Interview with Julie Castle, CEO, Best Friends Animal Society

This article is part of a series featuring business executives who choose to live and work in Utah. If you know of an executive we should interview, please contact us.


When Julie Castle and her friends decided to gather their money and take a road trip to Mexico in her 1979 Dodge Colt after college graduation, their return trip included a swing through Kanab, Utah, to visit Best Friends Animal Society’s Sanctuary. She had just been accepted to the University of Virginia School of Law, but that road trip forever changed Castle’s life and career path, and she could not be happier.

She decided to forego law school and became the organization’s 17th employee, taking on a variety of tasks from animal caregiver, to landscaper, to tour guide. Fast forward to present day and she is now CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, devoting her heart and soul to helping hundreds-of-thousands of shelter pets nationwide find forever homes.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the nation’s largest refuge for abandoned and special needs animals sits on 3,700 acres in the beautiful red rock canyon country of Southern Utah.

Why are you so motivated about caring for our best friends?
I absolutely love my job, knowing that I am making a difference in the way the world values the lives of our animal companions. I am following my heart.

As Best Friends’ first female CEO, I started my tenure with the bold commitment to end the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters by the year 2025. It’s a big declaration, but it’s a mission that will be achieved.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
It was a huge group effort, but Best Friends now has the most accurate information about animal shelters throughout the United States. Two years ago, Best Friends began collecting and analyzing shelter data on a scale and with a precision never achieved. For the first time in history, we have an accurate picture of the problem areas.

Our committed team of staff and volunteers have been collecting shelter data from every community in the United States, so that Best Friends, and our partner organizations, can prioritize our resources and offer help where it is needed most. Having accurate data means transparency and accountability.

What drew you to Utah?
I’m a Utahn through and through. I come from a family of high-achieving entrepreneurs and innovators with Utah pioneer roots. My late father was a successful Salt Lake City businessman and had us kids read The Wall Street Journal at breakfast.

I also credit my Utah roots and the bold, wild landscape of the state, for my inspiration and willingness to take big risks and create meaningful social change.

What do you like most about living in Utah?
There are so many things I love about Utah! The spectacular landscapes and the pioneer work ethic that powers innovation and out-of-the-box thinking are top on my list.

I also love the fact there is nothing cookie cutter about Utah. It’s a wonderful place with cultural diversity that’s second to none.

What do you like most about doing business in Utah?
The collaboration and willingness to work together for one united cause is unlike anything I have ever experienced. The No More Homeless Pets in Utah and No Kill Utah Coalition initiatives demonstrate the importance of shelters and rescue groups working together.

Utah is the model for the bigger-picture work Best Friends is doing. The No Kill Utah Coalition is made up of 57 shelters and rescue groups that have banded together under the leadership of Best Friends Animal Society, to take Utah down the home stretch toward becoming a no-kill state. We have put a stake in the ground and are leading the way to end the killing of dogs and cats in every shelter and community in the United States by 2025.

What words of wisdom do you have for entrepreneurs or business owners?
Anyone who hasn’t failed hasn’t tried.

What is your primary challenge of doing business in Utah?
Affordable housing is the biggest challenge we face, especially hiring staff that needs to relocate to our headquarters in Kanab.

What is your business philosophy?
Do one thing every day that scares you. Don’t be afraid to fail and make mistakes. We’re aiming for progress, not perfection.

We have an extremely rare opportunity to bring about true social change. How many movements can say that?

What takeaway would you like to leave readers with?
There are a lot of good causes out there; most don’t have a solution or cure, but this one does. We know how to solve this, and it’s in our line of sight. We need your help to achieve our mission: adopt, spay/neuter, volunteer, foster, donate and spread the word.

Julie Castle is the CEO of Best Friends Animal Society. She devotes her heart and soul to tens-of-thousands of shelter pets nationwide to help find forever homes.
Connect with her on LinkedIn.