Volunteering at Best Friends Animal Society

For almost 10 years, it has been a dream of mine to visit and volunteer at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah.  They are a revolutionary animal sanctuary that has changed animal welfare in this country, and are the driving force to the entire country being no kill.

When work was taking me to Las Vegas last winter, the opportunity presented itself for my mom to join me a few days earlier to finally visit and volunteer at Best Friends.

We volunteered with the pigs at Marshall’s Piggy Paradise for our morning shift.  We helped prepare their morning meals, and then headed out to distribute their food.  Getting to meet all those fun characters was a blast!  Then, Mom and I were honored and lucky enough to be asked to do clicker training with two lovely, under-socialized piggies, Chester and Smokey.  Chester was much more brave, but both had great progress and really will do anything for an almond!

The afternoon shift was with the dogs in “The Garden” of Dogtown.  We took two dogs out at a time, walking Bolt, Smokey, Dorothy, and Cisco.  The walking path is really nice and has spots to stop and snuggle with your walking buddy if they want.  Most of the pups we walked were more about sniffing than cuddling, although Bolt did sneak in a few kisses.

Our first day of volunteer shifts proved to be muddy, a little chilly, and incredibly fun.

Best Friends lets volunteers do sleepovers with approved dogs and cats, so we selected a pup who hadn’t been on a sleepover in a few weeks to join us for the evening, Chinook.  A big, loving goofy guy!

We visited Angels Rest with our new best friend and walked the beautiful and peaceful grounds.  Dinner was carry out back to the hotel so we could enjoy it with our lovely companion for the evening.  Chinook was a really lover boy and slept on the bed the entire night.  He was also potty trained and was a true delight to have overnight!

The next morning, we dropped off the handsome Chinook and then headed to our final volunteer shift with the kitties in Cat World.  Of course, we chose to go to “Casa de Calmar” which is where the FeLV positive cats live.  Having recently lost my sweet Calliope who had FeLV it was the only place I could go.

These cats have massive indoor/outdoor enclosures and get to enjoy all kinds of hiding spots, toys, climbing options, and beds.  They definitely are lucky kitties!

Best Friends proved to be everything I had hoped it would.  It has been over a decade in the making wanting to come experience this place, and it was so very worth it.  The animals are treated extremely well, the staff are amazing and kind, and the location is just phenomenal.

Visiting and volunteering truly was a dream come true.  I can’t wait to go back!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Today is the first real snow we’ve had this winter in Colorado, and it was a big one.  Monty would have loved it.  If Monty was still here, he would have woken me up at dawn with an excitement of a child on Christmas morning. SNOW!  He would run out into the yard and not come back when called until he was completely run out and covered in the white stuff.

Monty was named Montreal at the Elmbrook Humane Society, and he was from a western Wisconsin farm that was hording over 70 dogs.  Just a puppy, he was underweight, not socialized, and terrified of the world.  Monty wouldn’t walk unless he could be walking along a wall, and would pee himself if you touched him.

I adopted Monty in February, during the year I was between undergrad and graduate school.  I worked at a law firm as a receptionist at the time and was living with my parents, because I had lost all my money trying to make it work in California (total fail, except that I got Loki there).  I was only 22 years old, and Monty was about 7 months old.

Monty would be with me through graduate school, through dozens of boyfriends, multiple jobs, well over 20,000 miles of driving (including the 10 year birthday celebration road trip to the Oregon coast and back).  We lived in three states together, in eight different places, and I bought my house partly due to the large yard that I knew Monty would love.  We ran over 20 5ks together as a team.  Monty was the best brother for both Loki and Calliope.  He was also a wonderful foster helper, teaching dogs the ropes of being an indoor pup (including Penny and Gizmo!), and letting kittens play with his big fluffy tail.

Monty loved cooler temperatures, and while he would come up on the bed when I was first there reading and getting ready to sleep, once the lights were off he would jump down and go lay on the coolest floors (bathroom or front door entrance thanks to the tile).  When my alarm would go off in the morning, he would wait to hear me get up and go into the bathroom before he so jubilantly would come bid me good morning.  He would literally wait until he heard the toilet cover touch the back tank to come running.

His fur was so soft.  I was constantly asked if he had just gotten a bath when people would pet him.  No, he was just that soft!  We couldn’t go anywhere without at least one person commenting on how handsome Monty was, asking me what type of dog he was, and then being all shocked when I told him he wasn’t some fancy purebred pup.

He hated rumble strips on the road, bath time, bugs (especially ones that went near his butt!), and was not a big fan of children.  He was pretty much indifferent about other dogs, with just a select few of good friends (Lando and Roo!).

He loved swimming (eventually!), chasing shadows and lights, shredding paper, playing fetch, jumping and biting at the air (getting those mind bunnies!), treats in toys, and belly rubs.  He liked to put his paw into this mouth while laying on his back like a total weirdo.  When entering a room or area with many people, Monty wanted to say “hi” and get pets from everyone, so he would work his way around to get everybody at least once.

