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Rockwall couple discovers paradise for pet lovers

A visit to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah

Michael takes a break outside one of the sanctuary’s horse corrals. Photos by Pam Kitkoski.

ROCKWALL, TX (November 17, 2014) Dramatic rugged scenery. The peacefulness of the high desert. And joy on the faces of nearly 2,000 animals. We discovered nirvana for pet lovers when we volunteered to work at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah last month. The sanctuary has become a destination for animal lovers, since it combines the stunning beauty of southern Utah with compassion for all living things.

Before we went to work, we set out on a comprehensive tour of the sanctuary.  Each species, whether dogs, cats, horses, pot-bellied pigs, rabbits or birds, has its own compound. The unassuming buildings were spread across the massive canyon area.

We were instantly at peace, and I’m certain the animals felt the same way. After all, these are the hard-luck cases: horses that had been starved and abused, cats with fatal viruses, dogs that had been used for fighting (including some from Michael Vick’s former group) and even wild birds who had been hit by passing vehicles. Many of them are experiencing love and compassion from a human being for the first time.

A pot-bellied pig is in hog heaven atop a mound of red dirt at Marshall’s Piggy Paradise.

The first stop on our tour was Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, home to numerous pot-bellied pigs. It’s truly a paradise for the friendly and social pigs, since they get lots of outdoor exercise, plenty of warm, cozy housing and, of course, ample opportunity for mud baths. We shivered during a cold and intense training lesson at Horse Haven, then warmed up at Bunny House where we met some friendly rabbits.

Michael receives kisses from Hanes following her puppy socialization lesson.

Following lunch at a spectacular outdoor setting, we were ready for our first volunteer assignment in Dogtown. We were coupled with a very young heeler-mix named Hanes for puppy socialization training. Our job was to train her to be comfortable and obedient in a home environment, which is more difficult than it sounds with an exuberant, distracted puppy. After a training session that bordered on chaos, we were richly rewarded with numerous puppy kisses.

Birds like this were rescued from bird mills. This bird has severe internal injuries, since she was continually overbred.

The next day began with a visit to the Parrot Garden and Wild Friends, where injured wild birds are rehabilitated and released back into their environment. We were surprised to learn that bird mills are as big a problem as puppy mills. Parrots and other large birds are overbred while being kept in deplorable conditions. Suffice it to say that you should never buy a large bird from a pet store.

Pam and Michael were obviously happy to be working with Patches, a newcomer to the sanctuary.

Then it was time for our primary volunteer duties at Cat World. The small village, which is set along a quiet dirt road, currently houses over 700 kitties. Many of them have infectious or fatal diseases, injuries or behavior problems. Volunteers walk kitties on leashes through the desert, or zip up the cats in custom strollers for a quiet ride outdoors. Pam and I began by washing a small mountain of litter boxes, folding a huge stack of laundry and preparing syringes for use by the veterinarians.

Most of our time was spent socializing cats who had feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Since they lack their natural defenses, kitties with FIV aren’t able to fight off many germs, viruses and other diseases. We rotated between three housing areas, in which many of these kitties needed help to overcome their shyness. One cat named Patches was a newcomer to the sanctuary, so she was extremely shy. We were gratified to help so many of the kitties conquer their distrust of humans.

A typical scene at the sanctuary: A kitty basks in the sun while a wild turkey strolls past.

Our visit ended with a special treat. We were privileged to be included in a group that ate dinner with many of the founders of Best Friends. We enjoyed conversations with Faith Maloney and Steven Hirano. And we were pleased when Jana de Peyer pulled up a chair next to us for a long discussion about animal welfare.

Lunch was served outdoors in a stunning area called Angels Landing.

Early the next morning, we were on our way to Las Vegas to represent Rockwall County at the Best Friends National Conference. But we can heartily recommend the sanctuary as a side trip, a destination or even a family vacation. You don’t have to volunteer. There are many free tours available throughout the day. And you’ll never forget the scenery, the tranquility and all those wagging tails.

Get more information about Best Friends Animal Society and the Sanctuary at http://bestfriends.org. Find out more about No Kill Solutions at http://nokillsolutions.org.

Story by Blue Ribbon News guest columnist Michael Kitkoski, an award-winning animal shelter reform advocate and co-founder of Rockwall Pets and No Kill Solutions. Photos by Pam Kitkoski.

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