Sunday, April 1, 2012

Volunteering at Best Friends

I just got back from a weekend visiting my sisters down south, by myself, which was a new experience, and a nice break. I spent Friday wandering Zion National Park for the first time, but I'm more excited to post about Saturday, so I'm going to post out of order. One of the purposes for this trip was to be able to volunteer at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary that my sisters Keeley and Alex work at. Because I've always visited them with my son, it limits what I could do, so a trip by myself meant more options.

The trip was pretty last minute, and there was a little bit of confusion about what I needed to do to be able to volunteer, which meant it didn't exactly go as planned. The plan was to be able to split the day and work the morning with one sister and then switch to the other sister after lunch. They have two set shifts that you have to follow to be able to volunteer. It ended up that I hadn't submitted everything that I needed to online, so when I showed up at 7:30 a.m. for the volunteer orientation, I wasn't able to attend. They said I could come back at 11 for the second orientation and be able to volunteer that afternoon. I was bummed, but understand that when you get up to 200 volunteers a day, they have to follow procedures.

So after dropping my sister off to work, I decided to wander a few places she pointed out to try and kill a few hours. The first place I went to is called the Labyrinth. It is a meditation area off the main road inside the sanctuary. The fact that there is a meditation area on the grounds, gives you a very good idea about the founders. I wasn't sure what to expect because my sister had never been there either. There is a large flat area that has a circle path winding around itself until you end up in the center. It was a very peaceful, beautiful place to start out the morning.

To one side of the circle is a tree with prayer flags.

These were some of my favorite drawings

After looking around the area I walked through the labyrinth. Right as I reached the center I heard a bird squawking behind me and turned around to see a raven in a tree.

I can't say in the past that I ever had any attachment to ravens. But I have a couple people in my life who do, and since learning of their fondness for the bird, I have seemed to notice them a lot more, and always in meaningful times. The raven stayed in the tree for a minute and then flew off down the hill. So I decided I should go wander that way. The labyrinth is near the edge of the canyon, and is a beautiful viewing spot.

Just a little bit of the sanctuary land

If you click on the picture you may be able to see the greyish green house right in the middle. That is one of the founders homes. The sanctuary has lots of rumors surrounding the founders and practices there relating to cults and such things. This home is the grounds to a lot of those rumored events. Keeley and Alex said they have staff meetings there now and I would love to be able to walk though, it is very intriguing to me.

After spending some time sitting on a large rock that overlooked the canyon, I wandered down one of the dog walking trails to the second cemetery, which was created because the main one is now full. Here is a view of part of the main cemetery from near the labyrinth.

The second, smaller resting spot does not have the ornateness of the main one, and unless someone told you it was there, you wouldn't know. Walking into the resting spot, I can't express the very touching spirit that flowed in that area. I'm not sure I have ever felt anything that special in a human cemetery. There are simple paving stones used as markers most with just a plain name plate. But every single one of them has stones and mementos left from workers and volunteers that were touched by each animal. Some markers stand out quickly as a very loved animal.

But even these little rats were obviously loved.

Both resting areas also use wind chimes as memorials. There was a slight breeze that morning and I sat for awhile listening to the chimes. I have never heard chimes that had such beautiful tones. It felt like my own private concert. The chimes together with the general spirit of love there left me crying and very touched.

The next place my sister had recommended checking out is called Hidden Lake. It's a popular spot with the local teenagers. We were also hoping there would be some horses in the nearby pastures, but no luck that day. Hidden Lake is a water filled cave, and honestly, gave me the creeps.

The rocks outside of it are beautiful, but it took me awhile to even go near that opening. It's pitch black, you can't even tell there is water in it without getting close. Black cave water, no thanks. I didn't want to regret not trying to see what was inside, but this was the best I could do. I didn't care to try more, I wanted to get out of there. Creepy.

After I killed a few hours, it was time to go back for my volunteer orientation. There were only three other groups of people in my class, but just being around them for a few minutes was a very humbling experience. One group was three ladies from several different states back east who all work for the same company. One of them immediately came up to me while we were waiting for the class to start, and introduced their group. They were all so excited to be there. They had been planning this trip since August and were volunteering at almost every animal area over the course of three days. The excitement and passion of the people coming to volunteer, made me grateful for the ease of which I was able to participate. One of the other groups in our class was a family that came from Canada and made a vacation out of the experience. From staff to volunteers, everyone I met at Best Friends was incredibly friendly and welcoming. That on its own was a nice change from seems to be an ever increasingly unfriendly world.

After my orientation it was off to work with Alex in one of the cat houses. There are over 400 cats at Best Friends. A little daunting to think about. Alex was working in the house called Jill's Diner that day which houses around 30-40 cats I think. It was a little hard to tell because a lot of them are hiding and this might be all you see of them that day.

