kittiesCleaning out horse stables, grooming a cat or pulling weeds along a dog-walk trail might not be the obvious top choices on most people’s vacation wish list, but getting these jobs done can be endlessly rewarding. That’s just what we did on our recent volunteer vacation in the canyons of southern Utah, where we spent three days volunteering at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

Let me back up a minute. I have a cat. I have a dog. Why would we drive seven hours to help take care of other people’s animals? Well, that’s just the thing. The animals who reside at Best Friends don’t belong to anyone else.

Soup for the Animal Lover’s Soul

The sanctuary is home to nearly 2,000 animals – all rescued from neglect, abuse, hoarding situations, injured, or with special needs. horsesDogs, cats, birds, rabbits, horses, pigs, goats, mules, sheep and wildlife live in separate areas throughout the 20,000 acre property.

Cat World alone houses more than 600 cats in seven houses, each with ample indoor and outdoor spaces for the animals to meander. We spent an afternoon at the Colonel’s, where we helped clean the rooms, brush the cats, and basically shower them in love and attention for four straight hours. This might not seem like “work,” but when you are priming a once-stray cat to be ready for adoption, getting them used to and trusting human contact is an important step.

The sanctuary is so much more than a no-kill shelter, it is dedicated to providing everything they need – physically, emotionally and psychologically – to thrive and find good homes. For a family who loves animals, spending three days volunteering hands-on was an amazing experience.

Rest for the Weary

cottagesAt the end of the day, we retreated to our cottage, one of eight available for rent at $95 a night. There are also RV sites and smaller cabins available, which house a maximum of two people and rent for $60 a night.

The cottages are one bedroom dwellings, with a small kitchen, living room, bathroom, and separate bedroom with two full beds. Perfect for a family who likes to spread out a bit! They feature a furnished patio overlooking the sanctuary’s horse stables and corral. Set against the backdrop of red rock mountains, you can’t ask for a better view.

But the best part of all about staying at Best Friends is the option to have a “sleepover.” As part of their efforts to get animals socialized and ready for adoption, guests can host a dog or cat for a night in their cottage. The sanctuary provides all the necessary food and paraphernalia needed for the night, and off you go! It truly was the highlight of the trip for my son, and the cat seemed to love it, too. (Yes, I did feel horribly guilty having to load her back up into the carrier to take her back the next morning, but she was happy and jumped right back up on her favorite spot when we got there.)

What if the cottages are sold out? No problem. The town of Kenab is just a short 10-minute drive away, and offers a number of clean, comfortable, inexpensive motels.

There are also some good restaurants in town, important to note since the only place to eat at Best Friends – besides your cottage kitchen – is the Angel Village Café, which serves a varied vegan menu and is only open for lunch. We found eating a healthy breakfast in the cottage, lunch at the café, and dinner in town to be a convenient and money-saving way to experience the area.

What struck me most about our trip to Best Friends was the sheer distance so many other visitors traveled to get there. We met families from Virginia, Indiana and Georgia. People weren’t just driving a few hours to spend a day or two at the sanctuary; they were investing in airfare, rental cars, and spending full weeks volunteering their time. That says a lot about this destination and the lure of volunteerism.

Recreation in Southern Utah

Kanab is at the heart of the Golden Circle of national parks, which include the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce Canyon. Lake Powell is slotcanyonalso nearby. Each of these sites is a 90-minute drive, or less, from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Closer to home base, there are many scenic hiking trails and other outdoor activities. This helped us find a great balance between working at the sanctuary and experiencing the area’s natural wonders. You can discover all that the area has to offer at Visit Southern Utah.

Volunteer vacations really are a fantastic way to travel. They offer an ideal mix of relaxing downtime, the satisfaction of making a difference, and if you do it right, lots of fun too. Volunteer vacations also provide an opportunity for teaching your kids the power of giving back. And when it comes to making memories, what better lesson is worth remembering?

Healthy Tip for this Destination

Don’t let the fact that the menu is vegan scare away your family of carnivores. The Angel Village Café is open daily for lunch from 11:30am-1pm. Featuring an all-you-can-eat buffet brimming with healthy pastas, veggies, hot entrees, desserts and an abundant salad bar, nobody will walk away hungry. And at just $5 a person with a bonus serving of million dollar views of Angel Canyon, this might just be the best deal in town.