How to tell the best friends Animal Society from the cult who
KANAB--Utah--The Best Friends Animal Society main entrance at the mouth
of Angel Canyon now has a National Park-sized reception center and gift
shop, newly expanded to include a 50-seat orientation room. Shelter
director Faith Maloney and reception center manager Anne Mejia already
wonder how long it will be big enough. Best Friends now attracts more than
20,000 visitors per year. At least half a dozen other major animal
shelters and sanctuaries around the U.S. attract more, but they all occupy
central locations in cities of several million people. Best Friends
attracts more than three times the total population of Kane County. The
closest big city is Las Vegas, three hours away by car.
Visitors to other major U.S. shelters and sanctuaries come mostly
to adopt or surrender animals. They usually enter, transact their
business, and leave within an hour. Visitors to Best Friends come as
a pilgrimage. They spend the day, or become temporary volunteers,
contributing several days.
Welcoming visitors and volunteers has helped to build Best
Friends. Maloney, Mejia, and the other cofounders and senior staff
have no wish to discourage anyone from coming. Their anxiety is over
developing the capacity to meet the visitors' and volunteers'
expectations, now that Best Friends has become not just a big
sanctuary but a defacto humane university.
Some people attend to do internships, some to take a six-week
formal course in "How to start an animal shelter," some as juvenile
offenders assigned to the sanctuary instead of reform school.
RIGHT: Michael Mountain (Kim Bartlett)
Others visit just to see the campus, occupying the central
several thousand acres of a 33,000-acre tract of former ranch land
and surrounding range leased from the Bureau of Land Management.
There is a lot to see, including 17 separate project areas, 14 of
which are animal care facilities, each in effect a shelter unto
On any given day about 700 dogs occupy Dog Headquarters, Old Dogtown,
Old Friends and Dogtown Heights: A Gated Community. Adoptable dogs don't
stay long, but potentially dangerous dogs and dogs who are too old to be
readily adopted or have infirmities are given homes for life. The longterm
residents share 17 "parasol" kennels similar to those developed by the
Dogs Trust in Britain.
About 450 cats share quarters at Cat World, Wild Cat's Village,
Benton's House, Kitty Motel, Happy Landings, and Morgain's Place, a series
of complexes with special housing for injured and disabled cats, feline
leukemia and feline immune deficiency cases, and shy ferals. As with dogs,
healthy and gregarious cats tend to be quickly adopted.
Best friends cofounders Faith Maloney, Gabriel
DePeyer, and Anne Mejias (Kim Bartlett)
Other facilities accommodate horses, several hundred former pet
rabbits, a variety of birds including wild species undergoing
rehabilitation for release, a few pigs, and three mink. In general,
explains Maloney, Best Friends tries to network with other shelters
that specialize in unusual species, to give the animals the best
possible placement, but sometimes they receive animals for whom
there are no other shelters. No one else has mink, so Best Friends
is developing mink expertiseand is discovering that mink can be far
friendlier than the reputation they have developed on fur farms.
Since 1995, when ANIMAL PEOPLE first visited Best Friends, the
sanctuary has added approximately 200 paid staff. There may now be more
Best Friends workers and family members living in nearby Kanab than known
members of Mormon polygamist householdsperhaps the first time since Mormon
polygamists arrived in 1848 that their insular way of life, officially
disavowed by the Mormon church since 1890, has been seriously challenged
for local cultural ascendancy.
Polygamist enclaves are still visible, on back roads behind the growing
numbers of motels and restaurants that line the highway through town, but
the polygamist community is dwindling under the pressure of increasing
numbers of state and federal prosecutions of patriarchs for illegally
forcing their daughters to marry each other at early ages.
The total population of Kanab has meanwhile increased by more than
1,000 people in 10 years, and the annual growth rate, according to the
Chamber of Commerce, is now 5% per year, even though the ability of the
community to expand is restricted by the limited access to water. Coming
to Kanab means accepting desert life. At 5,000 feet above sea level, every
well is a deep well, and drilling a well is a major part of the investment
in building a new home.
Zion National Park, founded in 1919, is still by far the biggest
visitor draw to Kane County, bringing more than 2.3 million people a
year. But the traffic passing through Kanab is mostly speeding
between Zion, to the northwest, and the Grand Canyon and Lake
Powell, to the south. Before Best Friends came, Kanab was little
more than a gasoline-and-lunch stop, with a limited selection of
restaurants. The only local tourist attraction of note was a
collection of prop buildings used in filming some of the 92
Hollywood westerns that were made at Angel Canyon between 1924, when
Tom Mix starred in Deadwood Coach, and 1976, when Clint Eastwood
starred in The Outlaw Josie Wales, the last Kanab production.
