As our time in Kanab wore on and we traveled out north, south, east, and west of town on our daily adventures, we’d find ourselves driving frequently past the entrance to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. The fact that we’d originally planned to come to Southern Utah first and foremost to volunteer for them hung over our heads, and we knew at some point we needed to pay a visit.
Lots of people talk to animals. Not very many listen, though. That’s the problem.
-Benjamin Hoff, “The Tao of Pooh.”
Make no mistake: we think very highly of the work Best Friends does and what they’re able to accomplish, but it became a complete nightmare simply trying to sign up to volunteer. They were extremely slow to respond to any inquiries. Weeks, sometimes months, would go by before we’d get replies to emails, and even replying back to them within minutes of their emails to us would again mean weeks until their next reply came. The vol schedules they sent us were changed and out of sync with each other and what we’d selected in a way that meant wouldn’t be able to fulfill our duties according to their own guidelines. They never answered their phone or returned the messages we left, and when we finally took to Twitter for a little polite shaming about their lack of operational organization, they tweeted back that we should… call them. Queue forehead repeatedly hitting desk. We did our best to remain polite and supportive throughout, but it felt like a losing fight. Yet still we kept driving by Best Friends with that guilty itch.
So, on the day before traveling to White Pocket, we decided to visit Best Friends and take part as guests on one of the sanctuary tours they offer. We had to go. we didn’t want our opinion of the good work they do, by people who diligently care for their many cats, dogs, bunnies, pigs, horses, and other wildlife, to be sullied because of a frustrating months-long game of whack-a-mole.
Best Friends’ sanctuary sits on approximately 4,000 acres of pristine southwest red rock desert, in a canyon officially known as Kanab Canyon but one the sanctuary calls Angel Canyon. At the south end of the canyon are the Visitors Center and gift shop, horse pastures, and some of the limited overnight accommodations the sanctuary offers guests. The north end of Angel Canyon is home to the numerous buildings comprising their dog, cat, rabbit, parrot, and wild animal communities, along with their vet center and Angels Landing, the latter of which houses their administrative offices and cafeteria. In between is a dirt road that can be impassible in bad weather, with more horse pastures and the sanctuary’s animal cemetery, the very humbling Angels Rest. Regardless of the road’s driveability – most people detour back onto Highway 89 when traveling between the sanctuary’s two hubs – a car is essential to getting between the sanctuary’s south and north ends, which is why having one is required when volunteering. Why Best Friends doesn’t offer regular shuttle service between the north and south ends for guests, vols, and employees is a mystery.
The canyon, the grounds, everything was simply… beautiful, and we found ourselves regretting not coming sooner. After a brief introductory video on the history of the sanctuary, we boarded a van and made our way past Angels Rest to the northern area of the sanctuary to pay a visit to a few of the dogs and cats in their care, including their Vicktory Dogs. Following the tour, we dined at Angels Landing and had probably the best, and certainly cheapest, meal of our trip: a full vegetarian and vegan buffet for only $5, overlooking the red-hued floor of the valley from the dining hall’s deck. Following lunch we took a tour of the Bunny House, afterwards stopping off at Angels Rest to wander the grounds and quietly marvel at the spirit and beauty of the animals interred there.
Making our way back from Angels Rest to the Visitors Center, we knew we wanted to return before our trip officially ended and spend some proper time volunteering with the animals. After speaking with four different sets of people, along with signing up again through the frustrating online process we first experienced a half-year earlier, we officially had our last full day in Southern Utah scheduled to spend a morning session with the dogs, and an afternoon session in one of the cat houses.
On the morning of that last day, we checked in and made our way up to Dogtown, choosing to spend time with their older dogs in Old Town. While there’s an undeniable heart crush appeal of hanging out with puppies and kittens, we found ourselves really wanting to help out with those who might not get the attention they’re equally deserving of. We spent the first part of the morning walking a number of the dogs: Blackie, Asia, Cowboy, Sarah, sweet, sweet Pandora, Michael, and Catalina – a beautiful girl just wanting to belong and who came to Best Friends from an abusive hoarding situation where she was living indoors with sixty-plus other dogs. Because of that, Catalina understandably has had a variety of physical, mental, and social issues, and though she’s made tremendous progress and was adopted out a few years ago, she has had to come back to Best Friends because of separation anxiety. Best Friends makes a commitment to provide each of its animals a lifetime of care at the sanctuary, and while we were saddened to hear of Catalina’s difficult struggles in finding a home outside sanctuary grounds we know she’s got a forever home with the great people at Best Friends.
For lunch we dined again at Angels Landing, sitting outside and basking in the sun, after which we headed over to Cat World where we spent the afternoon preparing and serving special meals for their special needs cats. Some of the cats are older, several have a variety of anxiety issues, a couple have been paralyzed from accidents. It seems no matter where we travel the stories of heartbreak remain the same.
And then there was Bob.
Bob was the first cat who greeted us when we arrived, meowing loudly as we came through the door. “The first thing we’ll have you two do,” said the lady overseeing operations in this particular cat house, “is take Bob for a walk. Let me go get his leash.” Walk? Leash? A cat? Awesome! Bob has difficulties defecating, we were told, and apparently a nice walk around the grounds is the best way to loosen things up. So off we went, Bob leading the way with the utmost confidence.
We were told Bob knew his way around and that his routine was to go to each of the other cat houses and wait patiently in front of their doors until someone came out and gave him treats. Lather, rinse, and repeat. So we let the bobbed Bobber lead the way, and that’s exactly what he did. Sniff some flowers here, chew a little on some grass there, stop for a few cuddles, then park in front of a door and wait to be (almost immediately) rewarded with treats. Smart cat, that Bob. And absolutely adorable.
Did we mention how adorable all the animals at the sanctuary were? And I guess that kind of cuts into the heart of the matter. We knew if we came here the experience would be everything we were told by others it would be, and everything we’d hoped it would be. We weren’t disappointed. It was humbling and heartwarming to watch the heroics of the caregivers and the animals in their care work together to create a space of love and warmth. The frustrations we encountered when we first set out to make Best Friends our destination shouldn’t have been as difficult as they were, but all of that was washed away by a few hours witnessing firsthand the amazing work they’ve done and tirelessly continue to do. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, because whenever I spend quality time in the company of animals they never fail to remind me of what is truly important in this life.
To that I say: Thanks for the walk, Bob!