Tucked away in a beautiful, red-rock-lined canyon in southern Utah is an amazing place that should definitely be on the bucket list of every animal lover. It’s called Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, and it’s home to about 1,600 animals and the humans who take care of them.
I decided to visit the Sanctuary after a friend waxed poetic about the experience she enjoyed while volunteering there. So I carved out time on my calendar and registered for three days as a Sanctuary volunteer, to be followed by two days of exploration in nearby Zion and Bryce National Parks.
Southern Utah: An Amazing Place to Visit
When the appointed week arrived, I flew to a tiny airport in St. George, Utah, and drove through arid landscapes to the tiny town of Kanab. Kanab is a quaint, two-stoplight town that is reminiscent of the Old West. In fact, the area surrounding Kanab has served as the location for more than 100 western movies, and visitors can learn more at Kanab’s Little Hollywood Museum.
After settling in at my accommodations in Kanab, I headed to the Sanctuary to get the lay of the land so I’d be ready to report for volunteer duty the next day. The Sanctuary is a short and scenic 5-minute drive from Kanab. I turned into the property at the large Best Friends sign and soon discovered the beautiful visitor’s center. After a quick reconnaissance of the grounds, I drove to the nearby Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park for some sunset sightseeing. I arrived just in time to catch the golden glow of the sun on the beautiful dunes.
Reporting for Volunteer Duty
The next day I reported for volunteer orientation and my first shift as a volunteer. The orientation provided an informative introduction to the Sanctuary and its goals, as well as providing valuable guidelines regarding volunteer safety. I was immediately impressed by the Sanctuary’s vision statement, which proclaims “a better world through kindness to animals.”
With my heart warmed by this introduction to Best Friends, I headed off for my morning shift in Cat World. It’s no coincidence that cats were first on my volunteer agenda; cats are nearest and dearest to my heart. And so I spent the morning on various cat-related tasks, including taking a special-needs cat named Skippy for a walk outside on his harness and leash. Many of the Sanctuary’s cats are taken for similar enrichment outings and are also allowed to observe the world from their screened-in “catios.”
Following my shift at Cat World, I headed over to the Sanctuary’s restaurant for lunch. The Village Café provides a fantastic all-you-can-eat vegan buffet for only $5.00. The weather was perfect for al fresco dining, so I sat out on the patio and enjoyed viewing the white cliffs in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
After lunch, I spent my afternoon volunteer shift at Horse Haven. As a life-long horse lover and former owner of two Tennessee Walking Horses, I appreciated being able to groom the horses and clean their enclosures. I also appreciated a demonstration of horse training techniques that emphasized a gentle way of working with the horse rather than training through fear.
On subsequent days, I volunteered at The Parrot Garden, where I took the birds outside to their daytime enclosures, and Dog World, where I socialized with puppies.
A Place Where Angels Rest
Before leaving the Sanctuary on the last day, I stopped to visit the beautiful pet cemetery located there. Angels Rest, as it is appropriately named, is a spiritual place filled with wind chimes and heart-tugging tributes to well-loved pets. The emotion of the area is palpable, and I have never felt anything like it.
If You Go
The Sanctuary offers many options for exploration. You can take a 90-minute tour in one of the vans, you can sign up for a special program at one of the animal care areas, or you can spend a shift as a volunteer. Or, as I did, you can enjoy all three!
Support Their Work
Best Friends Animal Society does much more than operate the Sanctuary in southern Utah. They’ve set the audacious goal of ending the killing in American animal shelters by 2025, and they are on track to make it happen. Working alongside shelters, rescue groups and other animal welfare organizations, Best Friends is determined to “Save Them All.”
Leigh Scott is a vegan chef and food blogger at www.olivethethymekitchen. Following a 25-year career as an environmental educator, she earned her culinary certificate in 2016 from the School of Natural Cookery in Colorado. Leigh has recently completed Rouxbe’s Forks Over Knives course, and she specializes in whole-food, plant-based cooking. She also serves on the boards of the Veg Society of DC and Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry. Leigh earned her VLCE certification at Main Street Vegan Academy in 2019.