Skip to main content

By Erin Bradmon, Lexie’s Mom

Nestled within the sprawling red rock country of Utah, Best Friends Animal Society takes vacationing with pets to a whole new level. Whether you bring your own dogs and cats, or simply visit with theirs, pet lovers of all ages are sure to get their fix of furry friends. That is exactly what Lexie’s family did over spring break! We left our dogs, Lexie and Sadie, as well as Midnight the cat, at home, loaded up the human children, and drove ten hours to the red rock desert city of Kanab, UT.

Kanab (like the magic spell abra-kanab-bra!) is situated in the “Grand Circle” area of Utah, centrally located amongst Bryce Canyon National Park, the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, Zion National Park, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, and Lake Powell. Other nearby attractions include Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, and – our destination – Best Friends Animal Society, the largest animal sanctuary in the United States.

Gone to the Dogs

Once known for being “Little Hollywood,” Kanab’s largest movie studio sold Kanab Canyon (now Angels Canyon) to the sanctuary in the 1990’s. When tourists started rolling in to see all the animals, Kanab placed a statue of a dog next to the statue of their Mormon’s town founder and never looked back. Today, most of the town’s restaurants and hotels throw open their doors to welcome every member of a family, no matter how many feet they walk on.

We started our adventure by staying in town at the newly built Best Friends Roadhouse and Mercantile, where pets are not only welcomed, but expected. The entire complex was designed with animals in mind. Rooms have two-door entryways, pet beds built into the furniture, water and food dishes, and easy-to-clean wood floors. The property also features two dog parks, a water play feature, doggy spa and even special concrete that does not get hot on a dog’s feet. Reviews call the place “More fun than a cardboard box!” and “Four Wags and a paw high-five!” We agree the property is great and the complementary vegan breakfast delicious.

Explore, Support & Volunteer

After a full night’s sleep, we rose excited for the reason we ventured to this part of Utah’s red rock country: Best Friends Sanctuary, home to 1,600 animal souls. From simply visiting the Best Friends Visitor Center in town to taking in Cat Yoga at the exercise center or guided sanctuary tours of the canyon and facilities, there are a variety of ways to experience this special destination. Visitors can also do what we did: roll up their sleeves and volunteer!

In past years, we have volunteered at Dog Town, Parrot Garden and the Adoption Center where Puppy Kindergarten blessed us with perhaps the best day ever. This year, with COVID-19 restrictions and age requirements for our two daughters, we took on Cat World. (Yes, dogs get a town; cats demand a little more.) Our first day, we worked in Colonel’s Barracks Cat House. The largest of the many cat houses in the sprawling cat complex, it has six cat rooms, each with a catio outdoor space. Normally, Colonel’s houses over 100 cats, but these days – with high pandemic demand – there are around 40 cats in residence.

While some of the 550 cats in Cat World spend a long time or even the rest of their lives at the sanctuary, for most it is a way station on their journey to a forever home. Best Friends uses a network of data systems to coordinate their life-saving efforts. While we were there, over 35 cats (10 from our building) were being prepped for transport to Portland to waiting foster homes; we were told all would be adopted within days. On the other side of campus, a transport had arrived with cats from an overwhelmed shelter in New Mexico and newcomers who were overcoming medical issues were being situated. With one of the largest veterinary clinics in the country, Best Friends’ nationwide network of shelters can send animals for treatment before they are placed up for adoption.

Love Stories

Back at Colonel’s, we helped by cleaning cat boxes, mopping floors, wiping down surfaces and giving lots and lots of pets to help socialize the cats. From Dr. Manard, who insisted my husband carry him in human arms while cleaning, to Slim (body size does not fit his name), who only wanted to hide in a corner and stare at a wall after recently arriving via transport, there are a host of characters with whom to interact at Colonel’s. It took most of the day and a spoon full of baby food, but we finally convinced Slim to accept pets.

That night, to continue socializing animals in preparation for their forever homes, we took a black kitten named Katwick back to spend the night with us at the Roadhouse. Katwick had found himself with the sanctuary vets after he lost most of his fur. However, after a few months of top medical care in the crisp desert air, he is nearly ready to leave on a transport. We very much enjoyed our night with him and confidently recommended he be placed in a family, hopefully one with kids.

After several nights at Best Friends Roadhouse, we stayed on Sanctuary property in their peaceful onsite cottages. There, we were greeted with red rock wall sunsets and quiet morning visits from sanctuary horses, a herd of deer, and wild turkeys. While staying at the cottages, we fostered Vera, a six-year-old hound mix and distemper survivor. We were told that Vera didn’t know how to sit on command and indeed, she didn’t when we asked, but she did sit quickly for the kids. She liked to go on walks, and cuddle on the couch. Our only complaint on her evaluation came down to the kids; Vera was a bed hog dog.

On our final day in at sanctuary, we moved workplaces to Casa de Calmar, the special Feline leukemia house. Cats with FIV can live long lives but sometimes with lingering health problems, and due to misunderstandings, can be harder to place in homes. Because of this, cats in Casa de Calmar are given extra care and socialization so they are extra ready to go home. In Casa de Calmar, we mostly just played with the cats, cuddled them and took them out on stroller rides around Cat World. Rico really liked stroller rides; we went on at least three trips with him, nearly wearing me out! While we had made friends at Colonel’s, the cats of Casa de Calmar really stole our hearts. From Dr. Banner who was trying hard to be a lap cat to Ken the orange tabby who watched and cared for the cats in his room, they were all so special.

Tips for Visiting

If you go to Kanab:

  1. Volunteer reservations fill up months out at the sanctuary so reserve on-line early. Horses, Bunnies, Wild Friends, Pigs, and Parrott Garden are all just as popular as Dog Town and Cat World.
  2. If you have children, mind the age restriction for the area in which you wish to volunteer.
  3. For lunch, we highly recommend eating at the sanctuary’s Angel’s Café, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant that serves up a tasty daily special for only $5. Pro Tip: one of the founders normally joins Thursday lunch to share updates and heartwarming animal stories.
  4. The sanctuary is very large. If your party splits up to work or tour different animal areas, you will need to arrange transportation accordingly.
  5. Most restaurants in town have seating for both you and your dog. We really liked Vermillion 45 (French), Wild Thyme, Peekaboo Canyon Pizza (Vegan) and Rocking V Café.
  6. Spend a day hiking the longest slot canyon in the world via Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch. This is a dog friendly hike if you can carry your dog up a short ladder. We saw some chunky labs on that trail; still wondering how that worked.
  7. Roadhouse offers pet sitting while you are out for the day.
  8. If you Tesla, charge 45 min in Glenwood, 15 in Green River and 15 in Richfield. There are MANY destination chargers in town, including 4 Tesla charges at the Roadhouse.
  9. In Cat World at Cat Headquarters, say “Hi” to Joyce, the volunteer coordinator. Why? Because anytime you see a real-life angel, you should always say hello.

On our last morning in town, we ran into Vera out on a walk with a new family. The little girl was in love with Vera; Dad was on board to adopt; Mom was not sure but said they did have a large fenced in yard. We are pulling for Vera that she had found her forever home!