The sheer excitement and ridiculous noises Monty would make when I came home were the best part of my day.  No one will ever be so happy to see me as Monty was after we had been apart, even if just for an hour.

He was my heart for almost 11 years.

When we got the news of this second cancer, one we could do nothing to battle, it was the most devastating shock.  The CSU oncology team told me we had hours, maybe a few days if we were lucky.  They offered to put Monty down then and there, but after I learned from them he was not currently in pain, I took him home.

The next week was dedicated to Monty.  We went to all his favorite spots, spent hours out in the back yard sitting in sun and watching the squirrels.  I got Monty every human food I could imagine a pup would want:  hamburger, chicken strips, bacon, hot dog, pepperoni pizza, ground beef.  He got all the treats in our cabinet.  We had several days of him being totally spoiled and getting all the love in we could with the little time we had left.  One evening, I let him outside to go do his bedtime business, and he wasn’t himself.  I went to pet him, and he rested his head in my hand and sighed.  It was time.  Monty passed peacefully at home.

I miss Sir Montague every day.  He was a one of a kind dog.  It has taken me so long to write this post, because I keep trying to make it perfect for him.  But I will never be able to truly articulate how wonderful he was.  This will have to do.  Monty was my heart, and he took a part of it with him.

Fourth of July Safety

It’s the Fourth of July holiday, and people everywhere across the nation have off of work to enjoy time with friends and family, eat and drink, and enjoy parades and fireworks.  It’s a fun holiday, and the true mark of summer in the USA!

However, it is also a very scary time for many companion animals, especially dogs, in the country.  More pets are lost on the Fourth of July than any other day of the year.  Be safe!  Please make sure your pet is microchipped, and wearing their tags on their collar even if you are keeping them inside.  Please consider keeping your pet safely inside starting in the afternoon, with music and their favorite toys as distractions.  Do not bring your dog to a fireworks show, and please try to exercise them first thing in the morning to avoid a firework scare.

It is truly a fun, festive holiday, but is also a very sad time for dogs who don’t understand fireworks.  Make sure your pet is safe so they don’t spook and get lost on the busiest shelter intake day of the year.

However you celebrate, I hope you and your fur kids have a fun and safe Fourth of July!

Foster Kittens Available For Adoption

It is kitten season, so of course that means I am fostering kittens for the Fort Collins Cat Rescue!  The five kittens who have spent the last five weeks in my spare bedroom are now available for adoption, so help me spread the word about these cuties so they can find their forever homes soon!

If you were thinking about adding a new family member to your clan, now is the time as the shelters across the country are filling up with cats and kittens due to the summer weather (and most have more dogs and puppies, too!).  It’s that time of year for most shelters across the nation, so help out however you can – adopt if you are looking, foster if you have the time and room, volunteer if you have the time, and/or donate if you have the means.  Every little bit helps during the summer months while shelters are bursting at the seems.

And while the kittens are all now available for adoption, the momma cat, named Ellaria, is not yet available.  She is FIV+ and requires a dental before she will be up for adoption – but start spreading the word!  She is the sweetest cat I have ever known.  More on her when she is available for adoption.

The Kentucky Derby

This weekend, the American tradition of putting on ridiculously large hats and drinking mint juleps while the “most exciting two minutes in sports” happens returns.

According to their website, the Kentucky Derby began in 1872, when Meriwether Lewis Clark, the grandson of William Clark – of the famed pair Lewis and Clark – traveled to Europe. While there, Clark attended the Epsom Derby in England, a well-known horse race run since 1780, and also fraternized with the French Jockey Club, a group that developed another popular horse race, the Grand Prix de Paris Longchamps. Clark was inspired by his travels and experiences, and, upon his return, was determined to create a spectacle horse racing event in the States. With the help of his uncle’s John & Henry Churchill, who gifted Clark the necessary land to develop a racetrack, and by formally organizing a group of local race fans to be named the Louisville Jockey Club, Clark and his new club raised funds to build a permanent racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky. On May 17th, 1875, the racetrack opened its gates and the Louisville Jockey Club sponsored the very first Kentucky Derby.

So this race has a long history and is very much rooted in the tradition and identity of Louisville.

Unfortunately, like most animal-related things that are rooted in history, the Kentucky Derby is also rife with animal abuse.  According to the World Animal Foundation, over 1,000 race horses die an early death each year due to constant drug cocktails, forcing horses to push through injury and racing horses too soon or too long.  Drugs include hypothyroidism to speed up their metabolisms, Lasix which stops pulmonary bleeding in the horses’ lungs during intense exercise, and liquid nitrogen to increase blood flow in sore muscles.  NBC News did an in-depth story from a racetrack veterinarian about the abuses and shows a severe neglect for these poor creatures.

