Caring for the Unwanted – Volunteering at Best Friends,
It’s been a while since I visited your inbox with new stories and images. I just returned from a longer road trip that took me to
and Arizona where I visited
National Parks –
and Bryce Canyon Zion – and Navajo Nation Tribal
and Canyon de Chelly (see map below).
Any of you who have been in Monument Valley Utah
and/or Arizona will agree that
the area is blessed with beautiful landscape, high desert with its starkness
and awesome red rock formations. As I
work through my images I will share more of that part of my journey in a future
Best Friends Society Headquarters in Angel Canyon, Kanab, Utah
However, this whole trip actually originated by my yearly goal to volunteer some of my time for a good animal cause. I have been a supporter of the biggest domestic animal sanctuary in the
US: Best Friend Society, in Kanab Utah,
since I visited them almost 10 years ago.
Established almost 30 years ago, Best Friends pioneered the ‘no-kill’
movement. At the time, more than 17
million homeless pets were dying each year in shelters. Today that number has dropped to around 4
million which is a tremendous progress.
But Best Friend is not stopping there and is promoting ‘trap-spay/neuter-release
programs in communities all around the country while also supporting local
community organizations in their efforts to establish ‘no-kill’ shelters.
Millani - with her striking blue eyes!
In the effort to ‘save them all’, Best Friends takes in from shelters around the country those animals that are , in
– beautiful red rock
country! Here, ~1700 domestic animals
have found sanctuary, are cared for, are healed from neglected and abusive
situations under the care of wonderful staff supported by an army of
volunteers. The large clinic with its
veterinary staff is skilled to deal with those animals that need medical
treatment. When I first visited Best
Friends, the tour guide drove us around in a jeep to the horse pastures, pig
heaven, the bunny house, Parrot Gardens, Dog Town where we were greeted by
happy noisy dogs of all sizes, to Cat Village with its very spacious
indoor/outdoor facilities with lots of cat trees and rafters for the shy cats
who liked to be let alone. Overlooking Angel
Canyon , Angel
is a quiet place where those who passed away find solitude with each grave
marked with the name of the animal that found its resting place here. Angles
You might remember having heard about Best Friends during and after Hurricane Katrina in
5 years ago. Best Friends’ army of
volunteers answered the call for help and established a temporary shelter for
the animals left behind in the flooded area.
In the end, Best Friends were able to reunite over 80% of the animals
with their owners and took in the remaining animals with the goal of finding
them good forever homes.
Again, after the super storm
last year, Best Friends supported the rescue efforts for the domestic animals
Over the years, I heard of other stories about Best Friends that strengthened my resolve to spend some time there. And on September 11, I started bright and early for the volunteer orientation, safety training, and pinned my volunteer batch on my shirt and drove to
to roll up my sleeves and help wherever help was needed. Yes, the sanctuary is so large that one has
to drive from the main building to the various locations where the animals are,
as well as to the central cafeteria for a healthy vegetarian lunch. This eliminates the drive to town – Kanab –
since Best Friends is nestled in the canyon about 15 miles north of Kanab. Although I love all animals, I had decided to
spend my time in Cat Village where ~500 cats are house in several specifically
designed houses which allow the cats to be inside – the winters can be cold at
5000 ft elevation – or outside in large patio enclosures. Each house has dedicated staff supported by
volunteers to care for about 60-70 cats.
The cats are roomed in several indoor/outdoor enclosures with about
17-20 living together. The enclosures
have cat trees, scratch boards, toys, lots of warm soft resting pillows, and
rafters under the ceiling for cats that are shy or need some more alone time. Cat Village
As a volunteer, I spend my mornings assigned to a room with 15-17 cats to do the daily cleaning. I was impressed that with so many cats and of course litter boxes, the place smelled fresh and clean, and I learned the tricks how this is accomplished: all pillows and cloth surfaces were brushed daily with a water-Downy solution – or sometimes with lavender – and being washed once a week. All solid surfaces received a wiping with OdoBan and with fresh litter and mopping the floors, my cats enjoyed a beautiful clean home.
To coax the shyer cats down from their rafters, I handed out treats freely. Helping socializing the shyer cats was on the schedule for the afternoon since Best Friends’ goal is to adopt the animals to forever homes. If you ever have visited shelters, it is always the more socialized friendly animals that find homes more easily than the shyer ones. During the afternoons, I also packed my small camera to see what I could capture.
When I left the sanctuary to continue my trip it was with a heavy heart. The cats of Morgaine House where I spent my volunteer time had all in their own way been wonderful. Shy
come down from her rafter to be petted and when I called and brought her her
special food. Kixie let me pet her after
I read to her on her first day at the sanctuary – she missed her home. Lilith, a young beautiful tortoise cat, who
had a congenital disorder that hinders her to walk well, used to sit on my lap
in the afternoon purring up a storm.
Squirrel, true to her name, climbed all over me and loved to end up on
my shoulder. Xena with her beautiful
white face loved to be petted but not held.
If they could talk, what stories would they tell us? Some are still grieving the loss of their
person; some are healing from situation
that were not beneficial to them – animals that came from hoarding situations,
had never had enough to eat, had been mistreated. The hope is
In the end I was sad to leave but happy to have had the opportunity to work with such dedicated people - who even walk those cats that need physical therapy on a leash! Most of the staff comes to Best Friends after visiting and maybe answering a desire to get off the fast pace life. Life in Kanab is rural at a slower pace. But I can see the rewards working for an organization that is truly dedicated to those who don’t have a voice; an organization trying to find solutions at the core of the problems: increase spay and neuter programs, stop puppy mills, abolish breed discrimination, proceed with the ‘no kill’ mission in shelters countrywide, better regulations for Internet pet traffic, and others. I left hopeful that these problems can be overcome and that the world can become a better place for the animals. As for me, I think I might very well be back – Best Friends and Angel Canyon might be calling me – let’s see how my journey will continue.
Til next time