A cause near and dear to my heart is animal welfare. It’s in my blood as my family has been a huge philanthropic supporter of animal-related causes for decades. Almost 35 years ago, my mother and aunt began donating to a new, and very small organization called Best Friends Animal Society. This was a non-profit formed by a group of friends who went around to kill shelters rescuing animals from being euthanized. Their mission was to either adopt out these animals to loving homes or they could live out the remainder of their days romping around a safe haven. They also ran trap-neuter-return programs to reduce the number of animals landing in shelters. The goal: Save Them All.
Thanks to people’s generous donations over the past 30+ years, Best Friends was able to create the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah—3,700 acres in between Zion and Bryce National Parks. It is home to 1,600 animals who have come there to receive medical attention, training, and love to help them overcome their past and find loving homes. They are famous for taking in 22 of the “Vicktory Dogs” after NFL player Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring got busted in 2007. Many of these dogs, who were at risk of being killed because they were “too traumatized and had been made too vicious to live,” were able to be rehabilitated into loving homes and even certified to become service and therapy dogs. But don’t think this is just a place for dogs and cats. Oh no… Best Friends is also home to pigs, rabbits, horses, goats, birds, and more! It’s wild!
But, little did I know that you could also visit the sanctuary and volunteer with the caregivers. I took my first trip to Best Friends in 2007 and have returned every few years to do my part to help save them all. This year I used my VTO to volunteer for two days, and boy do they put you to work! I have so much respect for those who work at the sanctuary full time because it is a tough job with very long days.
I arrived at the sanctuary at 8am to do a quick check-in at the volunteer center to watch the info video and get my name tag. I reported to Dogtown Headquarters, where I was placed in the Ginger & Jethro octagons for my morning shift with caregiver Hannah. Volunteers are there to do whatever needs to be done so the caretakers can make the most of their day. You may be tasked with chores such as: making meals, cleaning out runs, poop scooping, laundry, dog walking, dog park visits, etc. I got lucky this time and started my day taking Josie for a walk in the brisk 28* weather. Josie is a 4-year old pit who was rescued from a dogfighting situation in Colorado. She is full of energy but has very low blood platelets, so we had to be careful she didn’t get snagged on any of the rough desert terrain.
After our walk, I took run mates Smokey and Mrs. Potts to the dog park for 20 minutes of romping around. One wouldn’t think these guys would be pals, but they complement each other quite well. Smokey is a 5-year-old shepherd mix from Idaho. He is a very timid fellow, so I was not allowed to touch him other than taking his leash on and off…so very hard to not touch. By the end, he did saddle up next to me, so I felt I had made huge progress. Though wary of people, he does love (or tolerate) Mrs. Potts, who is a very talkative lady. She is a 2-year-old lab mix with slight aggression issues toward new dogs and cars. Yes, cars. We think she may have been hit by one when she was younger, and that could also explain her back leg issue. Once she is done doing her alpha thing, she rolls over on her back for lots of tummy rubs.
When we returned, we observed a new dog introduction in one of the runs to see if 2 dogs could be run mates. All went pretty well, and we think we made a successful match. Afterward, my mom and I attended a clicker training seminar.
After a lovely lunch overlooking the canyons, I reported to duty at Piggy Paradise. My mom and I were separated, and she was sent to shovel horse poop for 3 hours. Sucker. I, on the other hand, spent an hour socializing with potbellied pigs. I scratched them, brushed them, and chatted them up while learning some interesting pig facts. Truth be told, at one point I almost fell out of a very unbalanced chair while scratching a pig named Jared. I was so relaxed sitting in the balmy sun-soaked afternoon that I dozed off and lost my balance. Once playtime was over, a few other volunteers and I took Smitty and Cameo for a walk on a trail. These lovely big pigs will follow you merrily. If they get off course, you just throw down some dried fruit and nuts and onward you go. Afterward, we prepared dinners and went around to the different areas to deliver them.
I had to leave my shift a little early so we could head back to Dogtown and pick up our overnight companion. All adoptable dogs are allowed to go on sleepovers. They give you a bag with blankets, toys, and treats and send you on your way. This visit, we took home Spice, a 7-year-old pointer mix who is sadly in hospice…but adoptable. She was the sweetest girl and spent most of her time curled up in her blankets while we watched TV and got carryout dinner. I did feel very special when she insisted on sleeping on the floor right below me. We got up and had her back home by 8am for the start of Day 2.
This day started out like any day in the Bunny House. Each run has 2 rabbits who are adopted out as a pair—for example; my first run had my beloved Captain and Tennille. Rabbits are very messy animals, so we had to remove all of the toys, bowls, blankets, and towels, assess for damage, sweep, mop, reset up, and fill water bowls. It’s like bunny hotel housekeeping. Bunnies poop pellets so sweeping them up will frustrate you to no end because they roll away and then pop out once you think you’ve rid the run of them. We cleaned 12 runs and then needed a break. This was the BEST break of my life because I got to take Captain and Tennille for a walk…in a stroller. What?! Yes. I felt all that was missing was my Starbucks venti non-fat latte and a Gucci bag. I was living my best life, and so were they. There is video proof.
Once I was forced to return them home, I folded lots of laundry and then got to go around feeding all the rabbits lettuce chunks and socializing with them. Some were very personable and took food from my hand. Others politely declined and hopped away. How rude!
After lunch, I was back in Dogtown with the puppies. This was by far the most exhausting part of the trip…25+ puppies. Cute but GAH! We started off with walks where I had Spring Roll and Moo Shu, who are from a litter of dogs all named after Chinese food. They were quite the rambunctious pair. Then I had my beloved but now adopted, Siegfried. This boy stole my heart instantly. He was a baby red merle shepherd mix with eyes that go straight to your soul. As soon as I put him on a leash and on the ground, he had a major breakdown crying and trying to get away from me (aka the leash). I finally picked him up, and he calmed down. They said I could put him back, but I was determined to work through this. So I trudged through the desert sand carrying him for half a mile. Every few hundred feet, I would place him down, tap my shoe, and he would come running over and curl up under me. We’d do that a few times and then proceed with me carrying him and singing to him, mostly for my benefit because it was a struggle physically. By the time we returned, my baby was a happy camper, so we took him and his 2 run mates to the puppy park. We worked on learning “sit” and socializing with other dogs.
Then we moved onto another run with 6 puppies from one litter, all named after marsupials. They had never seen grass before, so that was quite the sight. They didn’t know whether to eat it or roll in it. So cute. Once they were all put back inside, it was dinner time. I had to lift all of these puppies out of their runs over half doors so they could eat individually, and then place them back. That’s a lot of lifting. After dinner, I mopped the entire puppy building, so it shined like the top of the Chrysler building. Then I sadly had to say goodbye to my sweet Siggy and see you later to my happy place.
It’s not often you find a place where the physical beauty of it is matched by its service. Every time I visit BFAS, it gets harder to leave. It is truly a special place with extremely special people and animals. I am very fortunate to have a company that cares about giving back and allows us to take time away from the office to do our part to help out in the communities we love. I can’t wait to go back to Kanab and hope that I have inspired people to donate or volunteer a little bit of their time to help Save Them All. You can also visit satellite shelters in Salt Lake City, LA, Atlanta, and NYC.