AR-News: (UT) Best Friends a haven for unwanted animals

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Tue Oct 7 10:24:29 EDT 2003

By Nancy Hobbs 
Special to the Tribune 

    KANAB -- "The Colonel," as he's known by friends and associates, paces 
his cell between catnaps in his day-to-day existence serving a life sentence for 
wantonly chasing and killing chickens. 
    If he spoke English, he likely would say the judge gave him what he 
deserved. No feline -- or canine for that matter -- should have to eke out such a 
desperate living, with no one to love or care for him. 
    Now, as a result of getting nabbed, The Colonel savors the one cold meal 
delivered daily, is happy with his bed in the rafters, and after several years 
in his luxurious confinement, is even warming up to the staff. 
    For The Colonel, this is as good as it gets. As the humans around him 
like to say, it's heaven on Earth. 
    "This" is the Best Friends Animal Society (formerly called Best Friends 
Animal Sanctuary), situated on 3,000 acres of red sand, junipers and, in the 
distance, the White Cliffs of Grand Staircase National Monument. Though it used 
to be known as Kanab Canyon, everyone now calls it Angel Canyon, and for good 
    This is where deserted, abused, old and even "outlaw" animals -- at least 
1,500 of them on any given day -- find refuge and, for many, a second chance 
at being a beloved pet. It is the largest "no-kill" sanctuary in the country, 
operating with the philosophy: Once an animal is taken in by Best Friends, it 
is bestowed a lifetime guarantee. Every effort will go into healing any 
injuries or illnesses, then doing whatever possible to make it an adoptable pet. 
Whether it is a dog or cat, or even a ferret or pot-bellied pig, if adoption 
isn't feasible, it still has a caring home at Angel Canyon to live out a normal 
    Here, "normal" may be well beyond the "average" life span, thanks to the 
special attention and excellent veterinary care all animal residents receive, 
noted staffer Rebecca Preston as she led a tour of the sanctuary, one of 
several 90-minute tours scheduled daily to accommodate hundreds of visitors to Best 
Friends each year. 
    Preston pointed out Appaloosa Dee as an example. The white speckled horse 
was abused, neglected and "little more than a bag of bones" when he arrived 
at Best Friends -- years ago. Now at age 42 -- ancient in equine years -- he 
has cancer and diabetes that are being treated by sanctuary veterinarians, but 
he gets around and isn't suffering. 
    "At this point, he's living on love," said Preston. Among the horse 
staff, volunteers and the companionship of stablemate Dobins, a 20-something 
Quarter horse, he gets plenty. 
    A lot of animals at Best Friends are in similar situations. At the Old 
Friends home in Dogtown, which comprises about 50 of the sanctuary's 400 
developed acres, senior and chronically ill dogs fill the kennels extending out from 
two octagonal structures, each anchoring seven large fenced areas where six to 
seven dogs, matched by temperament, live together and play. 
    Taking care of these senior dogs, in addition to the younger dogs in a 
separate but similar kennel, adding up to a total of more than 650 dogs, 
requires a small army in itself. Much of that force is provided by volunteers who 
come all hours of the day to help. The first crew waters and feeds each dog, with 
a separate bowl and often a special diet. With every pup having his own 
special spot for eating, the daily routine might more appropriately be called a 
logistical feat. 
    In one month, Dogtown eats through 10 tons of dry food and 7,800 cans of 
moist food. 
    Meantime, a similar drill is being completed in the sanctuary's two homes 
for cats: the WildCats Village, residence of The Colonel and about 300 fellow 
feral felines, most of whom have been injured or have special medical needs 
that decrease their chances of surviving on their own; and the TLC Cat Club, or 
Benton's House. 
    The latter is home for nearly 100 cats with special needs or medical 
concerns, including a special "Incontinental Suite" for cats with bladder 
problems, separate quarters for those diagnosed with feline leukemia, and a large 
indoor-outdoor area, like the others, for cats with physical handicaps that might 
be seen as unadoptable elsewhere, but here are still given a chance to find a 
loving human to take them home. Volunteers -- hundreds of them annually -- are 
invaluable at the sanctuary, says Best Friends volunteer coordinator Jean 
