Seventy-five miles due north of the Grand Canyon lies the tiny town of Kanab, Utah. Known alternatively as the filming location for some of Hollywood’s most iconic western movies and the current home of thousands of formerly homeless animals, this is a little town with an oversized impact.
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
As you may have figured out, we really love animals. So, when we heard about a huge animal sanctuary, the largest in the nation, that on any given day is home to 1600 rescue animals, we knew we had to visit.
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary was started about 35 years ago by a group of friends who wanted to rescue as many shelter animals as possible. They bought a huge tract of undeveloped land in a red rock canyon in Kanab and built the sanctuary from the ground up. The guiding premise of the organization was simply to treat all living things as they would want to be treated, and that meant ending the mass euthanization of millions of animals in shelters across the country.
At the time, some 17 million animals were being put to death in American shelters each year. Today, as a result of the efforts of Best Friends and other animal welfare organizations, that number is down to 1.5 million. Best Friends’ current priority is to reduce that number to zero by 2025. They have already successfully worked with the state of Utah and the city of Los Angeles to make those jurisdictions “no-kill,” and they are on track to succeed with their nationwide mission just seven short years from now.
Through campaigns to spay and neuter pets, outreach to combat breed discrimination, drives to shut down puppy mills, mobilization efforts during natural disasters, and initiatives to educate the public on responsible pet ownership, Best Friends has drastically reduced the number of animals ending up in shelters in the first place. And for those that do end up in shelters, Best Friends works with partner organizations across the country to get them into homes. Animals that make their way to the Utah sanctuary are guaranteed a fantastic place to live even if they are never adopted. There are no “lost causes” at Best Friends. Each animal that comes through the door is guaranteed a safe, loving environment for their entire lives. This pledge to never give up on an animal was illustrated perfectly in the rescue’s efforts to help a rather famous group of dogs.
After Michael Vick’s dogfighting kennel was shut down by authorities in 2008, 51 abused and traumatized dogs were seized as evidence by the government. 2 died soon thereafter as a result of their injuries and one was euthanized. As for the remainder, the expectation was that the dogs would be held as evidence until the criminal case was concluded and then be put down. But Best Friends and a couple other rescues went to court to ask that they be permitted to take the dogs in and attempt to rehabilitate them. The court granted the organizations’ wish and permitted the dogs to go to the rescues. Best Friends took responsibility for 22 of the dogs and, after a lot of effort, successfully adopted 13 of the 22 out to good homes. Those that could not be adopted safely have remained at the Utah sanctuary, which, as I’ll get to in a minute, is a pretty good deal for a dog.
The willingness of these rescues to step in, and their overall success, not only saved Vick’s dogs but changed the way fighting dogs are now handled across the country. Instead of courts assuming former fighting dogs are lost causes that should be euthanized, it is now standard practice to individually evaluate the dogs and make every attempt to rehabilitate them. The Vick dogs’ story was chronicled on the series “Dogtown” on National Geographic, which brought much needed publicity to the organization’s efforts and helped change public opinion about these dogs. Here’s a pretty good review of what happened and the long term outcome for each of the the dogs that was rescued. As a side note, Michael Vick is absolute garbage. As a side note to the side note, “garbage” is the 27th descriptor I’ve come up with. The first 26 were unprintable.
As for our overall experience in touring the facility, we were duly impressed. With 34 years of experience to rely on, they’ve got things pretty well figured out and they seem to operate an excellent organization.
The sanctuary is located on 3700 acres of land just outside town and hosts over 30,000 visitors each year. We actually visited twice – once for the overview tour and once for a dog specific tour. The tours are offered every day for free, but you have to register for them online because space is limited.
The sanctuary is home to not just dogs and cats, but also horses, bunnies, pigs, birds, and other homeless animals. On the overview tour, we were taken around to the various animal care areas and given lots of information about the history, goals, and procedures of the organization. We got to meet one of the dogs, toured a special building where cats with feline leukemia reside, and saw many of the other major areas of the sanctuary.
For the dog specific tour, we started with a visit to their puppy preschool. The main focus with puppies is ensuring they are properly socialized and exposed to all kinds of stimuli – as you can see in the photo below – vacuum cleaners, skateboards, motorcycle helmets, etc…. The goal is to make sure the dogs are well adjusted so once they get into a home, they don’t drive their family crazy. As an aside, this woman here is one of the puppy trainers:
She gets paid to hang out with puppies all day. Let that sink in for a minute.
The buildings are new, clean, and bright, and they were built with the dogs’ needs in mind – from natural light above, to heated floors below.
The pups have large, easily cleanable individual kennels and their own outdoor play areas accessible by doggy doors. Additionally, the kennels are built with sound proofing to keep the dogs from stressing each other out.
Volunteers walk and play with them multiple times each day, they get individualized health and behavior plans, and are monitored and treated for any medical conditions they may have.
For the dogs who come in with behavioral issues that will make them difficult to adopt, the staff comes up with individual training plans to address their issues. We met one dog who needed some extra guidance on how to not react like a lunatic every time he saw another dog. The folks at Best Friends correctly surmised that a 150 pound dog who wasn’t well behaved on leash was never going to be adopted, so they’ve been working on getting this horse sized dog to chill the hell out on leash. Another pupper was fearful as a result of being deaf, so they were working to desensitize him to the things he feared and build up his confidence.
