{Thoughtful Thursday} Lessons learned from Best Friends Animal Society

I haven’t even begun to do all the posts from our summer travels, but I’m going to start. Earlier this summer, we traveled out west and visited the National Parks, some Navajo sites (like Monument Valley) and one of our day trips was Best Friends Animal Society. I thought that I would first write about BFAS. For lots of reasons.

best friends animal society

First, if you haven’t heard of BFAS, what rock are you living under? Haha, no disrespect, seriously. But they are visible everywhere. They have TV commercials, informercials, they are sort of the go-to group when it comes to animal refuge. So that is the first lesson I learned from them.

Be visible. They have a great marketing department. So great, that they actually attract visitors from all over the world to this very remote corner of Utah. From my in-laws house it was less than a 90-minute drive. But they are about 4+ hours from the nearest commercial airport. And they still attract visitors and families who actually give up a year of their vacation time to volunteer for one week at their refuge. If you have a cause, make yourself visible.

My niece petting one of the cats.

Every life has value. They even rescue and rehab pigeons. Seriously. I didn’t ask about seagulls, though I was tempted. Sky rats. They rescue them and rehab them and release them. I love animals and have done fostered dogs in my home and all that. Since being involved in the disabilities world, my perspective changes. Sometimes I see these folks who are passionate about animals, and I think “We don’t even have homes for all the children in America…let alone the animals.” Right? But they believe and live every day that every life has value. And that raises the bar for all of us.

Energize your followers. BFAS started 30 years ago, just as a group of friends who were passionate about saving animals. Today they are multi-million dollar non-profit with a strong lobbying side….shelters on both coasts (NYC and LA). It’s amazing what they have become. As someone who has tried on a very small scale to energize her local followers about advocacy and lobbying, it’s interesting to see. They have influenced legislation and influenced the way we feel about homeless animals. Just from a group of a few friends interested in animals. We should all act on our passions like this.

My son Kevin petting the cat.
My son Kevin petting the cat.

Everyone can be taught or rehabilitated. They have this whole system there-my 5 year old would be happy to explain it to you, he talks about it often. They have different color collars for different color dog types. But the ideal is to get everyone to green. Never give up. Keep teaching. If a strategy or method doesn’t work, try again. This group invests more time and energy into these dogs, than most of our schools invest in “problem kids.” Everyone can learn. Maybe if kids aren’t learning the way you teach, maybe it’s time to change that?

If it works, use it. If it doesn’t, change it. If you tour their facility, you will hear various explanations about why this building is built this way, and so on. They have used what they have learned over 30 years to adapt and change. Again, why aren’t we adopting these philosophies in our public schools, instead of “But this is the way we do it.” If it doesn’t work, change it.

If you make a mistake, apologize and move on. This one was big for me, and one of the main reasons I haven’t written about this until now. Early in the day, one of our tour guides made a derogatory comment-about people with disabilities. I was with three other adults in my family, and immediately their heads spun toward me with that look. That “uh, oh, is she going to say something?” look. No, I didn’t. Just went on about my day and wrote to them after I got home. I got what I believe is a heartfelt and sincere response from a senior staff member:

I have spoken with the Team Leader of this department and relayed the information pertaining to this incident. She has assured me that she will address this issue with the staff involved and discuss with all staff in the department, to ensure a similar incident doesn’t occur in the future.

I want to assure you that the comments you overheard certainly do not reflect the culture of our organization, as Best Friends strongly believes in the philosophy and action of dispelling (not perpetuating) myths and stereotypes. This philosophy not only applies to the animals that we support but the people, such as you and your family, that support us by visiting and learning more about our lifesaving work.

So there you go. Animal Lover or not…there is much to be learned about and from BFAS. Because even if animals are not your passion, they really have done tremendous things as a grassroots NGO. I wish our groups could achieve their success.

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