Although I don’t really have a bucket list, one of the places I wanted to visit when we started out fulltiming was Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, one of several animal rescues I had supported over the years. We finally got there in May of 2010 on our way to somewhere else, but just spent a couple nights in Kanab so we could take the tour. We were both very impressed, to the point of adding Best Friends as beneficiaries on some of our accounts. With no kids, what better way to give back to the animals in the event of our untimely demise. And from that day on I have always wanted to return and volunteer, but the timing just never worked out.
So back in early August as I was planning our route to what has now become an annual fall stop for us, southern Utah, I checked the reservations page for the two RV sites at Best Friends and happened upon a 5 night opening. It must have been a cancellation as every other time I checked there was only an open night here and there. I immediately booked it, then went on and signed up to volunteer for the 4 full days we would be here.
The two full hookup sites with wi-fi are close to the edge of the canyon and separated by junipers.
It costs $30/night if you are a Best Friends member, or $50 if you are not. If you aren’t already a member you can become one for as little as $25/yr, so if you plan to stay more than a couple nights it pays to join. Best Friends has over 250,000 members.
A short trail next to our site leads to some great views.
Our neighbors for the first three nights were a nice couple from Idaho who’ve been coming here to volunteer for two weeks every September for the past 10 years. They are definitely animal lovers, with a dog and 3 cats in the RV, and another cat at home. One of their cats loves stroller rides and walks on his leash.
Since we would only have four days to volunteer, I scheduled myself for a couple of morning shifts and both us us for the four afternoons. 8:15 is just too early for Jim! We were required to attend a volunteer orientation at the visitor center before our first shift, which we did on Friday afternoon after we arrived.
Following the short orientation we decided to drive around the property to see exactly where we would have to report the next day. Best Friends owns 3,700 acres and leases another 17,000 acres of state and federal public lands, so everything is very spread out. They also have several hiking trails and we stopped to walk the Angels Overlook trail.
On Saturday morning I headed out for my first shift to Cat World and took the longer way around via Hwy 89, rather than the dirt road through the sanctuary, where I nearly hit two mule deer standing in the middle of the highway as I came around a curve. I began thinking that after our tow bar incident and then this, maybe I would never actually make it to volunteer. But I did arrive safely and after watching a short safety video, I was soon back in Fearless Kitty mode, scooping poop, cleaning up hairballs and vomit, and sweeping and mopping floors in two different cat rooms. Doesn’t sound very appealing to most people, but the interaction with the cats as you work is very rewarding. As volunteers you are asked what you would like to do when you check in. Two other women volunteers I met opted to socialize and walk the cats, but since they were short handed that morning I said I would be happy to clean.
There are multiple cat buildings, and I first started in Jill’s Diner, named for all of the cat bowls that are always piled up on the counter to dry. I was assigned to a fairly small room with some shy cats and one sad story.
This is 19 year old sweet Edna, a skinny little old lady with kidney failure and severe arthritis in her spine. Her elderly owner surrendered her in May because she starting peeing around the house. After her vet check and xrays they began treating her kidneys and back pain and she has not had an accident outside of the litter box since she arrived. I spent a lot of time brushing her around her face and neck, which she loves.
There are cat doors in all of the rooms leading to the “catio” where the cats can get some fresh air. This room actually has several shy cats that pretty much live in the rafters, so there are litter boxes and food and water up there, which I did not have to deal with.
After brushing and giving attention to the cats that would let me, I went to another building, the Colonel’s House, where I got to clean an even bigger room. I forgot to take a picture of the inside room, but this is the patio, which is separated by screening on either side so each room of cats has their own outdoor space. Litter boxes are hidden behind the white cabinet which is on wheels and easily slides out for access. Pretty clever.
After my shift I went back to pick up Jim and make our way to The Village Cafe before we reported to the Bunny House. The $5 vegetarian buffet with vegan options is available from 11:30-1:00 seven days a week and is always busy with staff and volunteers. The vegan macaroni and cheese with veggies was excellent, along with million dollar views of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. In fact we ate lunch there three out of our four days.
Our afternoon shift was at the Bunny House, animals that neither of us are very familiar with. After spending a few hours cleaning the outside runs, we decided a bunny would not be a very good pet. Although extremely cute, they are way too good at making messes. You can see that we haven’t cleaned this one yet.
Our job was to first get the rabbits inside, which meant wrangling them into a big pipe, then stuffing it with a blanket so they wouldn’t get back out while we were cleaning. We had to move their boxes, beds and toys out of the cage, then pick up and shake out the blankets and towels lining the floor. If they were badly soiled, and most were, we had to put them in the dirty linens and replace them after sweeping and mopping. We’ve never seen so much bunny poop in our lives!
When we finished cleaning we got to feed them lettuce, which they all seem to love.
These two were a couple of sweethearts.
On the way home that day we stopped and walked around Angels Rest, the huge pet cemetery with hundreds of wind chimes. It’s such a peaceful place.
Memorials vary from simple sandstone tiles to elaborate granite headstones.
I was so tired and sore after a day of physical labor, I was glad I had only signed us up for an afternoon with the dogs on Sunday. When we checked in at Dogtown HQ, it was suggested that since we had never worked with dogs before we should go to an area that had younger, more well-behaved dogs. Of course our first chore was to clean the pens inside and out and change out their water buckets. Jim got the pooper scooper while I swept the inside, but since there were several other volunteers and staff he only ended up scooping one of the pens with two dogs in it. The buildings are octagonal shaped so each outdoor pen is quite large.
Inside the building.
After we finished cleaning it was feeding time. They don’t just give the dogs a regular bowl of dried food, but either feed them by hand, or make them work to get it out of special puzzle bowls or kongs that they have to roll around and get the kibble out slowly. They are all separated from each other for feeding so no fights ensue. We got to hand feed a few dogs, which was interesting since they are all big and slobbery. It’s a way of socializing some of the more timid dogs and training others to get them to not jump up for food.
Jim wasn’t too crazy about all the slobber, but the dogs seemed to like eating out of our hand, and we managed not to lose any fingers.
Then they had us wash and dry the bowls, then label and fill them for the following morning, so they can start feeding first thing. Each dog gets a measured amount of food based on their weight. After that we still had some time left for a little socializing. The dogs had been walked in the morning, so we just went in and sat and talked to them.
Wigglesworth is a nice boy who thinks he’s the perfect lapdog, but he probably weighs as much as I do. Lucky for him he is being adopted and will be going to his new home in a few days.
A couple more cuties in need of homes.
Since this post is getting too long, I’ll save the parrots and special needs cats for next time. In case you haven’t guessed, I’m loving it here in spite of all the hard work.