They come to vacation, to volunteer, to take in the acres of majestic natural beauty that the Sanctuary occupies—in short, they come to be a part of the magic.
The first thing that strikes you upon arrival in Southwest Utah is the landscape, otherworldly and gloriously so, with stunning red rock cliffs meeting the largest and bluest of skies. Our destination? The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, located in the wonderfully named Angel Canyon, found just outside of Kanab, Utah, and nestled between the sprawling ochre-hued rocks of the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion national parks.
The Sanctuary is the heart of Best Friends Animal Society, the lauded national animal welfare organization. In its 30-plus years of operation, the Sanctuary has grown from little more than a dream to America’s largest no-kill haven for companion animals. Nearly 2,000 animals, including cats, dogs, goats, horses, birds, rabbits, and pigs call the Sanctuary home.
Many of the animals are up for adoption but there are also those who will live out their lives here. All of them will receive a lot of love—more than 25,000 people per year visit. They come to vacation, to volunteer, to take in the acres of majestic natural beauty that the Sanctuary occupies—in short, they come to be a part of the magic.
Of the original 31 founders, 18—all self professed old hippies—still live on the property. The dream of a no-kill shelter has grown into the dream of a no-kill nation, and this amazing organization is now doing good work on a national scale. The contribution and change inspired by the non-profit is tremendous. They have become the leader in the no-kill animal movement, bestowing immense grants on city shelters to help them transition to no-kill, launching education initiatives, Trap/Neuter/Return programs, and spay and neuter campaigns, lobbying government for better animal protection, helping shut down puppy mills, and more. All of this is made even more amazing by the prevalent laid-back vibe. It’s no wonder people want to be a part of this. One volunteer we spoke with had actually moved from out of state to be closer to the Sanctuary.
Throughout the day, volunteers and staff are found at varying tasks—playing with cats and socializing kittens (important pre-adoption activities), chatting with shy cats, working with terrified former strays and feral cats, taking enthusiastic dogs for walks, and clicker training bunnies. Come lunchtime, most everyone convenes for a vegetarian buffet offered every day and which, in the deal of the century, is not only delicious but just $5 and enjoyed at communal tables with million dollar views.
More than a few moments move us to tears—the proud-as-punch woman we meet just outside the gift shop (tip: be sure to pick up awesome Best Friends tees as we did) who has just decided to adopt the fluffy, scruffy guy she was volunteering with; the quiet reward of simply hanging out with the recently rescued cats; coaxing an unsure senior cat to play (the joyous kittens needing no such encouragement!); the heart-string-tugging experience of visiting Angel’s Rest, the final resting place for Sanctuary animals as well as the pets of Best Friends members and staff. Here, surrounded by the beauty of Angel Canyon, we wander the serene setting, the musical sound of wind chimes ringing with the slightest breeze as we pass by a multitude of markers, each in remembrance of a beloved animal. To say it is moving doesn’t begin to capture the spirit of this special place. Angel’s Rest, like all of the Sanctuary, is a spirit-replenishing place where a deep and profound respect for animals is evidenced. It is quite simply a pleasure to spend time with likeminded folks amongst nature and animals.
Yet among all these highlights, some of our favourite moments were spent hanging with the “crazy ones, misfits, and rebels,” as the founders characterize themselves. Their magnetism and remarkable vision has changed the very conversation and practice around animal sheltering and pet population control. They’ve inspired others to take up the cause of the no-kill movement and believe it, together we’ll get there, far sooner than many could have predicted thanks to the passion of the Best Friends crew and their ever-growing supporters. But don’t take our word for it—go see for yourself!
If you go… The Sanctuary is open to both visitors and volunteers. If you’re planning a visit, consider reserving one of the cottages, cabins, or RV sites, all located on Sanctuary grounds. Cottages accommodate up to six guests and three pets, with rates starting at $95 a night. The Angel Canyon cabins are a smaller, cozier option for one to two guests and two pets and start at just $60. If you’d like, you can even invite one of the Sanctuary pets for a sleepover (many of the cats would make a delightful slumber party guest!) and provide a meaningful break and socialization opportunity for an adoptable animal. There are also many off-site accommodations to be found in town.