June 29 – July 13, 2019
Twelve volunteer days, nineteen 4-hour shifts, two sanctuary tours, three bunny sleepovers, two doggie sleepovers, and two day trips – one to Zion National Park and the other to Grand Canyon’s North Rim.
This was our schedule:
June 29 – Volunteer check-in
June 30 – Bunny House & Parrot Garden
July 1 – Family Dogtown & Cat World
July 2 – Off day; went to Zion National Park
July 3 – Family Dogtown & Bunny House
July 4 – Horse Haven & Bunny House
July 5 – Bunny House, Sanctuary Tour; bunny sleepover
July 6 – Parrot Garden & Family Dogtown; bunny sleepover
July 7 – Piggy Paradise & Pipespring National Monument
July 8 – Dogtown tour & Piggy Social & Grand Staircase Escalante Visitor Center
July 9 – Off day; went to Grand Canyon’s North Rim
July 10 – Horse Haven & Family Dogtown,; bunny sleepover
July 11 – Cat World & Family Dogtown; dog sleepover
July 12 – Parrot Garden & Cat World; dog sleepover
July 13 – Piggy Paradise
I think that qualifies as a busy vacation schedule.
It was work. It was fun. And it was rewarding.
Work came first – cleaning indoor and outdoor bunny runs. First, empty the enclosure (litter box, water bowl, hidey box, toys, towels and blankies), throw smelly towels and blankies in the laundry basket, sweep up the hay and bunny “beans,” mop the floor, and put everything back. Most of the bunnies ran through the tunnel in the wall to the other side of their enclosure, but a few brave souls had to inspect us to make sure we were doing it right. As soon as we closed the door on an enclosure the rest of the bunnies came in to inspect our work.
Then it was on to “refreshing” the litter boxes, dumping the bunny beans, adding hay, and returning the boxes to the correct enclosure.
It turns out that bunnies are very picky about their stuff. Whatever you took out of an enclosure had to go back in that same enclosure or they’d get very upset.
Chloe “fell in love” with Laguna and Elida, an inseparable bunny pair. She took them home twice for sleepovers and was clicker training them to give nose kisses. She would have taken them back to Maryland with her if she could.
Their caregivers told us bunnies don’t do well solo; they like being in pairs. We learned that bunnies bond for life. And if they don’t like another bunny, they really don’t like them… as in fight to the death. Who knew?
It wasn’t all work. We got to feed them and socialize with them. Quite a few let you hand feed them, even the shy ones. I fed several that hid in their tunnels, sticking their heads out to grab a bite of lettuce. Some would come out to be pet but most shied away from these random strange people that came into their enclosures and stole their toys and blankets (even though we gave them back EVERY time).
One suggestion: Don’t volunteer at Parrot Garden if you have a headache. The noise can be incredibly raucous.
Washing dishes was the usual first chore. And there were a lot of dishes. We got to be quite good at the process and knocked out hundreds of little bird dishes in short order.
Then it was on to cleaning cages, and sweeping and mopping floors in the main building.
The outdoor enclosures came next. Those could be a challenge to clean because lots of mice skittered up the walls and across the ceilings. They even dug holes in the ground. While power washing the gravel “floors” I’d see mice clambering out of their holes to keep from drowning. The caregivers give you options as to what you want to do. We were cool with mice so we cleaned those older, mouse infested enclosures. A donation for new buildings will soon see the old buildings replaced with new, less mouse tolerant ones.
One cool chore was taking some of the birds to their outdoor enclosures. Towels draped over your arm protected it from their claws. You had to keep your arm extended so their beaks would be out of range of your face. Birds have hollow bones so they are lighter than other animals but they felt really heavy after a few minutes on your arm.
Another fun chore was giving the birds misting showers. They’d bob, weave, flap their wings, and squawk. One spread its wings, bobbed its head up and down, and sang, “Be kind to your fine feathered friends.”
We also spent time socializing with the birds. We even read to them. Chloe read a children’s book to several birds and they got very upset (i.e., squawked loudly) if she didn’t turn the book and show them the pictures before turning to the next page.
Now these were interesting shifts.
First order of business was preparing their breakfast – a vegetarian’s delight. Buckets full of peas, corn, and carrots and dozens of heads of romaine lettuce. Load them up on four-wheelers and head for the pig pens. These little piggies weren’t…little.
