Volunteering: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Volunteering: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Out in southern Utah, nestled in a serene desert canyon exists a vast and magical safe haven for animals big, small, healthy, or unwell. Literally described by some as “heaven on earth,” Best Friends Animal Sanctuary provides care to over 1,600 abandoned and rescued animals with the help of their animal-loving staff and eager volunteers. The sanctuary has a “no-kill” policy, meaning animals stay as long as it takes until they are adopted and move on to their forever homes.

I first learned of this amazing non-profit when I was talking with a coworker about our plans to travel the country in an RV and to do volunteer work. She immediately recommended Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and shared her experience as a volunteer. She insisted that if our RV travels brought us anywhere near Utah, we simply had to make the trip.

The sanctuary makes registering to volunteer a breeze. Those interested can visit their website, create a volunteer account, watch a short orientation video, and schedule when and where they would like to volunteer. Animal areas that accept volunteers include Dogtown, Cat World, Horse Haven, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, Bunny House, Parrot Garden, and Wild Friends. If working directly with the animals is not your thing, volunteers are also needed to help out in the sanctuary store, at the Angels Rest pet cemetery and memorial, and with landscaping projects around the property.

There are two volunteer shifts each day from 8:15-11:30 a.m. and 1:15-4:00 p.m. We spent two days at the sanctuary and volunteered both shifts each day. We also enjoyed delicious lunches at the sanctuary’s cafe. More on that later.

On our first day, we attended a brief 15-minute registration meeting at the Welcome Center then headed off for our first shift at DogTown. The residents and caregivers from DogTown were featured in a television documentary series carrying the same name and produced by National Geographic. Our work in DogTown consisted of walking juvenile dogs out on the beautiful snowy trail. We were also able to sit in on an agility training session and a clicker training demonstration. The information was great and we learned training skills that we were able to take back and use with our own pup.

…And then it was time for that lunch I mentioned earlier. An all-you-can-eat buffet lunch is available onsite for a mere five bucks. Aligning with the sanctuary’s commitment to show kindness to all animals, the lunch is also completely vegan. I have to say how impressed we were with the quality and taste of the food, along with the ambiance of the dining room. In addition to the daily entree items, there was a full salad bar, fresh fruit, and yummy baked treats.

Since the lunch period is from 11:30 am – 1:15 pm, we had plenty of time to enjoy our meal and drive back to the RV in town to check on our little dog and take him for a quick walk. For our second shift that day we worked in Marshall’s Piggy Paradise. Working here with the piggies and their awesome caregiver turned out to be our favorite experience. We started off by scooping pig poop. That’s right, volunteers aren’t just there to pet pigs, there’s real work to be done and the job can get pretty dirty.

Scooping aside, there were many, many opportunities to pet and socialize with the pigs. One of my favorites was Papa, a very shy pig with a strong love for naps, almonds, and Fig Newtons (my spirit animal, perhaps). Papa usually shys away from people, but came out of his shell for us and even let me pet him while he got his snack on.

We also helped keep the pigs calm and distracted while their caregiver trimmed their hooves, then we helped feed the pigs their dinner. These piggies loved peas, corn, carrots, and lettuce.

Day 1 was an absolute success and we were excited to spend another day at the sanctuary. The next morning we started off in the Bunny House where we scooped poop, mopped floors, changed out soiled linens, poured fresh water for the bunnies, and reassembled their indoor living quarters.

Each bunny dorm houses two or more bunnies and must be cleaned daily. These adorable furballs poop approximately 300 times per day and their urine contains ammonia, which can be dangerous to their sensitive respiratory system and soft coat. Bunnies also love nibbling on egg cartons and wooden toys which can leave quite a mess. After we finished housekeeping duties, we switched over to room service and delivered lettuce snacks to each bunny suite.

Something I noticed right away was that everything at the sanctuary is kept very clean. All of the animal cages, play pens, and outdoor areas were well-maintained and I was happy we played a part in the upkeep. It was also clear that the sanctuary staff really want volunteers to enjoy their experience and to have fun. Volunteers should always check with the animal caregiver before pulling out a camera during a shift, but taking photographs is allowed in most animal areas and even encouraged, under safe conditions of course.

