I am not alone in wanting to make the world a better place for people as well as animals. But my attempts are feeble at best, small drops in a vast sea that barely cause a ripple. It was humbling and exhilarating to visit Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah last weekend as part of a media tour. Their mission, “Save Them All,” may be lofty, but the people at Best Friends Animal Society are idealists who are making their vision a reality.
Let me apologize right now; I don’t have the vocabulary or the photography skills to do this trip justice. It is one of those things you have to experience for yourself, like falling in love. Until you have done it, you can’t appreciate how amazing it is. And after you have experienced it, you are changed, but can’t accurately explain it to other people.
After checking in at the Welcome Center and Gift Shop, we met our tour guide, Therese. Our first stop was at Horse Haven. As we approached the fields and rings, two women leading a miniature horse and a one-month-old foal told us to stop where we were. They led the horses into the ring and motioned for us to come over.
It was the first time the foal had been outside, and boy did he love it!
Prince was too weak to nurse after he was born. His mother is a stray or wild horse, and it was impossible for humans to get close enough to her to help him. So Prince was moved from Arizona where he was born to the Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. (A blood test is required to transport horses across state lines which is why Prince has a patch of short hair on his neck.) Prince is bottle fed every two hours. As you can imagine, he started to bond with humans, but it isn’t safe for a horse to think he is a human.
They introduced “Uncle” Feather (a miniature horse) to Prince so Feather could teach him how to be a horse. Feather is a Best Friends alum and was adopted by one of the trainers years ago.
After we oohed and ahhed over Prince and Uncle Feather, we saw some of the other horses. Most of the animals at Best Friends are available for adoption. Many of the horses cannot be ridden anymore due to age or medical conditions and are pasture pals. I think a pasture pal might be better than having a horse to ride.
We walked over to Piggy Paradise to see the pot-bellied pigs.
Many of the pigs were originally sold as “micro pigs.” Jen told us that people who bought these pigs were told they would be around 40 pounds as adults. A pot-bellied pig at maturity weighs about 150 pounds. There are some breeders who are trying to produce smaller pigs, but according to our guide, those pigs can have some serious medical issues.
Some of the pigs came to Best Friends because they were living in a house that wasn’t zoned for farm animals. Do your research before getting a pet. Don't depend on breeders to give you truthful advice; breeding animals can be a lucrative business and while there are ethical breeders, many are not. Click To Tweet
A bunch of us fell in love with Jared when he plopped down for a belly rub.
There are piglets there as well, but they were in another pen because they were finishing their breakfast. They have to be kept separate from the adults during mealtime to make sure they get their fair share because pigs can be, well, piggy.
We were greeted by Bubba, a very handsome dog who is not a Best Friends rescue but epitomizes what Best Friends is all about. Bubba was found in a dumpster with a significant scalp laceration. He does not have external ears anymore, but he can hear. He lives with Jackie, who is the parrot expert at the sanctuary.
Best Friends houses the birds in “the least restrictive” environment possible for each bird. Some birds live in aviaries, but many prefer the familiarity of a cage. We saw several African Greys, Macaws, and Cockatoos.
If you don’t know much about birds, this is what we learned in a nutshell. Parrots are intelligent creatures, similar to children between the age of 3-7, are highly sensitive, should eat a diet of pelleted diet and fresh vegetables, and many retain a sense of humor throughout their long lives. They understand words and can use them appropriately. African Grey parrots are the best talkers. Cody is particularly social and entertained us.
The Macaws have a pretty loud screech, but they are beautiful. Sadly there were lots of birds who had become feather pluckers in their previous homes due to stress.
The cockatoos are funny, intelligent and obnoxiously loud. In my earlier days, I thought a cockatoo would be a fantastic pet to have, but now I realize it takes a very special kind of person to live with a cockatoo, and I’m not one of them.
To adopt a bird, you must come to the sanctuary and meet the bird in person. Given their sensitive nature, it is important to make sure that the bird feels a connection to the human. If it isn’t there, the bird remains at Best Friends. Interestingly, several birds were brought to Best Friends by their aging owners. Knowing the parrots were likely to outlive them, they brought them to a place where the birds will always have a wonderful home.
Best Friends also has a lot of cockatiels which were my favorite of the birds.
We were able to help clicker train the cockatiels to that they will step on the scale to be weighed, significantly less stressful than being picked up or chased. A couple of cockatiels sat on my shoulder and head, and neither of them pooped on me, so I felt pretty special!
After the birds, we went to the peaceful world of the Bunny House. It was so incredibly quiet. Ann showed us how one of the rabbits, Flora, is clicker trained. She knows more tricks than my dogs! Flora can even spin on cue.
I forget this darling’s name, but she is very sweet! We learned that bunnies do better with a partner, so they work on bonding rabbits in pairs or trios. The only requirement is the rabbits are the same age so the life expectancy will be similar. All of the rabbits at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary are spayed or neutered.
The common theme throughout the tour was the devotion that the caregivers displayed for the animals. Each person referred to the animals in their area as “the kids.” Every pen, cage, and stall, is set up to be functional and comfortable for the animals. Nothing is more important than the kids.
As an animal lover, that sounds ideal and perhaps even normal, but Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is extraordinary. The commitment of the staff is palpable. Everywhere we went we met individuals who are dedicating their lives to making the world a better place for animals, who know without a doubt that we can save them all!
Believe it or not, meeting all of these animals and caregivers was just the first morning of our adventure. I have so much more to share, I hope you’ll check back to read about the rest of the trip.