Dream job with dogs at Best Friends in Utah

Nestled in the sprawling red rocks of southern Utah, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is more than a refuge for homeless pets. It’s a place where amazing transformations happen every day. No matter where the animals come from, what happened in their pasts or what challenges they face, they receive all the medical care, TLC and training needed to live full and happy lives. For most animals, a happy ending means getting adopted into a permanent, loving home. And during every step of that healing journey — from the moment they arrive at Best Friends to the day they move on to new lives — the animals have compassionate and experienced staff alongside them to provide love, guidance and care.

In the following article, Tierney Sain, a team leader at Dogtown (the area of the Sanctuary that dogs call home), provides us with a sneak peek behind the scenes. What is it like to change a dog’s life? Well, she says, it depends on the day.

More about Dogtown at Best Friends

Dogtown team lead holding Merganser the hound puppy

A career with dogs

Every day for me is completely different and I couldn’t love it any more. I oversee six different areas in Dogtown, each one housing 15-30 dogs. I get to see stories of every dog from start to finish, even before they arrive here at the Sanctuary. I also work closely with our more challenging dogs who require specific introductions to new people. But once you are part of their circle, it’s forever and it makes you feel so special. Overall on any given day, I know and get to work with about 100 dogs. This includes caregiving, play dates, training classes, feeding, walking and other awesome activities.

Aside from getting to work with all the dogs in each of my areas to ensure they have a great quality of life, I also get to work with the caregivers. We are constantly bouncing ideas off one another and working together with the dogs. I also play the role of liaison between caregivers other colleagues at Best Friends.

Tierney with Jango the dog walking in the snow

Helping a dog with barrier reactivity

Being with Best Friends for close to six years now, I’ve seen my fair share of different dog cases. There are a few that really stand out that have made a huge impact on my life and the work I do here at the Sanctuary. Lana’s case is one that stands out. She is a brindle Great Dane mix who lost her home. At first, she was very unsure about us and this new place. It took a while for her to get comfortable, and as soon as she did, we started seeing some behaviors that we knew we needed to work on.

Lana was struggling with barrier reactivity, a condition that occurs when a barrier (such as a fence) is between Lana and a new person and causes her to lunge and bark. We spent a lot of time showing her that she didn’t need to do this and that meeting new people was actually fun.

How to help a dog with barrier reactivity

Over time, Lana really started to settle in. She moved to a group living area of Dogtown, and she is thriving. She is a big, strong girl and can still be a lot to handle at times, but deep down she is the sweetest most gentle giant you will ever meet.

I was Lana’s caregiver for a couple of years and then became the team leader for her area. So far, I’ve been the constant person in her life at the Sanctuary during her stay. I don’t see Lana as often as I did when I was her caregiver, so now each time I do it’s an awesome reunion that brings a huge smile to both of our faces. I feel so close to her and it’s amazing to see all the progress she has made. She is still waiting for the perfect home, but I’m confident she will find it soon.

Tierney with Lana the dog in Dogtown under a sun shade

Sweet dog from a Houston shelter

I work with challenging dogs often, so it is pretty cool to get to know the ones who love everyone and everything instantly without needing special introductions to new people. For example, last year a group of 11 dogs from Harris County Animal Shelter in Houston, Texas, came to the Sanctuary. Aiden, a tan-and-black pit bull mix, was on that transport. I started working as many shifts as I could with these 11 dogs and was instantly drawn to Aiden. He reminded me of a very special dog I cared for years ago, and he was the sweetest dog imaginable. When you stopped petting him, he would nudge and pick up your hand for more. He wants to greet everyone on his walks with a wagging tail.

More about Best Friends’ work in Houston

I quickly noticed something wasn’t right with Aiden’s back end. He had a very pronounced spine and walked differently. His back legs would sway outward and there was very little movement in his back. A week or so after his arrival, his back area was very painful and he could hardly move. He was brought to the Best Friends Animal Clinic right away where they ran diagnostics and discovered he has intervertebral disc disease. It was strict rest and pain management at that point for Aiden. He got better, but soon had another flare-up, and then another.

The third time was pretty serious, and Aiden was admitted into the clinic for close watch. He could barely move, although he tried each time a person came to say hello. Because this was his third episode, we weren’t sure how his future would look. Sometimes, when we come close to losing an animal who’s special to us, we develop a deeper connection and love for them. That’s what happened to me with Aiden. Since then, Aiden has gotten better, and I’m so happy he did.

We are starting chiropractic and laser therapy appointments for him, so we can keep him comfortable and healthy. For now, Aiden can’t live in a regular room and yard in Dogtown because his activity is restricted, so instead he stays at Dogtown headquarters. He’s spoiled in my office and stays behind the front desk where he can stay somewhat quiet.

Tierney with Aiden the dog at the chiropractor

Aiden has some old injuries. He’s missing part of his tongue, chin and a bit of his tail; however, regardless of what he may have gone through in the past, he loves everyone he meets. It’s so extraordinary to see that.

I love being able to do something different every day. It’s so rewarding helping the caregivers and dogs at Dogtown. It’s amazing knowing that I play a role in Best Friends’ goal of making the entire country no-kill by 2025. My job here is never done and that’s one thing I love about it.

– Tierney Sain, Dogtown team leader

How you can make a difference for dogs

Tierney wearing sunglasses behind Wally the terrier mix dog

Photos by Molly Wald, Kurt Budde and courtesy of Tierney Sain