Before Best Friends came, Kanab seemed well on the way toward
becoming a ghost town, chiefly inhabited by the polygamists, whose
buildings are conspicuous, but who tend to keep to themselves.
The Best Friends Animal Society arrived in Kanab in 1984, 18
years after eight of the cofounders met as part of an Anglican
discussion group in London, England, organized by Robert and Mary
Michael Mountain, now the Best Friends Animal Society president,
was then a 17-year-old Oxford dropout, and was among the youngest
members. Calling themselves "The Foundation Faith Church of the
Millennium," members of the group including the eight Best Friends
cofounders in June 1966 tried to start a commune near a Mayan ruin
called Xtul, in Yucatan, Mexico. A hurricane ended that effort
within months. Returning briefly to England, where they found
themselves still as much misfits as ever, they reorganized in New
Orleans, where they formally incorporated in 1967 as The Process
Church of the Final Judgement, claiming that their mission was to
"conduct spiritual and occult research. "
Bonney brown (Kim
During the next five years the Best Friends cofounders drifted to Los
Angeles; wrote bizarre statements on required public accountability
documents, essentially mocking bureaucracy; staged flamboyant publicity
stunts to help promote their activities and proto-New Age philosophy; and
two members, including eventual Best Friends Animal Society cofounder John
Fripp, interviewed mass murderer Charles Manson in prison for a
short-lived magazine they published.
As Lou Klizer of the Rocky Mount-ain News recently summarized, "The
group had trouble gaining traction, no matter how outrageous they acted.
Mountain chalks this up to their philosophy of abstinence from sex and
drugsnot overly popular notions in the 1960s...In 1971, a book speculated
on Manson's possible connection to the Process Church. They sued. The
publisher apologized, recalled the books, and issued subsequent editions
without the offending chapter. But with the birth of the Internet, the
legend has only grown."
The Process Church broke up when the deGrimstons split. Mary Ann
deGrimston remained in close contact with the Best Friends cofounders, and
eventually remarried to Best Friends cofounder Gabriel dePeyer. They are
Robert deGrimston went his own way, making sporadic efforts to start a
new church, having nothing further to do with the group who became Best
The Best Friends cofounders continued as close friends, often widely
separated by geography, pursuing their jobs and lives. Several worked in
the social services. Paul Eckhoff worked as an architect, Chris dePeyer
(who left Best Friends in 2002 for career reasons) as a civil engineer.
Francis Battista sold real estate. Nathania Gartman, who died in 2003,
entertained severely burned children at a Denver hospital. Faith Maloney
was a Pennsylvania housewife. Cyrus Mejia built a still growing reputation
as an artist.
Time, circumstance, and a common interest in helping animals reunited
them, as recounted by Samantha Glen in Best Friends: The True Story of the
World's Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary (2001). Their first sanctuary site,
near Prescott, Arizona, proved inacessible to visitors. They arrived in
Kanab after a two-year search for somewhere better.
Along the way they took what they thought at the time was a shortcut,
operating under the dormant Process Church nonprofit incorporation instead
of reincorporating. In the short run, that saved a few dollars, at a time
when Best Friends had so little money that the cofounders would go out to
place animals for adoption in Las Vegas and Phoenix without knowing
whether they would collect enough in donations to buy gas to get home.
They raised funds chiefly by tabling. By 1992, when they started the Best
Friends magazine of good news about animals and began to develop a
national donor base, they were still nearly penniless, but had at last
found the combination of message, medium, location, and knowhow that they
needed to grow.
Reincorporating as a secular 501(c)(3) charity in 1995, rather than as
a church, enabled the growth phase.
But Best Friends had also made mysterious enemies, who have circulated
rumors based on the Process Church history ever since. Many of the
assertions echo events and allegations which were actually part of local
Mormon history, 150 years earlier.
At least two directors of conventional animal shelters, neither of whom
has ever visited Best Friends, have recently amplified material apparently
first posted to the Internet nearly 10 years ago by a person who
campaigned in Washington state against regulation of pet breeding during
the mid-1990s under the names "Lee Wallet" and "Animal Awareness
Legislative Network." Wallet and her organization dropped out of sight
about five years before similar postings were distributed in early 2004 by
one "T.P. McKinney." Extensive electronic searching indicates that the
only "Lee Wallet" in the U.S. and a "T&P McKinney" of unlisted address
are both in the same small town in Pennsylvania. Calls to both did not
clarify their relationship, if any, either with each other or the Internet
Best Friends has enjoyed uninterrupted rapid growth, despite the
sniping, for more than a decade. The cofounders, some already in their
early seventies, have steered a straight course and remain friends, in a
field where organizational growth seems to bring bitter splits more often
When the San Francisco SPCA and San Francisco Department of Animal Care
and Control signed the Adoption Pact in 1994, making San Francisco the
first U.S. no-kill city, Best Friends was already the most prominent
no-kill organization between San Francisco and the North Shore Animal
League, near New York City. Best Friends joined the SF/SPCA, North Shore,
and ANIMAL PEOPLE in cosponsoring the first No-Kill Conference in Phoenix
As the no-kill movement spread, Best Friends expanded from sheltering
animals into teaching others how to develop their own no-kill mission.
