Best Friends Animal Sanctuary encourages visitors to return after more than a year of coronavirus restrictions.
The pandemic forced Best Friends, which operates a 3,000-acre sanctuary in Kane County, just west of Kanab, to cut back on the number of animals it could keep and cut back on the number of volunteers and Staff.
To announce that operations are mostly back to normal, Best Friends hosted this week’s “Welcome Back Day”, with several visitors and volunteers invited to see a demonstration on how to train a horse humane, to lunch with the founders of Best Friends Animal Society and take tours of the property.
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is the largest no-kill animal sanctuary for pets. This sanctuary is the largest hub for Best Friends Animal Society, a nonprofit group that aims to end the slaughter of cats and dogs in U.S. animal shelters by 2025.
Located among the spectacular red rocks of southern Utah and a short drive from several national parks, the sanctuary is home to approximately 1,600 animals, including horses, rabbits, birds, cats, dogs, goats, pigs and other wild animals. Best Friends also partners with approximately 3,300 animal organizations across the country.
Utah is on the verge of becoming a deathless state, according to Michelle Sathe, public relations manager for Best Friends. Over the past three years, Best Friends has estimated that Utah has an 87.9% savings rate for shelter animals. In southern Utah, Washington and Kane counties have met the non-elimination goal.
According to Sathe, the biggest obstacle to obtaining no-slaughter status is a shelter’s ability to handle outdoor community cats and large breed dogs. Both of these groups present problems as community cats are often not socialized to live in a shelter or with people and therefore appear unoptimable. For large breed dogs, housing restrictions such as weight limits hamper their ability to be adopted.
“Weight restrictions and weight restrictions are really just breed bans,” Sathe said.
Sathe described bringing America to the no-kill goal as a “nuanced” issue since every community needs an individualized approach to stop the killings in shelters. In general, three factors are critical to sustaining the no-slaughter goal – low-cost sterilization programs, broad community involvement, and appropriate funding and resources for animal shelters, according to Sathe.
Kanab Sanctuary uses all of these programs to maintain its animal population and wanted to hold the welcome day to encourage people to volunteer and visit after the sanctuary discouraged outside contact during the pandemic and put in place security protocols. These precautions have worked since the sanctuary has not experienced any serious outbreaks of COVID-19, according to Sathe.
Prior to the 2019 pandemic, the sanctuary saw 53,000 visitors of which around 16,000 volunteered to work, according to a press release. Sathe says the sanctuary hopes to return to those pre-pandemic visitation levels, but they are still monitoring coronavirus cases in Utah and may limit operations depending on the severity of case rates.
The sanctuary had to rely on staff and a dedicated group of local volunteers to manage the sanctuary during the height of the pandemic. Allison Topham, a shrine ambassador who has worked with the Best Friends Society for the past three years, said the shrine has handled the pandemic well and had an 85% adoption rate in the past year.
The sanctuary managed to stay open with a limited labor pool as it transferred a lot of animals to areas with high pet demand and had a below average animal population, according to Sathe.
“There was such a demand for pets that we were able to work with some of our partners across the country where the demand was very high and the supply was low to bring some pets here that were dogs and highly adoptable cats, ”she said.
The shrine relies on volunteers to keep everything running smoothly and even has cabins and guesthouses for people to stay and volunteer at the shrine. People have to pay to use the RV sites, cabins, and sanctuary cabins with prices ranging from $ 30 to $ 150 per night.
Coreen Haym, originally from Las Vegas, volunteered and stayed at the shrine as part of a month-long vacation after completing her doctoral work. She came to the sanctuary to volunteer to find a place to relax and meet the animals.
“First of all, I love being around all the animals and I’m in awe of everyone in this place,” she said, but she preferred to work with some animals. “The pigs were cool as shit.”
The Kansas City Featherston family were on vacation for two weeks in Utah and wanted an animal-friendly activity for their son Zeek.
“Their website said the best way to tour is to volunteer, so I was like let’s do that, help out and make an impact,” said Natalie Featherston.
Zeek has always loved helping animals, especially cats. Spending a day cleaning and working is an easy decision, especially since animal shelters usually need a helping hand, said Steven Featherston.
“The shelters around us always need a helping hand, so we figured out why not, you know, it’s going to have an impact, it’s going to help,” he said.
The Best Friends Society encourages anyone interested in visiting or volunteering to plan their trip in advance on their website, as volunteer opportunities can fill up quickly.
Sean Hemmersmeier covers local government, growth and development in Southwest Utah. Our work depends on the subscribers, so if you want more coverage on these issues, you can subscribe here http://www.thespectrum.com/subscribe.