Last year we visited Best Friends Animal Society, known by some due to the TV show Dogtown. After our visit we made a vow to come back and volunteer so this year we scheduled ourselves for the month of March, five days a week. The sanctuary is amazing and the area surrounding it is some of the most scenic we’ve seen and is a wealth of opportunity for outdoor recreation.
Best Friends Animal Society
Best Friends is now the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the world but was started over 30 years ago with little money or resources by the founders. They started off saving so-called unadoptables from other shelters to keep them from being euthanized, and with rehabilitation and training were able to adopt most of them out to loving homes. They now have a mission to bring about a time with no more homeless pets. Best Friends cares for around 1,700 animals at any given time and is always working on initiatives to create no kill cities, TNR (trap, neuter, release) cat programs, phase out puppy mill sales and repeal breed discrimination laws all over the country. They have designated areas for dogs, cats, bunnies, horses, pigs, goats, parrots, and wild friends which consists of wild birds, mink, and various other animals being rehabilitated, hopefully for re-release in to the wild. We spent a little time in each area but focused most of our time with dogs, cats, bunnies and horses. Volunteer time in each area usually included some cleaning, walking (in the dog area) and socializing with the animals.
The dog portion of the sanctuary is home to between 300 and 400 dogs in multiple buildings, each with multiple runs that have both indoor and outdoor areas. Dog town is home to some well known dogs such as those rescued from Michael Vick’s fighting kennels and hurricane Katrina. Our days volunteering usually consisted of walking a lot of dogs on designated trails, cleaning (pick up poop, sweep and mop kennels), help with feeding time and socializing. Socializing can mean petting and loving on the dogs, just sitting and reading to shy dogs or sometimes hand feeding a ferral dog. Another really fun thing we got to do with the dogs was take them on outings. Many of the dogs are approved to go on car rides, on hiking trails and even to patio dining areas – we had a lot of fun doing this and so did the dogs! We also got to see demos on clicker training, scent training and even attend one of their internal classes on dog reactivity/aggression. We learned so much by being around the care givers and trainers while we were there and had so much fun working with the vast variety of dogs.
There are more than 700 cats living in Cat World! Like Dog Town there are multiple buildings, each with multiple rooms that have indoor and outdoor areas. These “catios” have multiple levels of ramps, trees, boxes, tubes, toys and beds for the cats to play and hide in. Most of the buildings also have “lobby cats” who require extra care so get to stay in the lobby where more people can keep an eye on them. Volunteering with cats usually involved cleaning a room in the building (change bedding, litter boxes, wipe surfaces, sweep and mop) and then getting to socialize with the cats. Some love to play, some jump in your lap for pets as soon as you sit down, some can be walked on a leash and many like to be taken for stroller rides outside! One building is dedicated to cats with feline leukemia and boy are they the sweetest! Volunteering with cats was always a more mellow (and quiet) experience than being with the dogs.
Horse Haven includes over 30 horses, mules, donkeys, ponies and goats. We did not spend as much time with the goats but did get to assist with feeding and there are a few of them that do enjoy being pet. The horses are dispersed across multiple little pastures/pens and grouped based on who gets along with who. When we volunteered in this area we usually mucked, fed and brushed. One day we got to watch a demo on Parelli horsemanship which is the program used for all training in Horse Haven. It was so fascinating to watch the trainer work with a young mustang rescue and communicate with it!
Piggy Paradise the home of Best Friends’ pot bellied pigs and boy are they funny and cute! We were surprised at how much they like people (most of them) and even want their bellies scratched. If you started scratching one it would just flop over and show you it’s tummy for more! In this area we picked up poop of course, fed and socialized with them. They really seemed to enjoy having people come in and hang out with them – they would swarm all around us. They even had a cat that had befriended and hung out in the pig pen.
We’re not sure how many bunnies were there at the Bunny House but they had about five buildings with multiple runs, each having between one and four bunnies. They are very social but also very territorial so they have to be very careful about introducing them to each other. They really have to like each other to live together. Volunteers are put to work cleaning runs which includes swapping out LOTS of bedding, picking up all those little cocoa puffs, mopping, getting fresh water and replacing their chew toys and litter boxes. We also helped with feeding and loading laundry. We always had a lot of fun with the bunnies. It was a lot of work but they are sweet and the staff in that area was a lot of fun.
The Parrot Garden includes parrots, macaws, cockatoos, cockatiels and a few other types of birds. It is the one area at best friends where an animal you’re talking to might actually talk back! We didn’t know much about birds to begin with but learned that a parrot can live up to 100 years of age, are highly intelligent, stress easily and are actually wild, not domesticated. We helped clean cages, feed, water and wash dishes. Weather permitting the birds spend their days split between their inside cages and their outside flights where they can be more active and enjoy the fresh air. They are about to break ground on a new building for the Parrot Garden.
