Abandoned Pets Find Sanctuary With Best Friends

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It was all Lynn's fault that I spent three days on my knees and up to my elbows in bleach water, scrubbing out dog kennels, which is not usually my idea of fun. Nevertheless, I had to admit I was grateful to her in this case.

My childhood friend, who lives in Dallas, Texas, had mentioned to me several months ago, during one of our periodic phone visits, that she had a yen to volunteer at an animal sanctuary called Best Friends. Lynn loves animals especially cats more than people, she often says. She has been a contributing member of Best Friends for years.

She wanted to see the one-eyed cat she adopted before he dies of old age, she said, referring to the contributions she sends regularly, earmarked for a particular resident at the sanctuary.

Now, I will never be in the same league with Lynn when it comes to loving animals, but three years ago I became my dog Amber's person, and to my surprise and delight, I have become a dog lover. So Lynn and I made our reservations to volunteer in "cats" and "dogs," respectively, at Best Friends. I had no idea what a wonderful experience awaited me.

Best Friends, I learned, is the largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals in the country. Located near Kanab, Utah, on the Arizona border, it houses about 1,800 animals on 3,000 acres. Of those, about 750 are dogs, 800 are cats, while horses, burros, rabbits and birds make up the remainder.

Best Friends was born in the 1970s when several friends began rescuing animals scheduled to be killed from various humane societies. They attempted to rehabilitate as many of these "unadoptables" as possible, but many just couldn't be placed. Those became the "founders" of the new sanctuary. Best Friends then made a commitment to never kill the animals in its care, and has since become the flagship of a growing no-kill movement.

Some 20,000 people visit the sanctuary each year from all over the world, many spending from a day to several weeks as volunteers. Tens of thousands are members who regularly send the contributions that keep Best Friends going.

Scrubbing out kennels is only one of many ways volunteers help the staff of about 200 who care for the animals. I also walked dogs and played with them to help socialize them so they can become adoptable. My friend spent her time grooming cats, cleaning their habitats and washing feeding dishes while giving them love and attention including Cingen, the one-eyed cat, of course.

Most of the dogs, I discovered sadly, were not like my well-behaved, trusting, healthy Amber. Many cannot be handled by volunteers because of aggressive behavior, and even professional staffers are often attacked and bitten. The dogs have good reason to distrust humans and other dogs, thanks to the cruelty they've endured. Some, I was told, are crippled from beatings, and covered in scars. The staff takes great pride in being able to rehabilitate many of these dogs with love and patient retraining.

Bob, a 1-year-old German shorthaired pointer, stole my heart. He was brought to Best Friends by a rescue group in Prescott who saved him from abusive owners. Bob loves to play ball. He retrieves a grubby tennis ball, then drops it in front of a gap in the chain-link fence and pokes it through the narrow opening with his paw so you can pick it up and throw it back over and over again. Bob never seems to tire of the game, even though he has just three legs.

One of my fellow volunteers in Dog Town lost her heart, too to a beautiful cocker spaniel. When I saw them last, they were preparing for the long flight back to North Carolina. A new life's beginning for them both.

And, darn it, I keep thinking about Bob. I wonder if Amber would like a brother who's a ballplayer.

Contact Vivian Taylor at 474-1386 or online at viv@cybertrails.com.

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