It's absolutely true. Our pets pee on our Florence Knoll Club Chairs and scratch our Adrian Pearsall sofa but we will forgive everything with just one nuzzle or a soulful look.
I took a break from house tours last weekend to take a tour of a very different kind. I am so glad I did. I have an animal loving friend who started supporting a group called Best Friends Animal Society. She decided she wanted to take her children and visit the Best Friends animal sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. She knew I was looking for charities for my son to volunteer (high school service hours), and a match was made.
This is how I found myself hurtling along the freeway last Thursday at 6AM with my friend (she's a very good driver) and four kids in the back of an SUV, towards Kanab Utah which is a mere 8 hours (with stops) and 475 miles away. Whew.
Now, Kanab is in a fairly remote part of Southern Utah. In fact, the navigation system in the SUV led us down a picturesque remote country rode. We realized later we had missed this sign. And that a lovely highway named 89 would have been a MUCH better choice. Ahhh, adventure.
With the requisite bullet holes. The danger turns out to be fine sand, as fine as talcum powder, forming the base of the road. It looked like this.
And is as difficult to drive on as ice (SLIDE SLIDE SLIDE). And no cell service for 25 miles. I was visibly freaked out. My friend (she's a very good driver) did great and the four kids thought it was awesome fun.
We got to the sanctuary visitor center just in time for our 3PM orientation.
Best Friends appears to have good legal council. There are extensive rules, but, on the other hand, Best Friends is one of the only animal groups my friend found which allows children to volunteer. Usually the minimum age is 18. Any minor has to have an adult with them at all times. Understandable. Since we had two boys and two girls, we broke into two teams. The Volunteer Coordinator at the end of the orientation presented us our schedules for our 2 1/2 day of volunteer activities among their 1,700 animals.
A box of puppies
Our first volunteer stint was a sign of good things to come. We were super lucky and got to "work" in the puppy training class.
These are the yogurt puppies with names like Dannon and Yoplait. We really hated our time with these puppies. So NOT ridiculously cute.
Next we helped out by taking young adult dogs to the animal park. Again, miserable work.
It's a cat, cat, cat world
After lunch, the group split up. The girls went off to the Bunny House and the boys wandered to Cat World. I led the boys' group since the big one is mine. Best Friends is on 3,700 acres owned by Best Friends. They have a North and South entrance that are 2.5 miles apart. So, a car is required to drive from one area to the other.
Cat World had its own orientation film. Let me summarize: the cats who like to be petted will come to you and the cats who don't will hiss at you or walk away. We weren't given any jobs to do, but instructed to go around to the various cat houses and pet cats.
So we petted.
And petted for over three hours straight.
I think I petted about 50 cats or so. The caregivers told me they have over six hundred kitties at Best Friends. Ummm. That is a lot of cats. We loved the clean and tidy kitty facilities with all the volunteer ladies bustling around taking good care of their feline friends. It would be a piece of cake to pick out a great kitty pet from this wonderful assortment. We fell in love over and over again.
For the birds
On day two morning, the group split up again. I wanted to avoid the Bunny House (unmemorable experience with a family pet), and convinced the boys to trade for Parrot Garden. They were enthusiastic. We were greeted with open arms by a small weekend staff of three and immediately put to work.
First we watered the cages, and then watered the garden.
Next we got to help bring parrots out for the day to their outdoor cages (they come inside at night). Wow! That was an interesting experience. I don't have any pictures of us bringing out parrots because, frankly, I was too excited and just a little freaked out. This is Lisa telling us why this birdie picks at its feathers. Captivity stresses many parrots out and they engage in non-natural behaviors.
As we wandered around Parrot Garden we were entertained by the bird calls. "Hello my darling." "Pretty girl." "Somewhere...." (sung loudly as in first line to "somewhere over the rainbow"). And "What!" (think Macklemore). What a crack up.
Here is a parrot couple in my very favorite mid-century modern colors -- chartreuse and turquoise! Yum!
Lisa explained lots of amazing facts about why Best Friends ends up with these exotic birds and how they adopt the birds back out to loving homes. One common way Best Friends gets birds is the owners die before the birds do. It is not unusual for some of the exotic bird species to live 30 to 70 years. Pet for life.
After we put the parrots in their outdoor digs, we were sent off to scrub cages. All the bird areas -- they each have combo indoor/outdoor space-- are cleaned spic and span everyday. So we did our best to help.
We had a lovely lunch break and talked to one of the founders about the vision they had for Best Friends, back when they started the sanctuary in the eighties. The founder said she never dreamed it would be what it is today. From their site:
Best Friends Animal Society bestfriends.org is the only national animal welfare organization focused exclusively on ending the killing of dogs and cats in America's shelters. An authority and leader in the no-kill movement since its founding in 1984, Best Friends runs the nation's largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals, as well as life-saving programs in partnership with rescue groups and shelters across the country. Since its founding, Best Friends has helped reduce the number of animals killed in shelters from 17 million per year to 4 million. Best Friends has the knowledge, technical expertise and on-the-ground network to end the killing and Save Them All™.
Local sights: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary at the heart of the Golden Circle of national parks that include the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Lake Powell and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Each of these is 90 minute drive, or less, from Kanab and Angel Canyon.
Puppy park pandemonium
The boys ended their day helping out in puppies. What a lot of work, just like toddlers. We split our time between taking puppies to the park and feeding them.
The little whackos above are trying to antagonize the caregiver's dog, Blue. He simply ignored them. The feeding chores were especially difficult as the puppies are fed individually in the crates because they are each on specific amounts and diets. Again, the facility was spotless and impressive. Made for puppies.
Dogtown visit with old friends
On our last day, the whole team of kids joined back together. We decided to visit Old Friends in Dogtown. The Old Friends section has the more "ahem" advanced dog category. I fit right in. Honestly, many of these dogs would make great pets and they do get adopted out all the time. We split our time between walking some of the dogs and taking small groups to the dog park.
Every tail has a happy ending
My friend and her two kids ended the trip by adopting one of the Yogurt puppies. Best Friends is going to bring the puppy to them in a few weeks at their L.A. Shelter in Mission Hills after the pup gets spayed and has all its shots. They are naming this cute little girl Desi (kind of a riff on the Indian "reservation" where the pup came from). The adoption fee was only $100.
Why we loved volunteering at Best Friends Animal Society:
- Super organized
- Beautiful countryside
- Extremely clean facilities
- Very friendly and knowledgeable staff
- Yummy $5 vegetarian all-you-can-eat lunch on prem
- Great for children
- We really got to help
- Cats and dogs and puppies (oh my)
- The birds were surprisingly interesting
What we would have changed about our stay:
- We stayed at the Holiday Inn (great choice, by the way) which had animal allowed rooms, but we didn't ask for one. A neat experience at Best Friends is you can take an animal to your motel at night for a "sleepover." FUN!
- We would have signed up earlier (pre-registration on the website for volunteer activities is required) and gotten some time at Horse Haven. The horses looked amazing.
If you would like to plan a visit or volunteer:
Contact: www.bestfriends.org or 435-644-2001. The link for visiting is: bestfriends.org/The-Sanctuary/Visiting/.
The Volunteer Department can be reached directly by calling 435-644-2001, ext. 4119 (or) via email at: email@example.com. Link is: http://volunteer.bestfriends.org
A great trip. We'll be back.