At long last, we made our way to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah!
I’ve been a member of Best Friends for years and had often thought about going there to volunteer for a few days, but the timing had never been right or other vacation plans had gotten in the way. After the many difficult months of cat illness and loss we experienced over the last two years, I felt like now was the time I really needed to go. It was pretty much a pilgrimage of healing for me.
We began our visit with a 2-hour tour of the whole sanctuary, which takes you around the animal areas on the 3,700 acre property. During the tour, we had brief stops at one of the Cat World buildings and at Dogtown, in both places having a chance to interact with the cats and dogs. Since Steve and I were there to volunteer for a few days, the tour really served to give us the literal lay of the land for navigation purposes.
After the tour, it was time for our first shift at Cat World which we spent in the Colonel’s Barracks! Volunteering at Best Friends is really heavily focused on interacting with the animals. While that was certainly something we wanted to do, Steve and I also wanted to be useful and help out any way that was really needed. So, with a bit of convincing, we spent a little time doing dishes and helping to clean one of the cat runs before beginning the interaction and socialization portion of the day.
Steve’s post-dishes activity involved spending about 45 minutes with an older cat named Kramer snuggling in his lap. It’s hard work, I know.
Once I finished helping clean the run, it was time to take a couple of the cats outside for a walk. I was in charge of holding MacStar’s leash and following him around outside. After a very short amount of time, any pretense of walking stopped as MacStar decided lying in a sunbeam was really what he wanted to spend his time doing.
Meanwhile, Steve was being dragged all over the place by Zoey, a beautiful young black cat with a ton of personality and clarity about what she wanted. She was pretty dang cute in her little pink harness. Eventually, she found a door and they headed back inside.
While I continued to sit with MacStar, one of the employee caregivers handed over Laddie to Steve for his walk. Once again, Steve did a few laps around the buildings while MacStar and I soaked up the sun.
With the end of the day fast approaching, it was time to make the all-important decision: which cats were we going to take with us on a sleepover? I finally handed MacStar’s leash over to Steve while I went in to make the arrangements.
Sleepovers are really important for the cats (and dogs) that are able to go, giving them time away from the multi-animal runs, putting them in a home-like setting for a lot of quality one-on-one time. Since sleepovers were of particular interest to us, we had decided to stay in a cottage on the Best Friends property where, of course, sleepovers were just fine.
Having spent so much quality time with Kramer, Steve wanted to take him out for the night. I hadn’t spent much time in that run – two cats can be taken on a sleepover as long as they are from the same run – so we weren’t sure who else would be a good fit for the night. Instead, we let the caregivers choose who would work well with Kramer and could use a night out. As a result, we took Dulcie for the night, too.
It was such a great experience! There were a few hisses between Kramer and Dulcie, usually the result of one of them discovering a lap was already taken, but there were two laps available, so that was easily resolved.
I went to bed first, so I got the first round with the cats.
Kramer spent most of the night sleeping next to Steve, while Dulcie spent her time with me.
Dulcie was incredibly sweet, and I found writing her evaluation in the morning to be quite satisfying. You see, she’s apparently quite subdued in the cat run, mainly keeping to herself. Being able to report back how affectionate and outgoing she really was made me feel not only like I was providing information that might help her get adopted, but like she was a cat who really benefitted from a sleepover.
Back to Cat World for a 2-shift day, again in the Colonel’s Barracks. Morning is cleaning time. Once again, we would have been able to spend our time doing nothing but interacting with the cats, but Steve and I took on cleaning one of the runs. Having spent years cleaning enclosures at WildCare, doing this job was not exactly overwhelming, plus you’re able to take frequent breaks to scratch kitty heads and play with toys.
After lunch, I spent some time sitting on the floor of an enclosure getting a cat who wouldn’t come down from the rafters a few months ago to eat chicken baby food from my hand. While she was getting her special treat, Steve almost went through a huge bag of treats trying to keep the other cats from overtaking me.
Steve spent much of the rest of the afternoon being dragged around outside by Zoey again, while I spent time going from room to room trying to decide who would be a good cat to take on a sleepover. While there were a few cats that would have fit the bill, none really spoke to me and in the end we told the caregivers to select a cat or cats that would most benefit from the time.
In the end, they decided MacStar needed the time away. MacStar is a permanent resident, his owner having passed away after making arrangements for him to have permanent home at Best Friends. He’s an extremely friendly and laidback cat, polydactyl and likely a Maine Coon type mix, and he was an old pro at the sleepover circuit. Once out of the carrier, he took stock of the food and litter box arrangement before finding a spot on the bed for a snooze.
He spent the whole night sleeping next to either me or Steve, with plenty of snuggle time for all.
Since I’d been working Steve so hard on the trip, what with all the hiking and driving, the next morning was free time. We had a relaxing breakfast the porch of our cottage, overlooking one of the pastures of Horse Haven, before driving into Kanab to look around town.
Honestly, there wasn’t all that much to do in town, but we stopped at the visitor center to look at the display about the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and enjoy the continued beauty of the area.