This house has four runs which all include and indoor and outdoor area for the cats to move freely between. The rafters are open with extra boards added for walkways and houses and bedding in the corners for those cats that want a little less interaction. On the ground there are lots of scratching posts and climbing areas, shelves and other areas for playing and napping. The cats seem very happy there and are definitely well taken care of. I helped Alex clean one of the runs and I have to say, for an area having 30+ cats, it didn't smell. I talked to Alex about some about the struggle between different houses on cleaning procedures and problems and helps that are created just by what products they do or don't use. I was glad I was there on the day she was working in a house where the main caregiver believes in using natural products and cleaners and avoids cleaners that while intending to make the area smell better, end up creating more problems. If I was a cat, I'd want to live in Jill's Diner. Of course you could also get the chance to live in the house where the caregiver has an obsession about all of the bedding and toys being only one color in each run.

This is Papa and he is one of the older cats and he hangs out in the lobby where the caregiver works because he prefers some alone time.

I pet kitties while Alex had to give them fluids and helped distribute dinner. One of the cats that is given fluids is Jasmine. She is 20 years old and the oldest cat at the sanctuary. Alex loves her.

She is pretty much just like a little old lady. Her fur looks like it needs to be combed, her meowing sounds like she's been a smoker for most of her life, she usually has to be shown where her food is, and she walks like every movement in an painful ordeal. But I think she is pretty happy with her home. Besides helping Alex out, I mostly just got to socialize with the cats. There are definitely a lot of cats that don't want anything to do with you, and a lot of the ones in this house are feral. But there were also several that had no problem being affectionate.

This is Phantom.

Two of the friendly ladies from the orientation wanted to take a cat out on a walk, they do have some that love to do that. Phantom loves to go on walks and was just as comfortable on a leash as a dog. She ended up wearing out the ladies.

This is the beautiful Mojito.

He is a very small, sleek cat. He is very adventurous and curious. He loves to chase wadded up pieces of paper. While in a neighboring run, we also found out he had no problem climbing the wire walls trying to get at a cat toy on the other side.

But my heart got sucked up by two sleek black kitties. I've always had a soft spot for sleek black cats, pretty sure I got it from my mom. The first one I met was Jag. I was lucky to get this shot of Jag early on, because after this he was glued to me when I was in the run and it was hard trying to get another picture of him.

Jag and Phantom were both cats dropped off at shelters with notes that their owners had lost their homes or jobs and that they couldn't take care of them anymore. My sisters said that in the last few years the number of animals coming to them for this reason has skyrocketed. Very sad other side to the downturn in the economy. Jag would have easily come home with me if I lived in a cat friendly place. It's honestly amazing that my sisters only have five cats considering where they work.

The next little guy to melt me was Exodus.

He also came right up to me when I walked in and was very content in my lap, making it hard to take photos of him. Exodus's story was heartbreaking. He came from another shelter with a broken jaw which causes his tongue to stick out on the side. They are pretty sure this injury was the result of being violently kicked. Even with that kind of background, this cat had nothing but love to give. It is stories like that which make you want to fill up your car with animals and take them home. But after talking to Alex about it she pointed out that it is important for people to adopt from their local shelter which is most likely a kill shelter. You will be actually saving that animal's life. All the animals at Best Friends will have a comfortable place to live for the rest of their lives, even if the ideal would be for them to all be in homes. Exodus and Jag were really hard to say goodbye to though. Exodus and Mojito who are buddies, got to go on an overnight with the three friendly ladies though. So knowing the love they were going to have poured on them that night made it a little easier. I'll definitely be watching these guys stories and hopefully visiting them again.

Even though I didn't get to volunteer with Keeley this time, I did get to tour where she works and meet a lot of co-workers. I've always been proud of my sisters, but getting to see in person the hard work that they do, and hearing the respect their co-workers have for them, was a great, proud sister moment. Keeley was on-call for the weekend and ended up having to go in very late each night I was there to sit with or check-in on surgery patients. Seeing the animals in recovery and knowing the great care they receive there also made me very proud about the work my sisters help do. Keeley is leaving on Tuesday to go to LA to help in a clinic they have been taking over there. Best Friends is an amazing place, but it can't solve the problem by its self. Other locations like the one in LA, will be a big step towards getting places all over the country that can help do a lot of good things for animals.

The work my sisters do is physical demanding. You don't get paid much, and you have to have a passion for the animals to make it worthwhile. I'm glad there are people like them working at facilities like Best Friends, and everyone else out there doing the work they do to help save animals lives. I only helped for a few hours on one day, but it was an extremely touching experience and one I hope to be able to repeat many times. And in a Price is Right closing, please spay and neuter your pets.


Marty Wombacher said...

Great post and photos! Sounds like you had quite a day! And this gives new meaning to the name: "Cat House!"

Grampi said...

I thought this was a Most Excellent story/experience! And I was thrilled that the Raven [(Crow?) - my Spirit Bird] was there to confirm that you were on Sacred Ground!

Britta said...

So wonderful! I would love to be able to have that experience, I'm so happy you did.