when I first started, I never thought we make the progress we have as a county, state, and country.  To hear about the communities across the US that have implemented innovative programs and created coalitions to reduce companion animal euthanasia and save more pet lives was truly inspiring.

A theme that was repeated throughout the conference was collaboration. Communities who were experiencing high rates of euthanasia began reaching out for help. By taking the initiative to build partnerships and coalitions, and being receptive to new ideas, they were able to help more pets leave the shelters in their area alive. It was an important reminder that we are stronger together. We are all working towards the same goal of preventing pet homelessness.

A secondary focus at the conference was the importance of paying attention to data. The more information animal welfare organizations can collect and review, the more strategic we can be in our approach to helping. I’m happy to say, in this area, The Arizona Pet Project is ahead of the curve. Tracking and utilizing data is a critical part of our activities and we do utilize it to make program decisions and to communicate our impact with to our supporters.

As the Communication & Development Specialist for our organization, I attended many sessions on digital fundraising and creative ways to share with our donors the incredible impact they have on our community. I gained so many new ideas of how we can improve our supporters’ experience engaging with The Arizona Pet Project and hope to put many into practice for all of you! Feel free to reach out to us anytime and let us know what you think.”

Thank you for reading our Best Friends National Conference recap! We are hard at work implementing what we have learned and we appreciate your continued support of The Arizona Pet Project to help pets and people in our community.

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