When Susan Campbell volunteered at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary over Thanksgiving she put her cat carrier in the car.
"I took it along just in case I saw someone who needed me," Campbell said.
When she returned Sunday evening from the Kanab, Utah shelter, she brought home a cat named Art, a domestic dark tabby with not much time to live. He arrived at the sanctuary because of his many health problems: an old leg injury, respiratory problems, bad teeth, and a cancerous eye growth. After surgery, Art went on lifetime medication to keep the cancer from growing.
"Art was on a little bed on the floor, and when I knelt down to say hello, he stood up and put his paws on my shoulders," Campbell said. "That was Thanksgiving Day, and I thought about it and decided I would adopt him if they would let me have him."
The largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals in the United States, Best Friends is a 3,000-acre facility that is always home to at least 1,800 dogs, cats, horses, birds, rabbits and other animals.
"I don't remember how I first heard of them," Campbell said, "but I've been supporting them for a long time. Then one time when I was going in that direction, I stopped and took a tour. They have this wonderful lunch they serve every day for $4 on the top of a cliff overlooking everything. It's just gorgeous there."
While 85 percent of the animals taken to the sanctuary are eventually adopted, hundreds more who are lame, or sick, or traumatized by abuse, or handicapped, or just too old will never be taken home. For them Best Friends is a haven for the rest of their lives.
Thanks to the generosity of friends and volunteers like Campbell, the sanctuary has become the "flagship" of the no-kill movement. Animals come from all over the country, mostly from shelters that don't have the resources to rehabilitate them and where they would otherwise be destroyed.
"It's so well run and so well done," Campbell said. "They actually started in Arizona, but they found this land up in Utah they could get and they did it all on faith."
After her initial visit, Campbell decided volunteering at the shelter was the best way she could spend her Thanksgiving vacation. She says that Art found her, "like they usually do."
A lot of cats have, in fact, found Campbell over the years, including the four she has left after Art's death.
"Marshmallow came from the Payson Humane Society, Sterling was dumped on a neighbor's doorstep, Poly I got from (Payson Elementary School Principal) Roy Sandoval, and Frost came from a family that didn't want her," she said.
Art lived just four weeks at Campbell's Mesa del Caballo home before he died, but they were special weeks for both cat and owner.
"Art stayed to himself as far as the other cats were concerned," Campbell said. "He had his own chair in the living room, and in the afternoon when the sun would come in the window, he'd move around the carpet following the spots of sun around."
But while he didn't have much to do with the other cats, Art became very attached to Campbell.
"I sat out on the porch with him on Christmas Day, and every day when I was off work," she said. "I'd wrap him up in his blanket and we'd go sit outside. He loved the sun, and he'd just sit with me on my lap and watch things and purr."
Art died Dec. 28, just as Campbell was returning from dinner and a movie.
"There was no indication whatsoever, or I would never have left," she said. "I knew it was coming, but it was so surprising because he was doing so good that morning, but apparently it was just that last rally they have before they give it up."
From a trail of blood, Campbell was able to retrace Art's final moments.
"He heard the car come in the driveway and he jumped off the bed to come and meet me," she said. "He made it as far as the kitchen. I opened the door and he was just lying there, and by the time I got to him it was over."
Campbell buried Art in her back yard next to the grave of Cloud, another cat who died recently. As she worked on the gravesite on New Year's Day, she paused to reflect on her brief time with Art.
"I sent an e-mail to one of the ladies at Best Friends who had been staying in touch because she loved Art so much. In it I wrote, ‘People have been telling me that I'm the good guy because I did this, but I got all the benefits out of this.'
"I was just so fortunate to have Art, and I would do it again," she added. "These little animals need as much as we do."
How you can help
It's a big job to take care of 1,800 animals, so Best Friends Animal Sanctuary welcomes 20,000 visitors and volunteers each year from all over the world. For more information on the facility, call (435) 644-2001 or go to www.bestfriends.org.
The Payson Humane Society also needs volunteers and foster homes. Call 474-5590 for more information on how you can help.