So, most people go to warm places in the winter. Not me, at least not this year! This year, I went to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah to volunteer for a week with the animals.
Best Friends is an awesome place. It’s the largest animal sanctuary in the US. They have about 2000 critters there. There are all kinds – dogs, cats, horses, pigs, birds, goats, rabbits, even a mule! They also have a number of wild animals (mostly birds) that, for one reason or another can’t be released, so they have permanent homes in the excellent care of the folks in Wild Friends.
I was able to spend two days working in Wild Friends. I was told that this is unusual, since they can only accommodate one volunteer at a time there. But since it’s winter and most of the of the work is outdoors in the cold, they didn’t have much demand that week and I could get two days in. The people there were awesome. Haven was the caregiver that I worked with, but I also got to spend some time with his colleague Bobbi and the rehabbers, Carmen and Barbara. It was really interesting to compare notes on rehabbing – they tend to get very different critters than we do in the East.
So, while in Wild Friends, I met Frick and Frack (a pair of domestic Rouen Mix ducks), Georgie and Gracie (a pilgrim goose and a cranky Canada goose), Echo (a disabled red-tailed hawk), Storm (a Harris’s hawk that had been used for falconry her whole previous life), a number of Great Horned Owls, a lovely Barn Owl, a trio of peafowl, a pair of ravens and a slew of pigeons and domestic waterfowl. I still have the shin bruises from Gracie, who was quite adamant that she was not getting fed fast enough, thank you very much! I even got to feed a couple of domestic mink. They’re very cute. Much cuter than the coats they were raised to be a part of.
While working in Wild Friends, we were often shadowed by a flock of wild turkeys. A couple of the toms showed off their tail plumage – very impressive! Best of all, there was a mama mule deer (whom Haven calls Loki) with her yearling boy that followed us and checked us out. Haven said she rarely appears when he has anyone with him, so I felt honored when she stood about 8 feet away and checked me out quite thoroughly. They really are beautiful creatures - bigger than the white-tailed deer we have around here. And yes, their ears really do look like a mule’s. Or maybe mule ears look like mule deer’s ears.
I also spent a day in DogTown. I got to help train an older puppy in puppy pre-school. For puppies that have been sheltered their whole lives, things like doorbells, grocery carts, wheelchairs and even furniture can be a little stressful, so we helped to acclimate them to those things and a bunch more. I had a puppy named Nike, who was born without one of his front feet. He was to go to his forever home at the end of the week! Then I went to the opposite end of the age spectrum and walked about a dozen of the older dogs. So many sad stories, but the dogs have a good life. Some of them came from hoarders or fighting operations, but they’ve risen above their horrible pasts. Most will make excellent pets – if you’re thinking about adopting, please don’t discount the ones who had a tough start in life! They sometimes get a bad reputation, but they don’t deserve it.
I also spent several shifts in Cat World, which will come as no surprise to those who know me. All the kitties are in big rooms, with access to outdoor rooms, too. They have more toys, cat trees and beds than you find at PetSmart! Lots of nooks and crannies to curl up in, shelves and rafters to climb on, and loads of friends to play with. Or spar with, depending on the mood.
Best Friends has this cool sleepover program, where you can take a dog or cat (or even a potbellied pig, if you’re so inclined!) with you for an overnight visit. I had 3 kitties come stay with me (I was in a cabin on BF property – very pet friendly). Cookie and Emma are two lovely torties who came for a visit together. Funnily, they acted the opposite of how they usually do in the shelter! Cookie was very outgoing in the shelter and Emma was very shy. I got them in my room and Emma made herself right at home and purred up a storm and poor Cookie was shy and reserved. It’s all good info for the caregivers to know how they might act when they’re adopted.
I also had a big orange and white boy named Sam come to visit. I’m in love. He’s one of the sweetest cats I’ve ever met. He was calm and confident. He jumped in my lap, tucked his head under my chin and purred and purred. When he’d had enough, he just moved off – none of that swatting that some cats do. I cried when I took him back. I wish I could’ve brought him home. If I didn’t have a two pet limit on my lease, for sure I’d have 3 cats now.
It really was a wonderful week. I worked really hard, froze, got filthy, broke every nail and loved every minute. The people who work there are wonderful and care so much about their charges. The animals were terrific and it was a privilege to meet them and help care for them. What more could I ask for?
And one more thing – please adopt your next pet! The love of a rescued pet can’t be matched.