KANAB — Last Week, Gov. Spencer Cox declared 2024 No-Kill Shelter Year in Utah as it works to become the “largest no-kill state in the country.” Currently, 46 of 58 shelters in the state are considered no-kill, including facilities in Southern Utah.

Gov. Spencer Cox as he declares 2024 No-Kill Shelter Year in Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 27, 2024 | Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society, St. George News

Leaders from Best Friends Animal Society, Nuzzles & Co., local shelters, including the Cedar City Adoption Center, and others gathered in Salt Lake City last Tuesday for the declaration.

Following the ceremony, Best Friends CEO Julie Castle said in the Utah Hall of Governors that the state is “on the cusp of achieving no-kill,” according to a news release issued by the nonprofit.

“Governor Cox’s declaration gives the movement an extra push to achieve this momentous accomplishment in 2024,” she said.

If Utah reaches its no-kill goal it will be the largest state in the U.S. to do so, and the first in the West, said Judah Battista, Best Friends co-founder and the chief sanctuary officer at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab.

Upon learning of the declaration, Battista said he was “so excited.”

L-R: Cedar City Animal Adoption Center Manager Brittany McCabe and Best Friends Animal Society CEO Julie Castle join Gov. Spencer Cox and others as 2024 is declared No-Kill Shelter Year in Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, Feb. 27, 2024 | Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society, St. George News

“This announcement by Governor Cox is an amazing stake in the ground for the state of Utah,” he told St. George News. “Best Friends Animal Society was founded in Utah in 1984 and this declaration by the governor that pets are family and that we want to end the killing of pets in our shelters this year is an amazing step forward.”

Shelters reach no-kill status when over 90% of animals in their care are saved rather than euthanized. “No-Kill 2025” is a movement heralded by Best Friends to help shelters across the U.S. achieve that goal by 2025, St. George News reported.

“Best Friends has taken up this leadership mantle because it’s the will of the people, and it’s elevating it and helping people see that it’s important,” Battista said. “So (the declaration is) an incredibly important benchmark in that progress. It’s, for me, super important that it’s here in Utah — it’s where this work started. And it’s a leadership opportunity for Utah in the West.”

Best Friends Animal Society co-founder Judah Battista reacts to Gov. Spencer Cox’s declaration that 2024 is No-Kill Shelter Year in Utah, Kanab, Utah, Feb. 28, 2024 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, St. George News

According to Best Friends’ “Pet Lifesaving Dashboard,” 47 of Utah’s 60 shelters have no-kill status, including 100% of those in Iron and Washington counties. One facility is not reporting data.

Cedar City Adoption Center celebrated no-kill status in October 2023, with shelter manager Brittany McCabe telling St. George News the city’s partnership with Best Friends played a significant role.

“I have someone to go to when I don’t know what to do or where to go or how to do this,” she said at the time. “Before, I didn’t have that; it was kind of a guessing game. I tried to reach out to other shelters — they didn’t know either. But our whole world changed when we became partners and had that support.”

The declaration is a credit to local animal shelters across the state, Battista said.

In this file photo, a dog waits for adoption at the St. George Animal Shelter, St. George, Utah, Feb. 5, 2024 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“There are a lot of folks who work really hard every single day from Richfield to St. George to Brigham City, and this recognition of the value of that effort, I think, is incredibly important,” he said. “Those are all folks who show up, do the best they can to do right by the animals. And this (is an) opportunity to see that it’s noticed and that it’s important to the whole state and not just the animals in their care.”

Additionally, Battista said the declaration shows a “commitment to solving problems.”

“There have been some really great leaders in the state of Utah, not just within Best Friends, but organizations — shelters in St. George, Cedar City, Ivins, Hurricane — have been working on this for years,” he added. “And to know that there’s a recognition of that in the government’s declaration is incredibly satisfying to see.”

Best Friends and the No-Kill Coalition, comprised of individuals, local shelters and animal welfare organizations, partner with shelters across Utah to adopt various programs aimed at reducing the number of animals euthanized. These include community cat programs, spay and neuter services, food assistance and other resources, according to the release.

An orange cat, Helios, purrs in his bed at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, Feb. 28, 2024 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, St. George News

“Utah continues to make significant progress in pet lifesaving, and it takes a collaborative approach to achieve no-kill,” Castle said. “Community members, local shelters and rescue groups, and government officials must take Governor Cox’s words to heart as we all commit to 2024 as the year Utah goes no-kill.”

Best Friends said Utahns can help the state reach no-kill status by adopting pets from shelters and rescue groups rather than purchasing them from breeders or pet stores.

Additionally, the nonprofit encourages individuals to foster pets, volunteer, donate, advocate for “proven lifesaving programming,” and spay or neuter their animals.

“I am supportive of Utah working to become a no-kill state,” Cox said. “We know that when residents of our great state come together for a cause they believe in, they can achieve so much. I fully support Utahns stepping up by adopting and fostering animals in their local communities.”

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