The last few days have been nothing short of amazing. We walked to the small town of Gunlock, where we piled into the car for a very important detour. We drove across St. George and Zion National Park to visit Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, nestled in Angel Canyon of Kanab, Utah. For over 28 years, the Best Friends Animal Society has been working to bring about a world where there are no more homeless pets. They gained notoriety for their rescue efforts in hurricane-battered New Orleans, after hurricane Katrina flooded the city and left thousands of animals stranded. Best Friends organizes outreach and events all over the country, including low-cost spay and neuter clinics, adoption fairs, and fundraisers.
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is the heart and soul of their mission. They house dogs, cats, horses, goats, rabbits, birds, and an assortment of wild creatures in the sprawling canyon paradise. At the Sanctuary, we met with Sherry Woodard at her home and dropped our dogs off in her private dog run. Sherry has been working with Best Friends for many, many years. She ran Dogtown for 9 years, and now works as a canine career consultant, placing rehabilitated dogs in career positions. She has helped train and place everything from service dogs to search and rescue dogs, and because of our passion for our own working dogs, she took a personal interest in our project.
Sherry spent her entire day taking us on a tour of the Sanctuary, meeting the animals and seeing some behind the scenes action. We toured Dogtown and the on-site medical clinic. Dogtown is a collection of buildings and dog runs, housings hundreds of rescued pups. The kennels are organized by temperament, age, and size. Dogs are given color-coded collars, letting volunteers know which dogs are safe for everyone to handle and which ones are only able to interact with staff.
Many of the dogs that Best Friends takes in are very damaged by their past traumas. They rescued many dogs from NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation. He may be back to playing football, but the dogs he helped damage are still recovering. They bear the scars of their trauma on their faces and psyches, and their stories are a harsh reminder that no dog is born bad – they become whatever people want them to be. In any other shelter, they would have been deemed unadoptable and put down – but not here. In Dogtown, they get the time and support they need to become rehabilitated. Many may never leave the Sanctuary, but the goal is always to work with the animals and find them forever homes.
We got a behind-the-scenes peek in the on-site medical clinic, where the staff offers spay and neuter services, surgeries, and intensive care for our furry friends.
Every year, thousands of people travel to the Sanctuary to volunteer and lend their energy to the mission. When we arrived at the visitor’s center in the morning, at least a dozen people were checking in for their volunteer sessions. We even heard a story of a family that came to the Sanctuary for their vacation, and spent 10 days working up a sweat in service of the animals. Apparently, things like that happen all the time. The Sanctuary absolutely overflows with energetic positivity, as passionate people buzz from task to task, tending to the animals and grounds.
Sherry introduced us to pretty much everyone on our way to Cat World. We didn’t realize it until we got to the kitten house, but we have been very cat-deprived since starting the walk. We love our dogs, but there is something special about the love of a kitty.
Much of the volunteer work that needs done is socializing with the animals. They need to be around people and be stimulated, in order to help them adjust from their difficult pasts and work towards adoption. Even though we were only playing with kitties, Sherry assured us that our time and passion was making a difference to the animals.
Our day at Best Friends ended with a hike to a nearby slot canyon for a photoshoot of us and our rowdy mutts. The Best Friends media department is going to put together a story about our walk! The staff at Best Friends is so passionate, so motivated in their work that we couldn’t help but feel inspired and empowered by the work they are doing. We left with our hearts full of love and our heads brimming with ideas for the future.
We stayed with our friend, Yelena, in Orderville. The house she lives in is full of inspiring, transient 20-somethings. Half of them work at Best Friends, and the others work at Wingate Wilderness Therapy, helping to rehabilitate troubled teens. The house was buzzing with activity, as music and food smells mingled with fascinating conversation and a whole lot of love. People were coming and going, and at one point I asked one of the residents how many people live there. He thought for a moment, smiled, and said, “I’m not really sure.” When it came time to sleep, Slater asked where he could crash. The answer was “wherever” as most of the residents took their sleeping bags outside to sleep under the stars. Kait and I have a dream of someday finding a way to bring animal rescue together with working with troubled teens – helping animals help people – and The House Of Many Friends filled our minds with inspiration.
The vibe was so positive that our other stray, Rob, decided to stay behind and set up shop in Orderville for awhile. We have spent a good amount of time together – almost 5 weeks on the road – and we are sad to see him go. But Rob is a free spirit, working to move with the flow of life, and he felt the energy of the place pull him in and went with it. Truth be told, we had a hard time leaving. We already miss you, Rob. Godspeed.
With many hugs, a few tears, and good wishes for the future, we left Rob in Orderville and drove our way back to St. George with our car a little less full, but our hearts overflowing.
Back in the city, we headed straight to our therapy visit at the Red Rock Canyon School, a residential treatment center for at-risk youth.
The kids had some really amazing questions for us, like “what character trait has been most valuable on the walk?” Patience, determination, and a positive attitude, we answered. One girl asked us how they can teach other people to be nice (it was clear that there were some interpersonal tensions in the group) and we told them that actions always speak louder than words – lead by example, and others will follow. Like the Fellowship showed us way back in West Virginia, you have to practice what you preach. We answered question after question until we ran out of time, and the kids got to meet and greet with the mutts.
After our presentation, Tami took us on a tour of the grounds and gave us a little history. Red Rock used to be a Four Seasons hotel, but the owner and his family wanted to do something to give back to their community. So they converted the hotel to a residential center for kids, and over the last 13 years the staff has transformed the hotel into an amazing place for kids to grow, learn, and flourish. Some of the kids are only there for a few months, but to many, Red Rock is home.
We were overjoyed to see their art department and media center, where the kids are given the resources and encouragement to cultivate their imaginations and manifest creative energy into the world. Math and science are important, don’t get me wrong. But in a hard economy, art funding is often the first to get cut. Thankfully, Red Rock is doing things right. Like Mr. Rogers said, “you can grow anything in the garden of your mind.” All you need is a little light and a lot of love.
The staff led us to the cafeteria for some dinner, and while we were eating they called a local hotel and arranged for us to stay in some comfortable digs for the night! A great end to a great day.
So much has happened in the last few days – a lot of energetic shifts, connections are being forged, plans for the future of the walk – and our lives – are coming together. Thanks to a lot of exciting developments, we are discussing a serious shift in our final destination – instead of San Francisco, we are zeroing in on Long Beach, California. Don’t worry, there is an ocean there, too. We’ll have more details soon, but the LBC is looking more and more likely. We are feeling recharged and uplifted by all of the passionate, selfless people we have met. Now we have a 150- miles sprint to get to Las Vegas in time to see my parents. Sin city, here we come.