Why are there so many pigs at Best Friends? Previous owners thought they were buying “teacup” pigs, also called potbellied pigs, that would only weigh 10 to 20 pounds when full grown, if you followed the breeder’s instructions exactly. They might even show you the piglet’s “mom”. Pigs can breed at about 8 months old, when they might only weight about 10 pounds. But these “moms” aren’t close to full grown. They and their piglets continue to grow, and grow, and grow. Eventually they outgrow the owner’s home by a few hundred pounds. Returning the pig to the breeder is a non-starter. After all, it’s your fault the pig grew. You obviously didn’t follow the breeder’s instructions (if you had, you would have starved the pig to death). So the pigs get turned over to shelters, like Best Friends.
Pigs love to eat. No surprise there. I carried a bucket of veggies and dumped cups of food onto the ground. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t keep from dumping the food on a pig’s head. I’d aim for the empty area on a feeding pad and before the food hit the ground, there was a pig head in the way. Not to worry, they’d just dump it off their head and eat it. After the veggie mix, we’d take heads of lettuce, break off leaves, and toss them on the ground. Sometimes we’d stick the lettuce leaf in the wire fence to make the pigs use their sniffers to find it and claim their prize.
While we were feeding the pigs other volunteers were filling their mud holes with water. Taking mud baths was a very popular activity for them. They looked like they were smiling while they were bathing. The mud helps cool them down, helps keep the flies off AND works as sunblock. Since they usually don’t get their ears all the way into the mud, the caregivers would rub sunblock on them so they don’t burn. What piggie wouldn’t like a little ear massage?
After breakfast it was time to take a walk, no leash required. We’d walk two pigs at a time. To get them to follow us we carried a small cup of treats. They followed us even if they didn’t get any treats. But that would have been mean. We would drop a treat or two along the way and they’d eat them as they wandered by. `
The pigs in each pig pen have a hierarchy –an alpha pig, beta pig, and so on down the line. I felt sorry for the piggies at the bottom of the heap. More often than not they kept their distance from everyone, including us.
The pigs loved to be groomed. And to have their bellies rubbed. Seriously. All you had to do was stroke one on its side and it would flop down and roll over (well, as much as fat pigs can roll over). Sometimes another pig, higher up on the piggie chain of command, would get jealous and bite the other pig to chase it away. When that happened, the mean piggie did NOT get its belly rubbed! We do not reward bad behavior.
Some of Chloe’s favorite shifts were at Dogtown, especially when that shift was at Puppy Preschool. That’s right, the puppies at Best Friends go to school. On one shift we helped train a group of puppies to accept a dog collar. This involved giving them treats. Lots of treats. We’d hold the collar out and when a puppy came up to smell it, we’d give it a treat. Then we’d try to touch the puppy with it. And give the puppy a treat if it let us. Most of the puppies weren’t ready to wear a collar. But I actually managed to get a collar on one puppy. And gave it lots of treats.
Our toughest job – not – was socializing with the puppies. We’d carry two or three puppies to a dog run and let them go. And boy did they go. We’d watch them, play with them, chase them, and in general have a great time with them.
We spent some time at Old Dogtown where older dogs, many with health problems, were kept. Adult and older dogs lived in octagonal buildings with dog runs extending from five or six sides. While a few dogs lived by themselves, most shared their run with one to three other dogs.
We helped the staff feed the dogs, which was an interesting activity in itself. At feeding time, we had to separate the dogs in each run – some we put in their kennel, some were put outside. We set the dog’s food bowl down and let them at it. But several of the dogs were very shy and we used feeding time to help them overcome their shyness or fear of humans. Instead of putting their food bowl down, I would put some food in my hand and hold it out for the dog. The dog would warily approach, snatch the food, and move away. We repeated this process until all the food was gone. Then I’d sit quietly and let the dog approach on its own accord. Over time, the dog may overcome it shyness or fear.
A normal part of our job was to walk dogs, but the hot July weather put a damper on that. Most of our walks were short. We took several to their dog park instead and let them run and play there. They have a big pool they can get into to cool off and lots of plants and trees to run around and hide behind.
Working at Cat World was a bit crazy. Dozens of cats wandered through each house’s foyer. Each interior room had an attached outdoor run and dozens more cats. Most wandered around or lounged on the ground. For the cats that didn’t care for people, the staff had built living space in the rafters with all the comforts of home – cat beds, food and water, litter boxes, and hideaways.
Cleaning a room took quite a bit of our shift. But that didn’t mean we didn’t get to socialize. Quite a few cats followed us around and inspected our work. Each room had seven or more litter boxes that had to be cleaned. Shelves needed to be wiped, cat beds brushed, and floors swept and mopped. Occasionally we had to stop and play with a cat or two.
Unlike dogs, feeding time usually did not lead to a feeding frenzy. Cats are way too chill for that. As a special treat Chloe fed baby food to some of the cats. They’d line up waiting – impatiently – for their turn. If Chloe wasn’t careful a cat might try to stick its mouth in the baby food jar.
