During my three decades as a travel writer, this was the first time I had found myself in the doghouse. Literally.
I was in the Puppy Pre-school at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary’s Dogtown, cuddling an affectionate pit bull mix named Challah. She was the last of her litter, and if there is any justice in the world, this adorable mutt has already found or will soon find her forever home.
In the meantime, she and others like her receive lots of TLC from the passionate staff at Best Friends. Let me amend that – Challah and others both like and unlike her. Here, in this sprawling 1,500ha sanctuary in Angel Canyon in Kanab, nestled among the red rocks of southern Utah, the United States, cats, bunnies, horses, birds, pigs, goats and even the occasional turtle join their canine companions in living the good life until they can be adopted. If, in the rare case, they never are, this is their safe haven for life.
Recently, another species has become part of the Best Friends landscape – humans, in the form of intrepid travellers who are looking for a different kind of vacation.
According to Cyrus Mejia, one of the founders of Best Friends in 1984, some 35,000 visitors arrive annually at the sanctuary. Some come to sightsee, but about a third come for the express purpose of volunteering.
They come to feed the equines stabled at Horse Haven; grab a leash and take the residents of Dogtown for their daily walk; and coax a shy feline to come out and play at Cat World.
“Volunteers, many who come from as far away as Europe, Africa and Australia, are a great help to our staff in caring for the animals, ” says Mejia, “but we feel they get something in return that is positive, uplifting and sometimes, life-changing.” Life-changing is a good way to describe a visit to Best Friends, not only in seeing the staff’s genuine devotion to these neglected animals – you have to love a place that rescued 22 pit bulls from Michael Vick’s dog-fighting ring – but in the majesty of the setting itself.
On a morning walk with Mejia, he explained that prior to starting work on the sanctuary, the founders met with a Paiute elder to ask for the tribe’s blessing on the land (they got it) and to ask for his advice on how to be respectful in their stewardship (they got that too.) This was important, says Mejia, as the canyon was where Paiute leaders came to seek guidance from Mother Earth.
You can’t help but feel close to Mother Earth in this serene setting, but it’s her most vulnerable creatures that are the real draw. Volunteers can choose from three-hour morning or afternoon shifts. Advance registration is required, and the staff will do their best to match potential volunteers with the species of their choice.
If they want to continue canoodling with canines, frolicking with felines and bonding with bunnies, and if they happen to be staying at the Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile, they can arrange with the sanctuary for a dog, cat or bunny to join them on a sleepover.
The sanctuary opened Best Friends Roadhouse last year as a way to both accommodate visitors to Kanab and generate more revenue for its animal rescue efforts. Surrounded by the starkly beautiful Vermillion Cliffs, the Roadhouse is located just 8km from the sanctuary.The 40 rooms are designed with pet-friendly touches such as built-in cubbies for your dog or cat, while the grounds feature dog-washing stations and a fenced dog park with a splash zone.
The Roadhouse has a friendly staff who always seem to have treats in hand. Just so you won’t feel left out, they offer freshly baked chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookies at bedtime, and a continental breakfast in the Mercantile to get your day started. – Tribune News Service/Patti Nickell
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