After another fantastic lunch we checked in at the Parrot Garden for our last shift of our visit. We started off by giving the indoor atrium a good ole deep cleaning. We swept, mopped, scrubbed the walls, and wiped down all surfaces in the atrium. The atrium is used heavily in the winter when the cold weather limits visits to the outdoors cages.

We also played chauffeur, carefully loading big beautiful birds onto our forearms and walking them over to spend time in the freshly-cleaned atrium. I carried LaQuita, the blue and gold, male macaw pictured below while Mitch carried his red, lady friend, Kaimi. Can you believe LaQuita is older than I am? He’s fabulous at 40-years-old!

Kaimi (red, female) and LaQuita (blue, male).

We also spent some time with the rainforest birds where we did a bit more cleaning then showered the birds with a faux rainstorm. As soon as the hose was pointed into the cage, the birds would squawk and quickly climb their way over to the sides of the cage putting themselves directly in front of the stream. It reminded me of kids laughing and playing in the sprinklers.

Next we were tasked with preparing a large batch of bird food by following a special recipe that blends various seeds. Our kitchen duties were supervised by a sweet little birdie who recently lost his friend and has been feeling lonely. We learned that parrots bond in pairs, forming a deep connection with either another bird (like Kaimi and LaQuita) or a human caretaker. When a parrot loses or is separated from their bonded pair it can be devastating and the bird can become depressed or self-destructive. For this reason, the sanctuary tries to keep bonded pairs together while they live at the sanctuary and when they move on to their forever homes.

After our final shift we drove over to Angels Rest, the sanctuary’s animal cemetery and memorial site. Each month the sanctuary holds a special service to honor and remember the animals placed in Angels Rest. Here there are hundreds, if not thousands, of windchimes that have been dedicated to lost pets and animal lovers. When the wind blows, they play a soft, enchanting melody that fills the canyon with peace. It was beautiful and the perfect place to reflect on our visit.

We plan on volunteering again (and again) and I highly recommend the experience to others too. The sanctuary offers free, guided tours daily and their are a few options for lodging onsite, including cottages, cabins, and two full-hookup RV sites. Though onsite accommodations can fill up quickly, the town of Kanab has several hotels, RV parks, and restaurants. Groups and families are welcome to volunteer together- I can’t think of a better team bonding activity for coworkers or a cooler way to get kids involved in volunteering. Volunteers as young as 6-years-old can work in Cat World or the Bunny House when accompanied by an adult. The other animal areas have minimum age requirement for volunteers beginning at 8 years. During summer months, the sanctuary also hosts a day camp for children ages 6-9. For more information about becoming a volunteer visit https://bestfriends.org/sanctuary/volunteer. If traveling to the sanctuary in Kanab is not in the cards, there are still many other ways to help out, including sponsoring an animal, purchasing a memorial wind chime, sending an honorary or remembrance gift, or making a donation. For more information visit https://bestfriends.org/donate.

Thanks for reading!

Hitched Up: Rogue Valley to the Redwood Coast

Hitched Up: Rogue Valley to the Redwood Coast

We headed off from the high desert towards Oregon’s southern coast in search of its beautiful beaches and redwood forests that lead into California. Before we would get there we stopped off in the colorful Rogue Valley. We had a great campsite in Valley of the Rogue State Park that backed right up to the Rogue River, was very spacious, and had full-hookups. 

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The park has plenty of amenities, including accessible campsites, picnic areas, and a large fenced dog park. My favorite feature is the new, accessible hiking and biking trail that runs directly through the park. The trail is currently being developed and only a few segments had been finished during the time of our visit. We rode about 3.5 miles on the completed section that runs from the park to the neighboring town of Rogue River. This time of year the scenic trail was bursting with bright autumn colors.

Once completed, the Rogue River Greenway Trail will span 50 beautiful miles. Accessible parking and restrooms are available near the trailheads in Valley of the Rogue State Park. The section of the trail we traveled had rewarding views of the Rogue River and only a few mild inclines. There is an accessible drinking fountain and water fountain for dogs along the trail located just before Rogue River. 

We also ventured out to hike the moderately steep Lower Table Rock Trail just east of the park. A 1.5-mile climb through the trees brings you to the top of the flat rock’s surface. Much of the trail is shaded although once you reach the top it’s full sun and wide open space.

