How to tell the Best Friends Animal Society from the cult who built Kanab

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2004:

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.
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.
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 expertise–and 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 households–perhaps 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
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
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 Ann deGrimston.
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.”
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
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 drugs–not
overly popular notions in the 1960sŠIn 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
still together.
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 Friends.
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
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 attacks.
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 than not.
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 in 1995.
As the no-kill movement spread, Best
Friends expanded from sheltering animals into
teaching others how to develop their own no-kill
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 Conference 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 bigger.
Yet Best Friends has not really changed
character. The cofounders–who initially all
worked for many years virtually without
compensation–now 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 cofounders
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 Canyon.
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
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.”

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