A day of volunteering at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Photos by Leah Dietzen

By Leah Dietzen

If you pause for just a moment as you drive alongside of the red rock walls into Angel Canyon, you may begin to sense the feeling of peace washing over you, a subtle awareness that this place is different, this land is special. And indeed it is. Angel Canyon is home to the nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary for companion animals.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, located in Kanab, is a place with a mission and a purpose: to save them all. What began as a group of friends in 1984 has branched out to become the largest no-kill sanctuary in the world with a focused national movement to end the killing of all unwanted companion animals. They have set the marker high with goals to make Utah a completely no-kill state by 2019, Los Angeles by 2017, and the entire nation by 2025. They do this by working with local and regional animal shelters and have adoption services on site in Kanab.

But do not be put off by their boldness and courage. This is an animal welfare group that does it right. Best Friends’ mission comes from the heart, and they lead by example. They seek to include and unite rather than point fingers and blame. Their website states that their motivation stems from “a desire to live a life of kindness, compassion, integrity, and a connection to something greater than themselves. United in the belief that all life has intrinsic value.” Truly, they desire to live by the Golden Rule.

I was blessed to be able to spend the day out at Best Friends, volunteering in the morning and taking the full tour in the afternoon. I cannot emphasize enough what a powerful experience it was. Volunteering, and service in general, is such an amazing way to spend your time. Not only are we serving a cause with a great vision but we are serving our animal friends who depend upon us for love, guidance, and care. And let us not forget that no matter the struggles that we ourselves may be having in our personal lives, service is one of the best ways to help ourselves feel better. I cannot think of a better way to spend a day — whether by myself, with my partner, or family — then helping animals together.

Best Friends took in half of Michael Vick’s fighting dogs and successfully rehabilitated nearly all of them.

I spent my morning volunteering my time out at dogtown. As a dog trainer and animal behaviorist myself, I was itching at the opportunity to go out and play with them and their experienced staff. And they did not disappoint! I had an amazing morning with my guide, Craig, walking dogs and learning more about the work that the staff do. I even learned that Best Friends took in half of Michael Vick’s fighting dogs and successfully rehabilitated nearly all of them. Only five still live at the sanctuary today. That is beyond impressive and showcases the power of love, patience, and dedication this group has towards our animal friends.

My afternoon was spent touring the remaining areas of the facility and allowing my inner animal nerd to have a full-on geekfest. This is not your typical shelter. It has the animals in high-end enclosures that meld the beauty of the outdoors with the comfort of the indoors.

One of the more heartwarming stories was that of a sweet kitty named Ooms. Ooms was urinary incontinent. For most animals, this makes them highly unadoptable. But with the patience and loving care of the staff, Ooms was trained to walk on a leash. And to everyone’s surprise, Ooms started being able to wait until her leash walks to go to the bathroom! I think that so often we see an animal with a defect and think it is unfixable, and thus disposable. But Ooms is a leash-walking example of the power of patience, persistence, and loving kindness. We have invited these amazing animals into our lives and our homes and domesticated them. It is our duty to honor and care for them and honor their animal nature, even when it is perhaps not always ideal or convenient.

volunteering Best Friends Animal SanctuaryBest Friends truly is an amazing experience for anyone, on par with walking The Narrows or checking out the Grand Canyon. You can bet money that when my friends and family now come to visit, they will be treated to a trip out to Best Friends alongside taking in the scenic sights. From the Bunny House to Cat World, from Horse Haven to Piggy Paradise, and from the Parrot Garden to Wild Friends, Best Friends has a place for them all. Best Friends also has a place for us as well. What better way to spend your time then mixing fun, majestic beauty, adorable animals, and service into one perfect day?

If you’re interested in bringing a new animal friend into your family, or just volunteering, consider contacting Best Friends. Together, we can save them all.

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