When longtime SF/SPCA president Richard Avanzino left the SF/SPCA in
1998 to head Maddie's Fund, formed by PeopleSoft entrepreneurs Dave and
Cheryl Duffield to promote no-kill animal control nationwide, Best Friends
cofounder Gregory Castle organized a statewide coalition to make Utah the
first no-kill state. With Maddie's Fund backing, the coalition has in
three years cut shelter killing in Utah from 21.9 dogs and cats per 1,000
humans to 13.9.
When the initially small No-Kill Conference metamorphized into the
Confer-ence on Homeless Animal Management & Policy, one of the biggest
in the animal welfare field, Best Friends hired Bonney Brown, co-organizer
of several of the early No-Kill Conferences, to direct the twice-a-year No
More Homeless Pets regional conferences.
The Best Friends magazine topped 100,000 circulation in 2002. Even the
No More Homeless Pets conferences, trying to stay small, sometimes draw
more than 400 participants. Raising $17.9 million in 2002, Best Friends
brought in $1.5 million more than PETA, employing nearly twice as many
program staff. No pro-animal charity founded within the past 50 years is
Yet Best Friends has not really changed character. The cofounderswho
initially all worked for many years virtually without compensationnow
receive comfortable middle class salaries, but the chief executives of the
American SPCA, North Shore Animal League America, Humane Society of the
U.S., and Massachusetts SPCA each were paid approximately as much in 2002,
or more, than the sum paid to all seven compensated Best Friends
Each cofounder quietly sponsors individual humane projects out of his
or her own resources, including international outreach. Francis Battista,
for example, brought Wildlife SOS dancing bear sanctuary director Kartick
Satyanarayan and Friendicoes Animal Sanctuary director Geeta Seshamani
from India to attend the recent No More Homeless Pets conference in Las
Vegas at his own expense, after meeting them at the Asia For Animals
conference in Hong Kong. Best Friends computer guru Stephen Hirano at
Christmas 2002 surprised ANIMAL PEOPLE with a new MacIntosh computer.
Inevitably, albeit perhaps not for many more years, the Best Friends
leadership will pass to another generation. Mountain, 54, is the youngest
of the founding nucleus. Among the future leaders may be some of the now
adult children of the founders, several of whom have grown up at the
sanctuary, left to pursue their education, and have returned to help. One
of them, Judah Battista, is now a member of the leadership team, managing
the cluster of shelters called Kittyville.
Other future leaders may be chosen from among the volunteers and paid
staff recruited during the rise from poverty and hardship, who will
remember how the harsh environment and initial isolation helped to form
the Best Friends character, before the world found its way to Angel
The transition process has not yet begun, but the cofounders are
thinking about it, discussing it among themselves, considering how best to
keep Best Friends from ever either losing the sense of communal mission
that enables it to help new impoverished pro-animal groups to reach their
own growth phase, or becoming cultish and insular.
They need only look across the desert to the sprawling unpainted
housing complexes of the Mormon polygamists still in the vicinity to see
what authentic cults look like. The polygamists' ancestors came west to
build a New Jerusalem. Within a generation of the arrival of Kanab
cofounder Levi Stewart and his three wives, however, the polygamists'
focus had dwindled to self-maintenance by excluding the outside world and
discouraging their children from exploration.
Isolating their children is not something the Best Friends cofounders
can be accused of. One of Faith Maloney's daughters, for example, served
in the U.S. Navy as far away as Antarctica before returning to Best
Friends to do construction. A son plans to return to Best Friends after
completing his veterinary studies in the Virgin Islands.
"We did not think of creating Best Friends as a mission for our
children, although they may choose it as their mission," Mountain told
ANIMAL PEOPLE. "But we did think of it as a place where our children, as
well as our visitors and volunteers, might come to share a sense of having
a mission, somewhere, greater than themselves, that either they would find
or would find them, if they only kept looking and thinking about it. The
extent to which we are succeeding is the extent to which all of us are
finding and continuing to fulfill our missions, whether it is here at the
sanctuary or anywhere else we may happen to find ourselves."