We got to meet a couple of the dogs and as luck would have it, one of them decided Kevin was the greatest thing ever and another decided I was the greatest thing ever.
When they brought Milagro out, things went as would be expected….
On the dog specific tour day, we got to meet Joy. Joy has extremely discerning tastes and quickly realized that everyone else was stupid. After making the rounds with a couple other people…
she came over to me, sat down on my foot and made herself at home.
She wouldn’t get off my foot until her handler dragged her back into the building….
Anyway, the rescue is not only a place to tour, but it’s also a place to volunteer. Volunteers are a crucial part of making the sanctuary run smoothly, and they are welcome to work anywhere from a couple hours to several weeks. Volunteers must register beforehand and spots fill up quickly so it’s not something we could take advantage of this visit, but you can believe we will definitely do so next time we’re in the neighborhood.
Speaking of the neighborhood, Best Friends has a huge influence on Kanab. From the noticeable availability of vegan and vegetarian food at restaurants, to the rescue’s multiple satellite buildings downtown, to the organization’s logo stickers appearing on numerous shop windows, Best Friends’ influence is apparent everywhere. When Kevin got his hair cut, the barber told him that the sanctuary basically rescued a dying town. In the mid-eighties, the nearby mills and mines had shut down and there wasn’t much drawing people in. Over the years, the rescue has brought a ton of attention, visitors, and money into the area.
Besides Best Friends, Kanab is famous for two things. First, the town calls itself “Little Hollywood” because, for decades, the town hosted movie productions. Many many old time western movies were filmed in or around Kanab, and even today, the town hosts film and television production crews on occasion. Here’s a current list of movies and TV shows filmed in the locale. Plaques commemorating the actors who came to Kanab to film movies are all over the downtown area and several hotels, restaurants, and shops feature movie memorabilia.
Though, apparently, the “wild west” depicted in those old time movies has officially been tamed…
Another item that has Kanab on the travel map these days is a hike known as The Wave. The trail, located on BLM land about an hour east of Kanab, can be accessed only with a permit, and only 20 permits issue per day. Ten permits are distributed in an online lottery and ten are distributed through an in-person lottery held at the BLM office located in Kanab each morning.
It is extremely difficult to win a permit and most people who try end up disappointed. Specifically, in 2017, over 160,000 people applied for 7300 permits. We figured the chances of us winning a spot were super small, but we also figured we’d regret it if we didn’t at least try. So, we showed up with everyone else, put our names in, and guess what?
Yeah, we didn’t win. Not even close.
But you know who did win? Our friend Monaliza…. she wrote about the hike here….
Wire Pass Canyon
Wire Pass Canyon is a pretty popular slot canyon hike located about 50 miles from Kanab.
I had read on blogs and various trail reviews that there was one big obstacle getting through the canyon – an 8 foot drop that required hikers to sort of blindly reach down for footing and then continue down. I didn’t think much of it when I read about it, but as soon as I was standing there trying to figure out how to make it down safely, I froze. (Ingrid wrote about the obstacle and has some photos on this post.)
Since I broke my leg, I have had a huge fear of jumping onto that leg – and in fact, over the past year and a half I have managed to avoid it completely. When going down mountains or obstacles, Kevin will give me a hand at questionable points, and if I have to jump down from any height, I’ll usually sit down and then slide off whatever the obstacle is. One way or another, I avoid jumping because I am terrified if I put too much stress on my rebuilt knee, it will splinter again. Is that crazy? Perhaps… But I know how many screws are holding my leg together and, more importantly, I remember what that recovery process was like and I never want to go through it again. So… There ya go.
Anyway, for almost two years, I’ve been able to avoid doing anything that resembled jumping down from a high point, but because of the way this obstacle was shaped, I knew there was a solid possibility I might come down hard on that leg.
I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Lame, but true.
Luckily, I had read that there was a way around the obstacle for people who didn’t think they could make it and, fortunately, we were able to figure out where the path was to go up and around. End result: We got to see the canyon, but I learned the current limits of my courage.
As an aside, on the way back, I had no problem going up over the obstacle. Up is not a problem. Down is the problem.
The sandstone in the canyon featured all kinds of striations and patterns from years of erosion. It was incredibly beautiful…
We have yet to walk through one of these slot canyons and not be blown away by the views. They’re just so cool!
They’ll keep you on your diet though, that’s for sure…
As we made our way through the canyon, it kept getting brighter and brighter, until we eventually walked into this giant open area where the sun streamed in.
This was the intersection with Buckskin Gulch Canyon – known for being the longest and deepest slot canyon in the southwest. We wandered down that trail for about 30 minutes before heading back to Wire Pass and calling it a day.
Wow, these posts are not getting any shorter, are they? Well, lucky for you, next week will just be a thousand pictures of Bryce Canyon National Park with insightful commentary like “Holy shit! That’s amazing!”
Where we stayed: Hitch-N-Post RV Park, Kanab, Utah