In October, I had the opportunity to visit Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. Best Friends is the largest no-kill shelter in the country, and from its breathtaking location to its values and approach, it quickly becomes clear that this is a special place. Many people plan trips to the area so that they can volunteer with the animals:
I experienced a slice of “Voluntourism” during my trip to the Sanctuary, where I was assigned to the Dogtown portion of this huge facility.
First up, I was given a tour of Puppy Preschool, where volunteers work with the youngest residents to socialize and train them. They work on building good habits and also acclimating puppies to common household objects, such as vacuums, that might give them a scare otherwise. Puppy Preschool is a good example of Best Friends’ overall approach working to “Save Them All”, by working to ensure that their puppies will have good behaviors instilled at a young age, making it less likely that their owners will run into problems and become overwhelmed later.
To experience Preschool in action, my group was asked to sit on the floor at puppy level, at which point they released a group of curious puppies into the room to meet us. We played with and hugged the puppies, and watched a demonstration of some of the common household items that can unnerve dogs and how they can be carefully introduced to these things early on to prevent future behavior issues.
For the volunteer portion of my day, I was assigned to “Old Friends”, the area of Dogtown that houses older pooches. One of my jobs was cleaning down the dog doors inside their enclosures – a dog run that leads to a fenced in outdoor area with ample room for the dogs to run around and be dogs.
I also had a chance to take one of the dogs, Captain, for a walk. Kanab is one of the most beautiful places I have visited in America, so every opportunity to take in the natural beauty was a special one for me; I can see why this is such a popular travel destination for those who want to take a vacation and give back at the same time.
Some of the most well-known cases that Dogtown has taken in are the Vicktory Dogs, from the infamous Michael Vick dog fighting case. This was a landmark case for Best Friends, who lobbied for the dogs to be turned over to their Sanctuary. These dogs were at risk of euthanization due to public safety concerns; as I talked to one of the founders of Best Friends about this case, he told me, Everyone was outraged that these dogs had been forced into this inhumane activity – so the solution is to euthanize them? They were essentially being victimized twice. Due to their efforts, the dogs were spared, and 22 were sent to Best Friends. Some were court-ordered to stay at Best Friends for life, where they can live out the rest of their days enjoying the wonderful facilities provided to them; but many others were so rehabilitated to the point where they were able to pass a Canine Good Citizen test and, with the court’s permission, be adopted out to loving homes. It’s a pretty incredible story, and I got to meet one of these rehabilitated Vicktory dogs while I was there:
If you are planning to adopt a dog, this may be “The most wonderful time of the year” to do it. Through December 31st, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is offering an adoption fee of just $25 for dogs and cats. If you don’t live near Utah, you should know that some animals actually qualify for a free flight to anywhere in the US and Canada – it’s all part of Best Friends’ goal to get animals into permanent, loving, capable homes. Learn more about this offer by visiting BestFriends.com/HolidayAdoption, and don’t miss the “Happy Holi-dogs” video!