The wild friends area has minks ducks, ravens, roosters, pigeons and one very beautiful golden pheasant. Working in this area isn’t as touchy-feely as the other areas since you can’t exactly cuddle the wild animals. Most of the time is spent cleaning poo, skimming the ponds and feeding. Let me tell you these guys eat well. Since the ravens are scavengers they get things like tacos, lasagna and hard boiled eggs all cooked up by the caregivers.
Other Sanctuary Areas
The sanctuary owns 3,700 acres and leases another 30,000 so there is a large buffer around it. On the property in addition to all the animal specific areas there are some public hiking trails, archaeological sites, a cemetery for sanctuary animals (Angels Landing), a cemetery for members animals (Angels Rest), visitor center, buffet style cafe (The Village Cafe) and state of the art veterinary clinic. The Cafe is pretty amazing – it is a vegetarian all you can eat lunch including salad bar, entrees and desserts for $5. Kind of hard to beat that! What was really amazing was the veterinary clinic. Normally the public isn’t given access to the vet clinic but we just happened to ask about while they were organizing a trial run of a members only tour that included it! It was nicer than a lot of medical clinics I’ve gone too. It was super clean, the animal recovery areas were all designed to keep the animals as calm and relaxed as possible and they have all new equipment throughout. They even have a treatment room for chiropractic, acupuncture and laser treatments for animals with arthritis and similar ailments.
Kanab is a small town (pop. 4,300) located a few miles north of the Arizona border on US 89A. During the warmer months it has become a tourist destination given it’s proximity to national parks and recreation areas. There are a couple small grocery stores and basics like hardware and auto parts along with the typical tourist shops and restaurants. There is a trail system leaving right out of town that we went on a couple times with dogs from Best Friends. While we were there they had an event called Shamrocks and Redrocks that included live music, parade and street fair. It was originally a ranching town but tourism and the Best Friends community (mostly transplanted from elsewhere in the country) has brought more variety in restaurants and activities.
Kanab is located in the middle if a spectacular area for scenery and recreation. Within a couple hours you can access the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Glenn Canyon, Grand Staircase Escelante National Monument, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks among many other destinations. We explored Grand Staircase Escelante, BLM and tribal lands mostly while we were there since the North Rim of Grand Canyon was still closed and trails we would have wanted to further explore at Zion and Bryce were still iced over at the time.
Grand Staircase Escelante National Monument
Grand staircase is a 1.9 million acre monument of beautiful desert landscape. There are numerous roads, trails and geological wonders to explore. We drove the 46 mile Cottonwood Road Scenic byway and Johnson Canyon roads, both spanning unique sandstone landscapes, canyons, creeks and even Ponderosa forest. We saw so many cool areas to back country camp in the area! Along Cottonwood road we saw Grosvenor Arch. We also visited The Toadstools, a short hike to interesting hoodoos and balanced rocks.
BLM – North Coyote Buttes Wilderness
The Wave, as it is commonly referred to, is a large wave-like sandstone bowl in a wilderness area that can only be accessed with lottery permit. We were so lucky to be drawn for a permit on our first try! Only twenty people are allowed to visit the wave per day and half of them are scheduled six months in advance. Reaching the wave is a 6.4 mile round trip adventure. The trail consists of a dry wash, sandstone and sand dunes so it really isn’t visible to the naked eye. There are minimal signs and the rangers recommended to not trust them since they get knocked over and re-positioned. They provide a printed reference guide of sequential photos to use as way points for the approach and return. The hike and way-finding was a lot of fun and so worth it! The wave is amazing and not overcrowded – it was a special treat to get to see it. We have heard that there are a lot of other amazing places in the North Coyote Buttes that don’t require a permit. There are also the South Coyote Buttes that are supposed to be just as cool and it’s easier to get a permit for.
Antelope Canyon is a well known and photographed slot canyon on Navajo land just East of Page, AZ and near Lake Powell. All visits require a guide – we visited the lower canyon after purchasing tickets right at the entrance through Dixie Ellis. The tour takes about an hour and is just over a mile long including a number of staircases to enter and make your way through the canyon. It was one of the most spectacular places we’ve ever visited with regard to its natural beauty but it definitely isn’t a serene experience. On the group tour, which we did, you are packed in single file with about 20 people and the groups are one right after another. You have to get crafty to get pictures without someone else’s head in them! It was totally worth it though and we would recommend seeing it if you get the chance.
While there we also made quick trips to Pipe Spring National Monument, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and hiked on the Kanab trails network. We wish we would have had time to get out on Lake Powell with some kayaks but the wind didn’t cooperate on the days we had available. There is so much to do in this area if you like to spend time outdoors. We could definitely spend more time here!