Knowing my milestone year was coming to an end, I decided to do something I’d been thinking about for months, ever since I made Sahara my first blog mascot.
I found Sahara on the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary website and sponsored her until she was adopted. Since then, I read more and more about this special animal sanctuary in Kanab, Utah and learned that it is not only the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the U.S but it was also founded by 22 friends from around the world who shared the same dream - to help homeless pets.
The story of the sanctuary intrigued me and their work impressed me. So, as my last Never B4, I decided I wanted to visit and volunteer at Best Friends for a long weekend. Little did I know, this one Never B4 would lead me to 15 more.
#2: Needed a valet to show me how to start my own car.
Even though I had driven a Prius before, I completely forgot that you had to hold the brake down before you pushed the power button or the car wouldn’t shift into drive. Because of this oversight, Dave and I found ourselves stuck in the crowded driveway of the MGM Grand Hotel in Vegas unable to get on the road to Utah. Horns blared. People stared. We squirmed in our seats. Thankfully, a valet rescued us by showing me how to drive my own car. It was an embarrassing start but quickly forgotten when caught a glimpse of Angel Canyon in Utah.
#3 Slept in a cottage at the base of a gorgeous canyon
Angel Canyon is about 5 miles north of Kanab, Utah and was once home to the Anasazi Indians. Today the Best Friends Sanctuary is protected by the canyon’s steep red walls and nourished by the gentle waters of Angel Creek which carved the canyon thousands of years ago. We were lucky enough to rent one of Best Friends cottages for our visit and woke every morning to the sun’s rays illuminating the canyon walls and the horses grazing in the pasture outside out door.
#4 Walked 2 cats on leashes
Dave and I spent our first volunteer day with the cats. I always thought walking a cat sounded ridiculous but I found myself walking not only one but two cats in the desert sands behind the Kittyville. One cat took me on a tour of all the cat buildings and the other showed me where the lizards hide below the bushes
#5 Stood guard for a cat with 2 paralyzed legs
Shelley, one of the cat caretakers, told me to watch out for Dilli because she was a tough one despite the fact that her hindquarters were completely paralyzed. I couldn’t help but wonder if Best Friends had done the right thing in saving Dilli since she couldn’t walk like other cats. She quickly erased my doubts though when she headed straight for the 6-foot, rug-covered cat house in the center of the room. I stood by as she climbed, ready to catch her if she fell. Dilli didn’t flinch. She steadily pulled herself to the top. Within a matter of minutes she was looking down at me with her front paws reaching out to play with any toy I threw to her. My doubts were gone. This cat was enjoying life as much, or more, than any other in the room.
#6 Watched my husband mop a floor with a cat on his shoulder
It’s a rare day when my husband mops a floor with a smile on his face, let alone a cat on his shoulder. But that’s how I found him when I visited the room he had chosen to volunteer in. Sunshine, the cat, was happily perched on his shoulder as if she was checking to make sure Dave didn’t miss a spot.
#7 Had a cat “sleepover” in our cottage
One of the volunteer opportunities at Best Friends is to take a cat (or dog) on a sleepover. It helps socialize the animal and get it used to being alone with people. Needless to say, it’s also great for increasing the adoption rate. Our cat was named Al Jolson and he was the loudest purring cat we ever met. It took incredible will power (and constant reminders that our cat back home is a prima donna) to stop us from adopting him.
#8 Helped make a group of puppy mill dogs feel at home
Best Friends is famous for rescuing dogs from puppy mills and many times they find the dogs in terrible condition. I got the chance to meet the newest wave of puppy mill dogs and, together with another volunteer from Pennsylvania, we cleaned the puppies’ kennels to make them feel more comfortable. Of course, we also got to pet and play with them, too.
#9 Made a dog shake with fear just by saying “hello”
This was completely unintentional and shocking. A beautiful Shiba Inu named RC, who was recently rescued from a puppy mill, stood in the back of her kennel and shook from head to tail just because I stood outside, saying hello. The handlers told me that many puppy mill dogs act that way when they first arrive but with some special handling, they start to trust and love people again. I hope RC’s fears can be wiped away soon.
#10 Met my first potbelly pig
I was surprised to see how big they were. I always thought they were small and I guess I’m not alone in the misconception. Many people adopt these animals thinking they won’t grow to full “pig size.” Well, they do and when people come to that realization, they often abandon them. Despite their large size, they’re adorable animals.
#11 Saw Turkey’s roost in trees
Every night at dusk, a flock of wild Turkeys soar down from the top of the canyon to roost in the trees along the sanctuary road. We arrived too late to see them soar but we did see these awkward birds rustling the leaves high up in the branches of a tall tree.
#12 Saw the sun ignite the canyon walls with color
This picture says it all
#13 Met the most caring, giving and hardworking group of people I’ve ever met.
From the people that worked at the Best Friends welcome center to the animal caretakers in the Kittyville to the handlers in Dog Town, I’ve never met so many people who were happy, proud and fulfilled by what they do every single day. I was also incredibly impressed and inspired by how many of them had changed their lives and moved to Kanab to do the work they were doing.
#14 Felt sun, heat, rain, cold and hail on my skin all within 5 minutes
Bryce Canyon is just over an hour north of the Sanctuary so we couldn’t resist visiting. The views were awe-inspiring but so was the weather. Snow was about the only weather sensation we missed.
#15 Saw at least 30 Model T cars in a one-horse town
Driving into Kanab Utah feels a bit like driving back in time, even when there isn’t a Model T gathering in town. We took a double take when we saw our first Model T putter down the road but within a few hours they seemed as natural a sight as the canyon walls around us.
#16 Read the most inspiring book about how a group of friends changed the world
After only 4 days at this sanctuary, I could easily envision myself spending years there. That drove me to buy the book that told the story of how 22 friends that came from cities all over the world pursues their dream to save the lives of unwanted pets. It’s an inspiring book and it will make you feel good, especially knowing that since they came together in 1984, that group of friends has helped reduce the number of pets killed each year from 17 million to 5 million (that's in the US alone).
The incredible beauty of the landscape, the peaceful nature the canyon, the innocence of the animals and the compassionate work being done by so many caring people, made this a life-changing weekend for me. I left Angel Canyon more driven than ever to do my part to ensure that the staggering number of 5 million pets killed each year is dramatically reduced in the years ahead.
To that end, I will shift my writing energies to focus on that goal. More to come on that soon. In the meantime, click here to enjoy more pics of our visit to Best Friends and Bryce Canyon.