Volunteerism at Best Friends

When it came time to plan our family vacation this year, I thought long and hard about volunteering at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary with my 13-year old. It can be a chore asking him to help around the house, and asking him to volunteer — I thought — may be going too far.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuaryis located just five miles north of Kanab, Utah, and it is close to Bryce, Zion, and Grand Canyon National Parks. We have never visited Bryce or Zion; we all thought we would explore the trails instead of volunteering.

That was until we arrived at Best Friends.

We stayed at one of the cottages, which has a kitchenette, dining area, living room with a TV, bedroom, and full bath. The living room has a sleeper sofa, so a family of four or five can be quite comfortable. The cottages are an easy walk to check-in, and from our terrace we could see the horses and pot-bellied pigs in the distance.

When you visit Best Friends, it’s a good idea to start with a tour to familiarize yourself with the grounds, which is a few thousand acres. Everything is spread out, and there are plenty of places to sit and admire the natural scenery. After taking a tour, you can decide where it is you would want to volunteer.

The volunteer options are fun because you are surrounded by the animals and incredibly knowledgeable people who are truly grateful for your help. Whether you choose to volunteer at Dogtown, Cat World, Horse Haven, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, Bunny House, Parrot Garden, or with the goats and sheep, you will get a chance to play with the animals in that area. A large part of volunteering is about socializing the animals, which translates to getting them accustomed to being around people so they will be ready for adoption.

Volunteering starts with watching a short video about the animals, and when you get to the area where you will be volunteering, you will watch another video that focuses just on the animals you will be working with. Videos are about 10 minutes long.

Walking the dogs at Dogtown is a great way to explore part of the grounds…and get your dog fix. You can also walk cats with harnesses or in strollers with mesh netting so the felines can see outside, enjoy the air, and be safe.

My son wanted to volunteer at Cat World, where we started by taking one of the cats out for a walk. One of the cats waits by the door expecting his daily outing. After a 30-minute walk, we each took another cat out for a stroll. Then it was inside where we played with the cats. The cats and dogs all have indoor spaces with pet doors leading to enclosed outdoor areas.

On sunny days, the cats can be seen playing and napping in the warmth. The dogs are often found chasing one another with their tails wagging, tongues hanging out of their mouths, and smiles on their faces.

I was asked to help fold some laundry, while my son continued playing with the animals. I later joined him, and at one point we had about half a dozen cats sitting and playing with each of us. We were covered in cat hair, and enjoyed every minute of it.

My child gets bored easily; however, even after five days he didn’t want to leave. Next time, he plans on volunteering with the dogs, and I hope to volunteer with the goats.

There are morning and afternoon shifts, and each flies by quickly. It was quite enjoyable, and my son still talks about volunteering at Best Friends. My husband also volunteered by taking a lot of photos. All of the animals we met were in excellent health, and were so well cared for that they seemed truly happy. That happiness carried over to the staff and volunteers. It was contagious.

We haven’t had a long vacation in quite a while. Traveling to Best Friends was a five-hour plane ride, and then a three-hour drive from Las Vegas. Once we were at the Sanctuary, and among the animals and the wonderful people, however, we felt completely relaxed.

Now, we are trying to figure out when we will return. Volunteering with my son was a lot of fun, and it brought us closer together.