We discovered that Chloe would make a very good animal trainer. At Catworld she got a cat (or two) to walk on a treadmill… but not without a steady supply of treats. She didn’t quite get them to running on it but we were told one cat had reached that level and would demonstrate it to the other cats (because he was the king of cool, of course). The jogging kitty got adopted so Chloe was trying to get other cats used to the contraption.
On one shift we walked several cats with neurological problems – their hind legs didn’t work too well. But they still managed to get around. For one cat’s “physical therapy” we went from house to house and knocked on each door. When the caregiver opened the door he or she knew that we were there for cat treats. This cat struggled to walk, fell, righted himself and carried on… over and over again. He was determined to get to as many of those doors as he could and get his treats. That’s one way to motivate a cat. Maybe the only way.
Horse Haven staff had more than just horses. They also had mules, donkeys, and goats.
On our first horse shift we worked with…horses (mostly). We hopped on board a 4-wheeler and headed to our first job – mucking the horse enclosures. That’s scooping poop in horse-speak. And there was plenty of that. We had no problem fulfilling our quota. It was actually one of the easier scooping jobs. Most of the poop was in piles and you just “fork” it into the back of the 4-wheeler. Sometimes the horses came over to say hi (and inspect our work).
Next, we prepped their breakfast. That’s when the caregivers slipped the horses their meds and supplements. Each horse had its own shallow container with its name on it. The caregiver would hand us a container and tell us which horse to feed. I wouldn’t say they were dainty eaters but they didn’t gobble it down either.
We enjoyed grooming the horses and quite a few of the horses enjoyed being groomed. They even lined up for us and waited their turn.
On one horse shift we requested to work with the goats. Request granted. I think the goats loved the attention. And we loved the goats.
As on most shifts, poop patrol was the first order of business. We used narrow-tined pitch forks to scoop up the poop, about the size of deer scat, and deposit it in a wheelbarrow. But with each scoop, most of the poop balls fell between the tines and back onto the ground. Progress was slow. Veeeeeery slow.
Then we spent the rest of our shift grooming them. By that time it was pretty hot so most of the goats were lying in the barn. We got to work and pretty soon the hair we brushed off the goats was floating in the air. The goats loved the attention… and Chloe. They were sure that child would be an endless supplier of treats.
We set up five sleepovers for Chloe – three with bunnies (in our RV) and two with dogs (in one of Best Friends’ cabins).
As you can see it didn’t take long for Chloe and her new bud to make themselves at home. Good thing I wasn’t there because I wouldn’t have been able to resist messing with that snuggly little pupper. From the look of things I’m not sure where Holly slept.
The bunny sleepovers made our RV home just a little cramped. Their pen took up the entire living room, all 20 square feet of it. But it was fun having them on board and Chloe loved clicker training them.
We even spent quite a bit of our “spare” time at Best Friends. They have a Kitten Nursery in their downtown Visitor Center so we had to visit there and watch the kitten feeding (so cuuuute). They also had some cats we could visit with (we did), interesting displays and gift items. As we drove back and forth to the sanctuary, we watched the progress on their soon to open Road House – a hotel where pets are not only welcome, they are expected! We got to see some insider pics showing the pull out trundle pet beds they have in each room. Very cool accomodations.
Best Friends started a new program for kids under 13 this summer – Best Friends Junior Ambassador. It works pretty much the same way as the National Park’s Junior Ranger program. Chloe was still 12 so she jumped on it.
Not only did Chloe take part in the program, she became their first Junior Ambassador, which thrilled the program’s coordinator. Chloe impressed so many of the Best Friends’ staff that the organization decided to write an article about her for their website. She’ll also appear in their November-December issue of Best Friends magazine. How cool is that!
We spent quite a bit of time at the Welcome Center at the Sanctuary. Needless to say quite a bit of our money stayed there. All three of us now have some really nice Best Friends attire and we didn’t mind parting with the money – it’s for a good cause.
Billy the cat, one of the “residents” of the Welcome Center, was one of Chloe’s favorites. He has health issues, as do many of Best Friends’ animals, so Chloe gave him a few stroller rides. Billy had to share his living space with three kittens for a short while. So naturally Chloe had to entertain them by practicing a few dance steps while dangling a cat toy in their faces. We were happy to hear that Billy found his forever home and would be moving in with his new person soon. While we enjoyed working and visiting with the animals, everyone hopes that one day they each will also go to their forever homes. Chloe checks the Best Friends website to check on the wonderful animals she worked with and happily announces when one has been adopted. She also reminds us that Best Friends is on her summer trip list every year from now to eternity. We’re good with that.