My story: Best Friends volunteers DeLana and George Folz

For the people who’ve experienced it — those who have walked in its red dirt, taken in its majestic beauty and touched the lives of its animals — Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is much more than a place where animal lovers go to work and play. There’s a certain magic in the air and in those unforgettable moments when someone makes a heartfelt connection with a rescued dog, cat, bird, bunny or barnyard animal.

The Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, is nestled between the sprawling red rocks of Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks. But above all, it is an animal lover’s paradise. People come from all over the country and the world to volunteer with the animals at Best Friends, and we’ve caught up with few of them for a chance to share their stories and experiences from the heart.

Here, DeLana and George Folz, from Phoenix, Arizona, tell us what they love most about the time they spend at Best Friends.

Volunteer at the Sanctuary

In what areas have you volunteered?

DeLana and George Folz at Vinny's House in Cat WorldEvery year we volunteer in Cat World, and this year we worked in almost all of the buildings. We have also volunteered with different rescue organizations in Phoenix, however, Best Friends is simply magical and keeps drawing us back.

What made you want to volunteer with Best Friends?

After reading about Best Friends in an issue of Cat Fancy magazine, we made our first trip to the Sanctuary in 1995. Once we made that initial trip, we were hooked for life.

When you volunteer with Best Friends, what are your jobs?

We help clean the interior cat rooms and the outdoor catios, spend time socializing the cats and then spend afternoons walking cats on a harness, leash or in a stroller.

What is your favorite volunteer job?

Our most favorite is spending time with the cats and taking them for walks. You can see how much they love it just by looking in their eyes and watching their body language. Many of them race for the strollers and jump in, while others race you to the door.

What does volunteering mean to you and why do you do it?

Volunteering is so rewarding. It's up to each individual how much you want to give, but the payback you receive from each cat you interact with is priceless.

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment with Best Friends.

Something we look forward to during each visit is the Thursday lunch presentation. It's extremely interesting to hear what's happening in each of the animal areas at the Sanctuary. And the animal adoption segments and photos are so heartwarming. We also look forward to hearing about any special animals brought in during our time there.

Was there a favorite animal you met or worked with while you were volunteering?

Every cat we meet becomes a favorite in some special way — the way they look at you, their purring or nuzzling and even their occasional swats. Each night we take a cat with us for a sleepover, and this year we took Glenn, Blackjack, Tiger Paw, Melanie and Juanita, Raoul, Pyro and Shamrock. All the cats are amazing in their own way.

George Folz with some sleepover cats

What’s the most rewarding part of volunteering?

Giving your time to the animals who ask us for nothing but unconditional love.

What’s the most difficult part?

It’s saying goodbye at the end of our stay― not only to all the cats we've met, but also to all the caregivers that we worked with. Over the years many of them have become great friends of ours.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your volunteer experience with Best Friends?

DeLana and George Folz taking cats on stroller ridesVolunteering at Best Friends for so many years has given us the opportunity to see the Sanctuary grow from what it was to where it stands now. We think back to all those early volunteering visits when the cats lived in outdoor enclosures. They had little wooden structures to sleep in, water bowls with heating elements to prevent freezing, pieces of tree limbs for exercise and river rock over the dirt at the bottom of their enclosures. Volunteers helped haul water in a little toy wagon from the old headquarters building to all the cat enclosures.

We wouldn't give up that part of our experience at Best Friends for anything. It led to the excitement we experienced whenever we would see another new Cat World building that enabled an additional group of cats to have a new and cozy home. Over the years, we've also seen how much emphasis is given to cats with special needs, including helping them get adopted.

This is just phenomenal progress and that's due to an incredible group of founders who never lost touch with their vision and never gave up. We enjoy meeting up with many of them during our trips to catch up and see what might be coming up for Best Friends in the future.

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Photos of DeLana and George Folz