A couple weeks ago I had the chance of a lifetime to visit the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah with a group of journalists. I’ve been an admirer of the work Best Friends does for years so it was really exciting to actually go where it all started.
While there’s a pretty offbeat history of how the sanctuary began, the organization is well-known and respected for their involvement with the Victory dogs, their No Kill initiatives, their pet Super Adoptions, and their work to stop breed-specific legislation and puppy mills. For me, it was an incredible experience to meet the other journalists and see this side of the animal rescue community. Below are my top 10 reasons that dog lovers should visit the sanctuary!
The setting. (Oh. My. Dog.)
You will not be able to Puggin’ believe Southern Utah’s sandstone. The scenery looks like the natural inspiration for Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Be sure to ask about the hike where you can find the petroglyphs on the Best Friends property!
It’s in the middle of the Golden Circle of National Parks and Monuments.
If the previous point didn’t convince you to visit, the Best Friends Sanctuary is also conveniently located between Bryce, Grand Canyon, and Zion national parks and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. The sanctuary is also next to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.
There’s an incredible menagerie of critters.
On any given day you can see 1,500-1,700 dogs, cats, horses, parrots, rabbits, potbellied pigs, domestic birds, and other domestic animals at the sanctuary.
There are clicker-trained BUNNIES.
Yup. You read right. Best Friends as an organization heavily emphasizes positive reinforcement training with their animals and they’ve recently started training some of the social bunnies.
Angel’s Rest Cemetery is a meaningful place to think about the creatures that have touched your life.
Walking into Angel’s Rest is an experience I will remember for a really long time. The sound of the wind chimes mixed with the serene sandstone backdrop is enough to give you a meaningful moment. But when you throw in all of the tiny headstones and the tribute objects that represent the deep love someone has for a companion animal, it’s enough to move the most cold-hearted human.
Adopt a new family member!
The sanctuary is a refuge for almost 2,000 homeless animals who have been brought to the sanctuary for a variety of reasons. The Best Friends staff works tirelessly to rehabilitate the animals who need it and get all of them into loving homes.
Hear some truly incredible stories of the relationships between humans and animals.
Because the sanctuary is kind of like an island of (adorable) misfit toys, many of the creatures there have mind-blowing stories. From ex-racehorses with three bowed tendons to the Vicktory dogs, there are beautiful stories of rehabilitation, hope, and redemption. Below is a photo of Lucas, a dog who once was Michael Vick’s grand champion fighting dog. After the Bad Newz Kennels bust in 2007, Lucas came to spend the rest of his time at the sanctuary.
Best Friends gives you the chance to help take care of the animals they have on the premises. Before you visit, make sure to plan your trip + tour through the Best Friends website so that you can pack in everything you want to see! When I did my volunteer session, it did not feel like work at all. My job was to take the dogs to the dog park around the corner and throw tennis balls. Next time I visit I’ll try to pick up poop or something so that it feels like I actually contributed instead of just having fun.
Paws down the most adorable moment of my year. A super important part of puppyhood is teaching young ones how to socialize with the world. As a volunteer I got to watch puppies bumble about and give them tons of treats. (My life is so ruff.) If you want to experience the Puppy Kindergarten, make sure to reach out to the Best Friends staff before your trip.
Remember what’s really important in life.
The main takeaway I took from visiting the Best Friends Sanctuary was from just watching these people work together to save the less fortunate creatures of the world. By helping a cat with incontinence or a ferret with three legs, people prove that a society can choose compassion first.