A gold-star animal volunteer

Every year, thousands of people flock to Best Friends to help with animal care and daily operations. In fact, nearly 6,300 volunteers came in 2012. Not all of our volunteers can stay very long, but Russ Stenfors is among the few who can. For the past two years, Russ has driven a fifth-wheel RV from Ewen, Michigan, to Kanab and set up his home base in an RV park from November to May. Though Russ is technically retired, he's logged over 1,000 volunteer hours at the Sanctuary so far.

Volunteering with dogs and horses

Russ and Glory the goatRuss divides his time between Horse Haven and Dogtown, working two days a week in each area. And he doesn't just do the fun and easy tasks, like grooming the horses and petting the dogs; Russ works hard and gets his hands dirty. In Horse Haven, for example, he is responsible for making sure the horses always have an adequate supply of fresh water - not an easy task in the middle of winter when everything freezes solid. He also mucks stalls for long hours on the coldest days, and exercises some of the older horses by taking them for long walks along the Sanctuary road. He even does special projects with the landscaping crew from time to time.

The outdoorsman

Some may wonder what motivates Russ to put in long hours of physical labor. During his career in the auto and truck sales industry, he worked at 12 dealerships in four states. He and his wife also raised and showed quarter horses throughout the Midwest for over 30 years. But if you think he wants to put his feet up and relax in retirement, you'd be wrong.

Russ loves the outdoors and likes to stay active. Not only does he enjoy all the walking he does with the dogs in Dogtown, he also considers it training for his longer hikes. After volunteering all day, he often takes his black Lab, Anya, for five-mile strolls. And last September, he hiked across England along Hadrian's Wall, covering approximately 74 miles in six days.

Excellent animal volunteer

The people who work with Russ can't stop praising him. Ron Jones, a volunteer coordinator in Horse Haven, says Russ is "rock solid. He can be trusted with any task, he has good horse sense, and everyone here misses him when he is not around." Ron also adds that Russ has become a dear friend to him. In turn, Russ has only good things to say about his experiences here: "I just love the people and the animals at Best Friends, and the scenery in Kanab. I get back way more than I give."

Learn more about volunteering at Best Friends

Photos by Molly Wald