Morris. The seeds for the Best Friends Animal Society were planted more than 30 
years ago, according to Michael Mountain, the society's president and editor of 
its bimonthly Best Friends magazine. He and a group of friends used to go by 
their local animal shelters every week before "E-day," the day animals were 
euthanized, and rescue animals that were likely to be killed because the general 
population didn't see them as adoptable. "We gradually got the notion we 
should go out and start looking for a place to start up a real sanctuary," says 
    Sixteen like-minded friends pooled their resources in 1983 to buy a 
400-acre ranch along Kanab Creek, and renamed the area Angel Canyon. They relocated 
their informal rehabilitation efforts there in 1984, Mountain said, but 
within a few years found that "the animals were completely taking over" and they 
needed to "formalize and organize" efforts. 
    Best Friends was officially founded, and the organization started telling 
the public about its efforts and asking for small donations. 
    "We discovered, to our surprise somewhat, that there was a huge response 
out there," says Mountain. Though there have been some major private 
contributors over the years, the bulk of Best Friends donations comes from small 
donors, including the 250,000 "active members" who make an annual donation of $25 or 
    The society also has struck a chord, as well as found an additional 
source of revenue, with people who want to memorialize beloved pets. "Angels Rest" 
is located in a little hollow tucked away from the daily business of the 
sanctuary. Some animals are buried in the memorial garden and remembered with 
engraved or painted headstones; others' cremains are in brass or pottery urns, 
tucked into sandstone shelves along with a favorite toy, a collar, a leash. 
    Still others are memorialized with wind chimes, and dozens of chime-laden 
"trees" are planted throughout the red-sand retreat. With the vermillion 
cliffs as a backdrop and a gentle canyon breeze setting literally hundreds of 
chimes in motion, visitors are surrounded by a mesmerizing tinkle. 
    The combination of growing public support for their cause and the 
realization that the Kanab refuge could never house all of the homeless pets that 
might come its way, led Best Friends founders to initiate another ambitious 
campaign to eliminate euthanasia as a possible outcome for healthy animals. The 
multi-pronged effort is called No More Homeless Pets. 
    At the time Best Friends was founded, Mountain noted, more than 17 
million animals were being euthanized annually in humane societies and community 
shelters across the country. 
    That number has dropped significantly in the past decade as organizations 
like Best Friends, animal rescue groups and humane societies have worked hard 
to raise public consciousness and convince the public that adoption and 
sterilization are better alternatives. 
    Now No More Homeless Pets in Utah -- which has grown into a coalition of 
24 animal welfare organizations, 57 shelters and 90 veterinarians throughout 
the state -- has even bigger aspirations. The coalition set a 5-year goal to 
eliminate euthanasia of treatable and adoptable companion animals by 2005. 
Efforts to save homeless pets are on-going, and the annual Utah's Week for the 
Animals celebration, running Sunday through Oct. 18, helps spread the word with 
educational programs in schools, discounted spay and neuter clinics, and a 
fund-raising gala -- the annual Lint Roller Party, aptly titled "Dare to Wear 
Black?" for 2003 -- for humans and their well-behaved dogs at the Salt Lake City 
Main Library. 
    Information on the week's events are available at 
   Homeless animals by the numbers 
    No More Homeless Pets in Utah, a coalition of 24 animal welfare 
organizations, 57 shelters and 90 veterinarians throughout the state, has set a 5-year 
goal to eliminate euthanasia of treatable and adoptable companion animals by 
    So far: 
   * 19 percent fewer dogs and cats have been put down annually since 1999. 
Credit that, says Nikki Sharp, adoption program director for No More Homeless 
Pets in Utah, to adoption events and aggressive spay and neuter programs, such 
as the "Big Fix" mobile clinic. 
   * More than 37,000 animals were euthanized over the past year in Utah, 
while almost 27,000 were adopted. The euthanization total includes animals that 
weren't considered adoptable due primarily to significant injuries or vicious 
and dangerous behaviors. 
   -- Source: No More Homeless Pets 
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