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Best friends at Best Friends

By Jennifer Hayes

Four women, more than 25 years of friendship, and an intense love for animals — that sounds like the perfect recipe for a trip to Best Friends. And for Cheryl Heggemeier, Betsy Reed, Nancy Smith and Ellen Wile, that’s exactly what happened earlier this year.

Oddly enough, an illness almost prevented their get-together, yet also inspired it.

Cheryl had a health scare in 2007 that left her in the hospital for roughly a year. That’s a lot of time to assess your life. She came up with a bucket list. When she recovered, her sister helped her start her list, including taking a trip to the Grand Canyon and Best Friends. The following year she returned, this time also bringing Betsy. And they knew their friends Nancy and Ellen, who are involved in greyhound rescue, would love to visit, too.

Time at the Sanctuary

Walking the labyrinthSo the group of four long-time friends visited Best Friends this year, as part of a vacation that included Salt Lake City, Zion National Park, and Bryce Canyon.

They love all animals; however, they all have a special spot in their hearts for the dogs. So their time at the Sanctuary included plenty of time at Dogtown, as well as a few canine outings.

Cheryl fondly remembers taking Damian to Angels Overlook to walk the meditation labyrinth and view the markers of Sanctuary animals who have crossed.

“It was probably one of my favorite memories of the trip,” says Cheryl. “We had all the beautiful scenery, and Damian was just one of those muscle-butt dogs that you can just pat and he loved it. It was just a great bonding experience between all of us."

A new diet trend?

You never know what informative tidbits you’ll pick up when volunteering at Best Friends. Animal care advice, training pointers, and environmental enrichment tips could all be expected, but diet advice?

Reyna eating out of a muffin tinThough it may be considered poor taste to comment on a gal’s weight, Reyna the Australian cattle dog, to be honest, had packed on a few pounds before coming to Best Friends. She’s getting the care she needs to lose some weight, including workouts on the treadmill and a special diet. However, it’s how she’s fed that was of interest to our visiting friends.

“[Reyna] used to suck up her food in one bite, so now they feed her out of a muffin tin,” says Cheryl. Eating small amounts from each indentation slows down mealtime and helps with the dog’s weight loss plan. The imaginative friends thought that technique could possibly translate into human weight loss.

“Our friend Ellen is a Hoover eater herself. She always is the first one done and her plate’s all clean,” chuckles Cheryl. “So we laughed and told her we’re going to get her a muffin tin so that she’ll slow down, too. Her birthday’s coming up, so that’s what she’s getting.”

Bringing that feeling home

Their latest trip has benefited not only the Sanctuary residents, but also their local homeless animals.

“Because of going out there [to Best Friends] again this year, Betsy and I have wanted to get more involved with the humane society here locally,” says Cheryl. Both have renewed ties with the Humane Society of Lake County and are now volunteering. Cheryl is now the volunteer humane educator and Betsy photographs shelter animals and helps administer the shelter’s Facebook page.

However, working locally hasn’t dampened their desire to return to Best Friends again. In fact, they hope to bring two more friends along with them next year.

“Just like dogs, we’re old canine girls together,” says Cheryl. “It will be a reunion of the best friends at Best Friends.”

Come visit

Learn more about volunteering at Best Friends.

Photos by Betsy Reed