April 30-May 4, & May 9-13 2019
While camped at Lee’s Ferry Campground we chatted with our neighbor and he told us we HAD to go to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. We kinda’, maybe, sorta’ heard of them before (probably back during the Michael Vick trial) but they were not on our radar and definitely not on our must see list. We were headed to Glen Canyon and Zion and Bryce and on up the road. BUT, we checked the map and we WERE going through Kanab on the way to Zion. The weather was good, the scenery was beautiful and we had the time so what the heck, let’s spend a few nights in Kanab and check it out. Those few nights turned into several weeks because we are animal lovers and they have over 1600 animals that need love and attention and socializing and walking (and cleaning up after) and forever homes. We swore off critters in the rig so we did all of those things except for adopting any into a forever home. We took some free tours, hiked their trails, walked their critters and worked some volunteer shifts. We interacted with cats, dogs, puppies, parrots, bunnies, horses, goats, and potbelly pigs. Our time spent there was awesome and we’ll be back in July with the granddaughter and maybe do more visits in the future. If we hadn’t talked to that man at Lee’s Ferry, we would have never known there was an animal lover’s paradise close by and we would have driven right on through Kanab. What a loss that would have been.
Best Friends was started 35 years ago by a group of friends who were trying to bring more kindness into this crazy world. The story of the beginning can be found in the book “Best Friends: The True Story of the World’s Most Beloved Animal Sanctuary”, by Samantha Glen. This group came together and after a lot of work and considerable challenges, they created a world-renowned animal rescue organization with outreach programs throughout the country. Best Friends owns 3,700 acres of land just outside of Kanab, UT. This is where it truly began and where the heart of the organization still beats. This is The Sanctuary.
There are specialized enclosures for each type of animal scattered throughout the beautiful canyon and up on the plateau. Access to the animal areas is restricted but there are public places that are well worth visiting even if you only have a short time. First stop would be their beautiful Welcome Center with a shaded deck and large Koi pond. Here you will find information, a gift shop, RV Parking and the starting place for their free van tours (schedule tours online in advance if you can). Pick up a map of the public areas of the sanctuary before heading out.
Public access areas include the loop road, the beautiful Welcome Center, a café with a $5.00 vegan buffet lunch, some hiking trails, a shady green amphitheater you can lounge in if it isn’t rented out for an event and two beautiful pet cemeteries with hundreds of memorial wind chimes and benches where you can sit, relax and just take it all in. The views of Angel Canyon and beyond are absolutely beautiful… and it’s so very peaceful and quiet.
You can go online and book free tours for the time you are going to be at Best Friends. The General Sanctuary Tour and Dogtown Tour are van tours that leave from the Welcome Center. The other tours meet at specific animal areas so you may need a car to get there. So far we have done the Sanctuary Tour, Dogtown (A Gated Community), Wild Friends and Piggy Paradise (which includes the horses and goats). We plan to do the Horsemanship Demo and Piggy Social when we are there with our granddaughter in July. The tours are fun, informative AND you usually get a meet and greet or some social time with the animals.
Animal lovers flock to this sanctuary. So many come that they have an online system to make it easy to plan a visit and sign up for shifts. It is best to schedule your shifts as far in advance as you can as they fill up fast. We started signing up for volunteer slots in early May for our granddaughter’s visit in July and we still haven’t been able to snag a spot in Piggy Paradise. Spring and summer are their busy times so it is harder to get slots but they need help in the winter too so if you are flexible, that might be a good time to go.
There are approximately 1,600 animals on site on any given day. We volunteered to work and visit with quite of few of them. Some of our critter highlights were:
CATS – our first shifts were in Cat Village. Whoa, those kitties have it made. They have indoor and outdoor space loaded with placesto climb, hide and play with tons of toys. They have more snuggle blankets than you can count. The cats themselves decide if they want to come out and snuggle or play. Some are shy and hide in the rafters but others are certain that you were put on this earth to scratch their heads and chins. We were happy to oblige.
PUPPIES – Yes, we snagged the coveted puppy slot in Dogtown. While the volunteer slot is called Dogtown, once you check in at Dogtown Headquarters you choose the specific area you want to work in (puppy training, old friends, admissions, Dogtown (general enclosures), etc. The early birds get first choice. We were there a half hour early to get the puppy spot but it was worth it. We got to snuggle them, play with them and give LOTS OF TREATS!! Best Friends uses positive training – no yelling, no telling them no, just show them what you want and when they do it, TREAT them! Those puppies were obviously pros because their little bottoms hit the ground as soon as we gave the hand signal to “sit” and then they got a treat. We walked them to get them used to a leash and being with other people. Every so often on the walk we’d stop, ask for a “sit” and when they complied… you got it – TREAT! We also got to go out into the play yard and spend time with them. It was a blast. Those puppies loved us and we loved them right on back.
PARROTS – Well, actually the star of this story is a Cockatiel (which is in the parrot family) – After we finished cleaning some of the enclosures we got to give the birds mist showers in their outdoor cages.
