Yair and I spent our weekend volunteering at Best Friends Animal Society, a no-kill sanctuary for cats, dogs, birds, horses, sheep, pigs and rabbits. Best Friends is the largest sanctuary of its kind in the country and one of the top destinations for volunteer vacations, as well.
We started our weekend off with a tour, where we visited several of the different animal neighborhoods and learned that the center operates on a $90,000 daily budget (!). The Sanctuary prides itself on taking in old, abandoned or mistreated animals that no one else wants and on meeting the special needs (dietary, health, psychological) of the individual creatures. And boy, do they meet those needs! Most of the animals are treated to gourmet personalized meals, and there are even massage treatments and aqua therapy available for the animals.
We spent our first day volunteering in Dogtown Heights (“a gated community”) and spent our second day caring for the horses (Yair) and pigs (Ayo). When I was six years old, after spending a day on a farm up in Maine, I was so very close to bringing home a piglet to be the family pet. But it didn’t work out. Accordingly, I went into my pig volunteer experience determined to love, bond with and maybe even adopt a piggy of my own.
Though the black potbelly pigs at Piggy Paradise grew on me as the day went on, it did take a bit of effort… See, the potbellies aren’t the most visually appealing. Several were shedding their spines and looked a bit balding, and their hair isn’t soft to pet or snuggle with at all. The pigs were, however, very smart and a lot of fun to hang out with.
I walked one lady pig named Daphne, and she would sit and stand back up and do every trick she knew to get a treat. Many of the pigs were even house-trained! This becomes very helpful on sleepovers… That’s right. The center allows for piggy, dog and cat sleepovers as a special experience for volunteers and as part of the animal’s socialization to prepare them for (hopeful) adoption. Best Friends will pack up an overnight bag with treats, a bed and Pygjamas, and off you go!
I spent part of the afternoon preparing the gourmet personalized meals for the potbellies. The piggies’ dinner consisted of romaine lettuce, yogurt smoothies, almond slices, bananas and fresh veggies – the type of meal that my mom would die for. Their snacks are specially prepared dehydrated fruits and vegetables – they eat better than most people! But – not to worry – there is a daily $5 lunch buffet for volunteers at the Best Friends cafeteria, which is plentiful, healthy and absolutely scrumptious. Win for the animals, win for the humans.
Ultimately, luxury animal sanctuaries are not the cause that speak to me the most. But what Best Friends offers is pretty incredible, definitely unique and we would both recommend the volunteering experience to anyone interested – whether for one day or one month.
PS – For those looking to boondock, we landed an incredible overnight spot just two miles north of Best Friends at Peekaboo Trailhead. The site offers level ground, gorgeous scenery and a quiet location right off the highway all to yourself!
posted by ayo