May 15, 2016
Best Friends Animal Society is the nation’s largest no-kill animal shelter, and I had wanted to visit it for the longest time. One of their largest partners in Los Angeles is NKLA and so we were very aware of their work in LA. We had also read about all their hard work with the Michael Vick dogs (Vicktory Dogs), Missouri 500 and Hurricane Katrina rescue. I was particularly interestedto see any of the remaining Vicktory dogs.
Their facility is massive totaling over 3,700 acres and over 1,700 animals. I was wondering before we got there how it could create a livable area for that many animals. Our experience in Los Angeles had been of the not so good shelters made up of small cages and heart-broken animals. Would this be a depressing tour? Would I leave sad, angry, hopeless?
From the moment you see the first area for horses you are in awe. They had wide open spaces on well-manicured grounds. We had already signed up online for the Grand Tour, which is the tour of the entire facility by van. You don’t get to see each individual area but you go to Dogtown and meet a dog, get to play with cats and drive through other places on property that you wouldn’t have thought about (pet cemetery, trails, rock formations, cafeteria, etc.)
They dedicate their vans to beloved animals that have passed away. Our van was named after one of the Vicktory Dogs, Ellen.
The first stop is Cat World. They have over 700 cats, and they are separated based on personality and medical needs. There is a building for social cats, anti-social cats, sick cats, Leukemia cats, cats with urinary issues, etc. We were able to go to where the cats are all living together and very friendly.
The amount of time, money and effort that goes into helping some of the animals makes you so happy. The areas are spacious, and clean. One of my favorite cats was a Siamese with only one eye, but he was so sweet. We were astounded by the care of the staff, and especially and their devotion to the cause.
Next was Dog Town, which is a village of octagon shaped buildings designed so that every dog has indoor and outdoor space. There is a caregiver on site that is working with the dogs throughout the day. Each dog is put on a training regiment to encourage positive attributes, and to work out negative ones. They bring out one dog for you to meet and play with, and provide instruction on rewarding good behavior. Here, you get the first glimpse of a Vicktory Dog, but the time is short so you are already leaving to keep driving. The Grand Tour focuses mostly on the dogs and cats, but don’t forget about the horses, pigs, birds, wild life and bunnies. The tour takes about 2 hours after a short 15 minute video. Then from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. their cafeteria serves a vegetarian buffet for $5 and there is free Wi-Fi, with an amazing view.
We then signed up for the 1:30 p.m. Dog Town: Behind the Scenes Tour. This tour only had 6 people and you were required to be 18+. All the dogs at the sanctuary are collared with a color coded collar. Green is a dog that is social and good around people, kids and dogs, and can be handled by volunteers and visitors. Purple is a dog that is working on specific behavior traits, and requires a caregiver to handle them. Red is staff only and you are not allowed to even get near their kennel. An important note is that no matter which color collar the dog is wearing, they are all adoptable. Dogs can also change the color of their color as they show improvement.
We first got to see Meryl, who was 1 of only 2 of the 22 Vicktory Dogs who were required to never be adopted out. He and Lucas were Michael Vick’s prize-fighters. Unfortunately Lucas passed away, but Meryl is treated like a king!
Meryl and his pen mate. They have huge indoor/outdoor areas that they live in.
We then got to meet Senora. She was very sweet, loved getting pet, and would sit on your feet and lean against you. She was found by a good Samaritan with her new litter almost frozen to death. There are hundreds of dogs here so it would be hard to choose one to adopt, but we would welcome her into our family in a heart beat.
Joy was next. She was a part of the Missouri 500. Another dog that had lived through abuse and torture, but she was all smiles and kisses. She went down the line and let everyone pet her. As we were leaving she didn’t want to go back. I was sad to see her go as I would have loved her as well. Her demeanor and size was perfect, but I believe that she needed to be the only dog in the household. All of these dogs had large indoor/outdoor spaces, constant caregivers to play with and reward them, and an attentiveness that we had never seen before at a shelter. They even take them for golf cart and car rides around the property!
This is Speedy, he is a donkey at best friends waiting to be adopted to be a companion. You can read more about him here: Speedy the Donkey
Through donations they have been able to build a lot of training facilities for all the animals. The one that stuck out was the building for a horse that needed a prosthetic leg. The only way the horse could get accustomed to the new legs was if the foundation was level, sturdy, and free of debris. Just look below at what they built to accommodate a horse in need.
For as little as $25/year you can become a member, and $1,000/year donation makes you part of the Golden Circle. Your donation comes with a few perks besides goodwill, one of which being having access to the pet cemetery for your own animals. They have two pet cemeteries and all have wind chimes, memorials, flowers and sentiments left there. One is for animals that have lived at the sanctuary, and the other is for donors or employees who wish to have the remains of their animals resting at the sanctuary.
The grounds are beautiful and the visitor center is welcoming. The gift shop has a resident cat named Princess Blue who only likes to interact with humans, not other cats. She is 16 years-old and very sweet.
In the distance you can see a RV parked in the adjacent lot. They really made it accessible for all travelers considering their location is in southern Utah. There was room for about 10 large RVs.
We were truly impressed with the organization, compassion and dedication of the sanctuary. Their work to Save Them All is ambitious, and the results they have achieved so far with their initiatives are impressive. We cannot say enough good things about the work that they do here at the sanctuary, and also nationwide. It is definitely worth a visit.
Read more about best friends animal society here or schedule a tour: BEST FRIENDS