One of Holly’s birds immediately started singing – YES, Oliver sings in the shower. He tips up his top feathers, lifts his wings, prances up and down his perch and lets loose. It took only a moment before Holly recognized the song – “Be Kind to your Web-Footed Friends” so she did the only thing she could do, she sang along. WHOA, that was a happy bird, dancing, singing with his new friend, and loving his shower.
John did a morning shift and got to help carry the birds outside. Those hollow bones and fluffy feathers still add up to a good bit of weight to hold out on an outstretched arm but John loved it. At the end of his shift he read to some of the inside birds and they shifted over next to him, quieted down and listened… not something we would have thought to do on our own but apparently it helps the birds with socializing with humans. You have be careful selecting the books because some of these little feathered friends pick up words (and can change voices). One caretaker told us that one of the birds somehow learned “copy that, copy that, got my radio on, copy that” which is a phrase no one ever heard the humans say.
DOGS – once you do a shift in Dogtown you are allowed to take dogs on an outing. We like to hike and the sanctuary has some beautiful trails on their property so we were given some of the bigger, stronger, higher energy dogs to “walk”. We hiked their furry butts up and down those hills and they loved it. It helps them burn off some of their energy and lets them socialize and work with different people. It also gives them all kinds of things to sniff and explore. All the dogs we walked were awesome.
BUNNIES – so many soft ears! Cleaning the bunny cages was pretty easy and we had lots of play time. Some bunnies hop right out to you while others are shy. We enjoyed visiting with some that were having outdoor play time on the lawn. We also fed them lettuce “treats.” Best Friends is big on treats, and socializing, and snuggling, and just generally enjoying time with the critters. We’re very good with that.
PIGS – On Holly’s Horses, Goats, and Pigs tour, she got up close and really personal with the Sanctuary’s potbellied pigs. These friendly critters are often sold as household pets. Sometimes they even call them “Teacup Pigs” – HA! What breeders don’t tell you is that your little piglet becomes, well, a BIG piggy. They are very smart, very social and can be pushy if they don’t have a buddy of their own kind to socialize with so once they grow past “small and cute” many people try to get rid of them. The lucky ones end up here at the Sanctuary. The other reason for so many being given away is regulations against “farm animals”. Some of these pigs were a part of the family until new laws made it illegal to keep them. So off to Best Friends they go. There they hang out in piggy groups, socialize with humans and sometimes relearn how to be a pig. It appears that the favorite thing in the whole world for some of these pigs is to have their bellies rubbed. As you approach one to pet it he flops over on his side and waits. It’s obvious what he’s waiting for. (sooooft belly)
We managed to get one night in an RV spot at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary – they are booked MONTHS in advance. It is beautiful there. The price is $50.00/night which is comparable to full hook up sites in Kanab and is downright cheap if you are a Best Friends member ($30.00/night for members; membership is $25/year). They only have two spots available to rent right now but four more should be opening by mid-June. We are already on the wait list for one of the new ones for two weeks in July with the granddaughter. There are NO campground type amenities except a clean, beautiful location with concrete pad, picnic table and full hook ups. No restrooms, no planned activities, no camp hosts (you check in at the welcome center). They have a few trash cans in the loop but that is it. It is close to Highway 89 and a mile from the Best Friends Welcome Center.
Places to Stay
On-site options include the RV Sites, 2-person cabins and cottages and there are many options off site but nearby. Best Friends has a page with links. We stayed one night at their RV Park, two nights dry camping on nearby BLM land and the rest of the time at private campgrounds in Kanab. There are several hotels in Kanab and Best Friends should be opening their own pet-friendly hotel there this fall. We met people that volunteer at the sanctuary every year. They pool together and rent a house with a fenced-in back yard for doggie sleepovers through VRBO in Kanab. Those links are on the Best Friends site also.
The sanctuary is surrounded by BLM land so there are many more hiking and OHV trails nearby. Coral Sands State Park is about 20 miles up the road. Several good restaurants and bakeries are 5 miles away in Kanab and quite a few national parks are within a two hour drive (Bryce, Grand Canyon North Rim, Glen Canyon, Pipe Spring NM, Grand Staircase Escalante) and Zion is about a half hour away. There are numerous adventure tour companies that can get you out and about in this beautiful area.
Their website has all the answers and you can spend hours on it. You can find information on the sanctuary, volunteering, online shopping, places to stay, and stories about the animals. They also have an easy to browse catalog of the animals that are available for adoption. There are YouTube links with info about the sanctuary and some episodes of the series “Dogtown”.
If you can’t get out to Kanab, consider volunteering at your local shelter. Best Friends has links to their partners and information on their outreach programs. They help shelters set up programs to reach the Best Friend goal of “No Kill by 2025” in ALL shelters in the United States. If your shelter isn’t no kill, you may be able to help it get there. Their motto is “Save Them All” … I’m good with that.