Back at Best Friends, we made a quick stop at the new clinic building to see the engraved brick for the donation we made for their building campaign.
Then it was back to Cat World for our final shift. I’ll be honest. About a third of my suitcase was being taken up by a collapsible cat carrier that we’d brought just in case. We weren’t really “planning” to adopt a cat, but we wanted to be prepared just in case the stars aligned. Truth be told, when we planned the trip in May, I fully intended to bring home a furry souvenir. But then July happened and we brought home not just Fergus, but also Missy. Missy was basically the type of cat I’d intended to be my Best Friends cat – a super sweet, but older, hard-luck case that wasn’t particularly “adoptable”. Being back up to three cats in the house and trying to balance the existing dynamic, our options for the appropriate type of cat to bring home has gotten significantly more limited since we planned the trip.
But we still had one last day and, more importantly, night to see if the right cat would come along. Since we’d spent two days in the same building of Cat World and pretty much knew the cats available there, we decided to spend our last day in a building we hadn’t been in before. The night before, I had reviewed the adoptable cats on the Best Friends web site and put together a short list of cats that I would be interested in meeting (all tortie and whites). We spent a few minutes before our shift getting information about where these cats were; with three of the four in the same building, it was off to Morgain’s Place we went!
Our time spent in this building was a little. . . challenging. Somehow, we ended up with another volunteer attached to us as we tried to visit with the cats. She had lots to say about each cat, and her presence was quite distracting. Finally, in spite of the overcast chill of the afternoon, we threw ourselves into the call to take a couple of the cats for a walk. Unlike the previous walks with harnesses and leashes, we went full crazy cat lady as we walked the cats in strollers. Let me tell you those cats got a long walk as we tried to run out the clock a bit.
Since we hadn’t had a great ability to get to know the individual cats earlier, we went back to the building and asked the caregivers to select two cats for a sleepover. They were having a difficult time deciding among a couple of options, so finally I suggested two from the first room we’d been in – a tortie and white and a very friendly tabby.
Agreement was reached and our evening with Pandi and Jazzy began. It was a different experience than the previous nights when we had older cats who were fairly used to the idea and who just wanted to sleep in a cozy bed. I know this was Pandi’s first sleepover and it may have been Jazzy’s, too.
Jazzy was very high-energy and quickly over-stimulated. Brushing was a no-no and she would go sliding across the tile floor and bouncing off walls from time to time.
While Jazzy was pretty confident, Pandi was much more timid and pretty submissive with other cats.
As Jazzy patrolled the cottage, Pandi spent about an hour under the bed, before I decided it was time to coax her out. Within about 30 minutes I had her purring and head-butting me, then playing with a catnip toy next to the bed.
From there it was a stepwise progression from the floor up to the bed, then to the main room, with lots of photos being taken as we went.
Although she kept her distance from Jazzy, Pandi spent the rest of the night exploring the cottage, and growing her confidence, with the occasional almost bark-like yip of a call to be sure she knew where we were.
I loved that night with her because I really felt like we were able to give her a good experience away from the other cats and allow her to build her confidence a bit.
Plus, when she closed her eyes, she looked quite a bit like a raccoon!
We wrote up a pretty detailed evaluation in the morning, complete with a suggestion that she go on more sleepovers to keep building herself up.
Bringing her back to Morgain’s Place was very difficult indeed. If our current household situation had been different, it is a near certainty that Pandi would have been coming back to California with us. However, our pride currently consists of two old ladies and an 8-month-old ball of energy who really wants to play with them. Bringing a timid little girl into that situation didn’t seem like a wise choice. The first thing we need to do is get a kitten for Fergus to help him expend some of his energy. And we knew that in our heads.
In our hearts, we hated having to leave Pandi behind. Tears were shed. As we finished packing our luggage back at the cottage, we agreed that we’d follow her on the Best Friends web site and, after we get a friend for Fergus in January and those dynamics settle down a bit, if Pandi is still looking for a home in March or so, we’d consider becoming a 5-cat household.
Drying our eyes, we spent a little time in the gift shop picking up our volunteer t-shirts, before going to Angel’s Rest to let our eyes water a bit more. Much like the rest of the sanctuary, Angel’s Rest was much larger than I thought it was and a very special place indeed. When the breeze picked up, the hundreds of memorial wind chimes filled the air with meditative tones.
Drying our eyes for the fourth or fifth time that morning, it was finally time for us to start the long drive back to the Las Vegas airport. Between the length of the drive, the time needed to get to the airport before the flight, and the time zone difference between the two locations, we somehow found ourselves shorter on time for the drive than we’d planned. Fortunately, there isn’t much to drive around in Nevada and the 75-mile-per-hour speed limit helped us make it to the airport with a little time to spare.
With our time split between hiking in the national parks and snuggling a variety of cats at Best Friends, it was a wonderful trip and I’m so glad we were finally able to make it. We agreed we would definitely do it again in the future. There are several more parks in the area to spend time in, so hitting a couple of those before going back to Best Friends for a few more days seems like a trip that will make it onto our calendar again in a couple of years.