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Operated by the federal Bureau of Land Management, the trail was very well-maintained. The Lower Table Rock Trail is partially accessible for the first 1/8 mile or so, but beyond this point the trail becomes steep with uneven surfaces. The shorter Oak Savannah Loop Trail is flat and wide with packed gravel. Accessible parking and restrooms are available at the trailhead.

Next we were headed back to the coast and our first stop was Harris Beach State Park. We had a large campsite tucked away into the trees and were only a short walk from the beach. Like other beaches we’d seen in Oregon, Harris Beach was gorgeous and Gaius had a blast running around on the sand. 

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One day we spent an hour picking up litter on the beach. Luckily there wasn’t a ton but we still managed to fill half of a plastic grocery bag with garbage in about a mile. I learned that the community regularly hosts beach clean-up activities where volunteers take to the sand and pick up trash that can be harmful to wildlife. The park’s day-use area is awesome and accessible. There is a long, paved, switchback ramp with rails that leads gently down to the beach. There are accessible restrooms, picnic tables (with a great view), and ample accessible parking. 

We loved being close to amazing beaches while also being just a short drive to majestic redwood forests. After a few days of beaching, we decided to change things up and enjoyed a lovely hike on the Redwood Nature Trail in the Rogue Riber-Siskiyou National Forest and the connecting Riverview Trail located within Alfred A. Loeb Oregon State Park.

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Neither trail is accessible although both have accessible restrooms and picnic areas near the trailhead. Loeb Park has accessible parking and an accessible trail that leads down to the river. Vehicles can also drive down the trail and park right on the bank.

We also spent some time traveling the segment on Hwy 101 known as the Samuel H. Boardman Scenic Corridor. Along the picturesque route there are multiple scenic overlooks with trails and beach access. Accessible parking is available at most of the stops and a few includes accessible restrooms.

We crossed the CA border to continue our redwood journey and camped near the Redwood National and State Parks, a collection of four parks co-managed by the National Park Service and California State Parks. The parks include, Redwood National Park, Del Notre Coast State Park, Prairie Creek State Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. I would love to explore all four parks someday but for this trip we stuck with Prairie Creek, home to some of the tallest trees in the state.

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Hiking through the stunning redwood forest was spectacular. We hiked the handful of the park’s accessible trails, including the Redwood Access Trail, Revelation Trail, Cathedral Trees Trail, and the Elk Prairie Trail. The trails appeared to be well-maintained with packed dirt or gravel surfaces and the occasional wooden bridge.

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Prairie Creek State Park was also a filming location for the sequel to the Jurassic Park movie. Scenes for the action-packed dinosaur adventure flick were shot in the park’s lush Fern Canyon. I had to see it for myself. To reach the trailhead, visitors have to either take a long hike (10 miles round trip) or take a long drive down a narrow, windy, gravel road shaded by dense forest. Access is limited to vehicles 8 feet wide and 24 feet long- and with good reason. Once the wild ride reaches the coast, it travels along the beautiful Gold’s Bluff Beach and through a few water crossings before ending at the Fern Canyon trailhead.

img_0189 The canyon features 50-foot walls covered in a variety of green ferns. A quiet creek runs the length of the canyon requiring visitors to travel through the water or carefully cross fallen logs. The trailhead is a gravel lot with an accessible restroom. The short trail to the canyon is wide and mostly flat with packed gravel. Once the trail meets the canyon is becomes submerged under water and is not accessible.

The park is home to a thriving herd of Roosevelt Elk which roam freely and can be very aggressive. We saw one of these magnificent creatures on the Fern Canyon Trail just before reaching the canyon. The elk was grazing a safe distance away so we passed on the trail behind him without incident. On our way back out we turned a corner on the trail and I had an eerie feeling. I could feel eyes on me and when I scanned the environment I saw a huge elk staring right at me through the trees just ahead. The elk stared. We stared. We slowly backed away and he went back to grazing allowing us to sneak by. Phew! Once we were at a safe distance I snapped a few quick photos of our friend from the creepy encounter.

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With that we ended our redwood journey (for now) and were off to explore more of California, starting with a brief trip to San Francisco.

Thanks for reading!