Marjorie Cortez: Pet sanctuary offers animals a slice of heaven

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4 2009 12:05 a.m. MDT

ANGEL CANYON, Kane County — It caught me a little flat-footed. At the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary outside Kanab, the no-kill policy extends even to rattlesnakes. If they happen to slither into one of the improved areas of the 33,000-acre sanctuary, they're captured live and relocated.

No kill, no exceptions.

For someone of my thoroughly Western sensibilities, it seemed a bit much.

It's not that I'd go out of my way to kill a rattlesnake. But if it came between the snake and the safety of a loved one, I'd err on the side of safety.

But that's the difference between my personal philosophy and that of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. All animal life is respected and nurtured there, whether a dog is disabled, a cat is ill with feline leukemia or a horse is too hurt to ever be ridden again. The sanctuary's overarching goal is to find forever homes for the thousands of companion animals in its care. Three out of four animals are eventually adopted. The rest live out their lives at the sanctuary, which is home to thousands of cats, dogs, mules, horses, donkeys, potbelly pigs, birds and rabbits. When they pass on, there's a lovely cemetery for their final rest.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I fully support animal rescue. Our dog came from the Companion Golden Retriever Rescue in West Jordan. He's an important part of our family. He came to us about two months after our previous dog died. It was a good fit for all. He needed a home, and we needed to mend our hearts.

Tina, our tour guide at Best Friends, suggested that people who want to work with rescue animals volunteer in their own communities, or as many people do, arrange to volunteer with Best Friends during vacations.

Although the sanctuary is Kane County's largest employer, Tina said, it would be impossible to provide the level of care and nurturing at the sanctuary without the army of volunteers who come from all over the world to lend a hand.

Words don't adequately describe the scope of the place. Staff and volunteers are literally caring for hundreds of cats and dogs and other critters each day. Some animals have very damaged psyches, such as the 22 pit bulls that belonged to NFL player Michael Vick.

Vick, once the highest paid player in the NFL, was sentenced to 19 months in prison for financing a dogfighting ring. The dogs are probably the most asked about inhabitants of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

The pit bulls live a life far different than their previous existence. They're loved, walked, played with and provided a safe, predictable routine. One of the dogs was adopted recently, Tina said.

The Vick dogs are an extreme example. But very few of the animals at the sanctuary end up there by accident. A tour of the place is an overwhelming reminder that too few people spay or neuter their animals and far too many people view animals as disposable commodities. Fortunately, places like Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and any number of small animal rescues in the country are backstops to the human indifference that results in there being so many homeless animals.

Our visit to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary made me grateful for the staff and volunteers' dedication to animals that deserve a second chance. Since my family's visit last week, I've done a lot of soul searching about how I feel about crossing paths with rattlesnakes. I've softened my stance, a little. I'll give them a wide berth, if they'll return the favor.

Marjorie Cortez, who learned at the sanctuary that many domestic birds can outlive their owners and thus people should carefully consider if they can make that sort of commitment, is a Deseret News editorial writer. E-mail her at marjorie@desnews.com

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