Famous examples of early deaths include Eight Belles, who died on the track at the 2008 Kentucky Derby.  Nehro, the second place finisher at the 2011 Kentucky Derby, was forced to run and train on extremely painful, deteriorating hooves—one of which was held together with superglue. Nehro died at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day in 2013.  And according to a report in USA Today, “A 5-year-old horse named Soul House collapsed and died shortly after finishing seventh of 10 horses at Belmont Park. One day before that, a 5-year-old horse named Icprideicpower died at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack in upstate New York after a training session.”

One would think after years of abuse and being forced to race while drugged to the point of not feeling any injury, a race horse who has survived through the horrid environment would be allowed a well-deserved peaceful retirement.  Sadly, thousands of “retired” race horses are shipped to Canada or Mexico each year after they are no longer useful to be slaughtered for horse meat.  Even Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand was slaughtered in 2002 when he could not longer be used for breeding – he was only nineteen.

All told, the Kentucky Derby is a disgusting display of animal abuse and horse neglect.  Like bullfighting, it is an historical practice that needs to be phased out in favor of a more friendly, compassionate tradition.  Join me in protesting this draconian event and spend the day doing something more positive – like volunteer at a local rescue that takes in discarded horses  (in Fort Collins, we have Shiloh Acres Horse Ranch).  Or if horses aren’t your thing, see if your community is doing something fun for May the Fourth (Fort Collins has the Kessel Run!).   Feel free to wear a silly hat and drink a mint julep while you do!  😉


Returning to the Website

It has been over a year and a half since I’ve written for my website.  A lot has happened:  My beloved Monty passed away (the reason for me to stop writing), I started a job as executive director of Canyon Concert Ballet, I traveled to five countries in Europe, adopted a terrier mix named Navi, grieved as my precious kitty Calliope passed away, and most recently I’ve adopted a cat named Mielikki.

The loss of Montague and then Calliope pushed me away from the website while I grieved the loss of these two beautiful, loving, wonderful companions.  They will forever be missed and remembered, and it is my hope to write a post for each of them in their memory and honor.

I hope to start writing again… my heart is still heavy and I think of my missing fur babies every single day. But I want to carry on with talking about animal welfare issues, and other issues I am passionate about.

Thank you for your patience while I took this sabbatical.  I look forward to writing again!

Have A Plan

Hurricane Harvey and the incoming hurricane Irma are teaching us many things as a nation, including putting a spotlight on animal welfare organizations and their disaster plans (or lack there of).  The hours following up to hurricane Harvey had cries of protest happening all over animal welfare social media as word came out that several shelters were euthanizing all their animals ahead of the storm.  Other groups were rushing in to help evacuate or simply just take these group’s animals to avoid them being killed, abandoned, or put through the flooding with no idea if they could survive it.

What this told me (and many others) is that too many animal shelters and wildlife sanctuaries do not have a disaster response plan in place.  And that, in of itself, is absolutely tragic.  Animals brought into the care of a facility are completely dependent upon that facility, and responsible care includes having a plan for when things go wrong.

So, have a plan.  If you are involved with an animal welfare group, ask what the plan is for flooding, fire, earthquake, tornado, etc.  Even if a natural disaster is not common in your area, it’s still smart to have a plan for it.  And there shouldn’t just be a plan written up and sitting in a binder to collect dust.  That plan should be discussed at volunteer and employee trainings, and semi-annual practice runs should occur (keeping the animal’s safety and well-being in mind… maybe use stuffed animals to replicate the animals in your care so they are not being subjected to evacuations on a regular basis).

It should be ingrained in your team’s minds what to do when disaster strikes.  So in the horrible off-chance it does, you know what to do and how to help get yourselves and those in your care to safety.  The answer is NEVER to euthanize them and is NEVER to leave them behind.  A great plan that several shelters acted on in the Houston area was to reach out to partner shelters outside of the storm before it hit hit to have them take all their current animals so that they would be safe and that the shelter could then turn their focus on helping owned pets get to safety and reunite with their owners.

So ask your local shelter or wildlife sanctuary what their disaster plans are.  If they don’t have any, ask if you can help them prepare them.  Get the local first responders involved to include their expert advice.  There is no reason why an animal welfare group should not have a plan for when the worst happens.  These animals are depending on these groups to keep their best interests in mind, and that includes having a plan for all major disasters.

My heart goes out to all humans and animals affected by hurricane Harvey, and hurricane Irma.  Please don’t evacuate without your pets and don’t forget to bring food, water, a leash/crate, and their vet records with you.  If you can, call ahead to the place you are evacuating to to make sure they allow pets.  Most hotels will allow them during these natural disasters, but the Red Cross shelters typically do not (which is a total shame).  Be smart and be safe!