Father-daughter volunteer trip to Best Friends

Father’s Day is June 16, and what better time of year to share a story about a father and daughter who came to the Sanctuary to volunteer together? For the people who’ve experienced Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, it's 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, located 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 with a few of them for a chance to share their stories and experiences from the heart.

A lit up small building with stars in the night sky above it

Dave and Amanda Giroux, the father-daughter duo from Madison, Wisconsin, tell us what they loved most about the time they spent at the Sanctuary.

Visit the Sanctuary

Where did you volunteer?

We spent three days at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, volunteering at a number of locations, including Dogtown, Cat World, Parrot Garden and Horse Haven. While we were in southern Utah, we also visited Zion National Park. What a terrific way to spend spring break!

What made you want to volunteer with Best Friends?

Amanda: I first heard about Best Friends on television, when some rescued dogs were sent there. It was a sad situation, but I was happy that the dogs were being cared for. The more I learned about Best Friends, the more I wanted to visit. I really want to be an animal rehabilitator, vet tech or something like that when I get out of school. My dream is to open my own animal shelter or rescue facility of some kind. This is great practice for me to see how the nation’s largest animal sanctuary is run.

Dave: Amanda loves animals and wants to turn this passion into a vocation, so we look for hands-on experiences both at home and in our travels. For example, when we vacationed in Florida couple of years ago, some good people at the University of South Florida let her help with research in Tampa Bay, capturing, counting and measuring thousands of small fish. That’s our idea of fun, so working at Best Friends was right in our wheelhouse.

The face of a gray tabby cat

When you volunteered with Best Friends, what was your job?

We exercised the animals, trained the dogs, chopped fruits and vegetables for the parrots, mucked the goat stalls, cleaned kennels, measured food for the dogs and lots of other fun things. The animals were wonderful, and the Best Friends staff were very appreciative.

Which volunteer job is your favorite and why?

Amanda: I liked training the dogs because I felt like I could actually help them. I know that if they are well-trained, they are more adoptable. I met one dog named Jarvis, who was already so well-trained, which surprised me. He would sit, stay, spin around, fetch and do other things. I could place him in a stay and walk away, and he would wait for me to call him before he would move an inch. He really enjoyed letting me put him through his paces. He’s going to make someone a great dog someday.

Dave: This may sound funny, but chopping up food for the parrots was one of my faves. It was nice to see that Best Friends takes such good care of these animals, feeding them fresh fruits and vegetables in addition to their primary pellet mix.

Exercising the dogs was also great fun, allowing us to be outside with some terrific animals. One very enthusiastic pit bull terrier mix named Isabel took me for a walk, energetically pulling me around the trail. But when I handed her leash to Amanda, Isabel immediately relaxed and let Amanda take control. Isabel was clearly picking up on something in Amanda and her natural chemistry with animals, which is a joy to watch.

Tabby cat lying on the chest of a person

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

Amanda: Even though I’m just one person, I know I can make a difference in one dog’s life.

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

Amanda: One day we exercised a terrific dog named Bolt. He lived up to his name, wanting desperately to run off and chase jackrabbits along the trail. Two days later, we saw him get adopted, which was heartwarming to see. I got a chance to talk to his adoptive family and let them know they were getting a terrific new family member.

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

Dave: We were fortunate to have a sleepover buddy stay with us in our cabin at Best Friends. She was a gentle and cuddly pit bull named Yvonne. We took her for walks, hung out with her in the cabin, took her to visit a nearby state park and just chilled together. She’s a terrific companion, and we loved the opportunity to have her stay with us for two nights.

Young girl hugging a fawn and white dogWhat’s the most rewarding part of volunteering?

Dave: Seeing my daughter have such a fun experience was very rewarding, especially knowing that it supports her long-term career goal and lifetime ambition.

What’s the most difficult part?

Amanda: Some of the cats and other animals I met had physical challenges or other health problems, which might make it harder for them to find homes outside of the Sanctuary. It doesn’t bother me. I love all these animals, and it just reminds me how much all of these animals need and deserve love.

Is there anything else you'd like to share about your visit to Best Friends or your volunteer experience?

Amanda: Jonathan, one of the Dogtown caregivers, encouraged me to come back and I will be back!

Volunteer at the Sanctuary or near you

Photos by David Giroux