My story: Best Friends volunteer Catherine Welch

For the people who’ve experienced it — 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.

In the following interview, Catherine Welch from Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, tells us what she loves most about the time she’s spent at Best Friends.

In what areas of the Sanctuary did you volunteer?

My teammates and I (all staff and faculty at Saint Michael’s College) spent time all over the Sanctuary. We volunteered in Dogtown, Cat World, Horse Haven, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise and the Bunny House.

Catherine Welch volunteering at Cat World

What made you want to volunteer with Best Friends and what made you want to come back?

This is my third time leading a service trip to Best Friends. I led a trip with students in January of 2013 and fell in love with the animals, the people and the entire Sanctuary. I led our first staff and faculty service trip in May of 2014, and our recent trip was my third time visiting the Sanctuary.

It felt like I was coming home when I walked in the doors of the Best Friends Welcome Center and Deb, our group coordinator, remembered me from when we worked in Dogtown in 2014 and gave me a big hug. I feel most connected to the compassion that Best Friends shows toward all living creatures, and how the mission is embodied by each and every person working at the Sanctuary.

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

As a group, we did many different projects. We spent time weeding in Dogtown, cleaning in Cat World, cleaning, and feeding greens to the rabbits at the Bunny House and weeding and cleaning around the goat barn in Horse Haven. We also had an opportunity to take Tiger, one of our favorite pups, on a hike to the hidden lake.

Volunteer with your own group or family

Which volunteer job is your favorite?

We found weeding in Dogtown most rewarding, as we got to see how happy the dogs were when they came out and ran around. They were sprinting around their yards doing laps. We also thoroughly enjoyed our time weeding and cleaning in the goat barn, as the goats were quite curious and did an excellent job keeping us company.

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

One of our favorite mornings was spent with the goats as we cleaned their barn and dug up foxtail weeds in their yard that get stuck in their fur and hurt them. None of us had spent much time with goats before and we didn’t realize how social they were. Many of the goats spent the whole morning with us, walking up to see what we were doing and “supervising” us as we worked. Often, they would walk away to check on someone else and then eventually find their way back to once again investigate. Our group found that the morning flew by, and we all fell in love with the goats and their curious personalities.

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

After we finished our work in Dogtown one afternoon, our group split up to visit and spend time socializing with Nita, Yuma and Penny. These dogs were absolutely the sweetest dogs in the world. They were so happy that we came to visit and spend time with them. All they wanted was to sit with us (and sometimes on our laps), love us and be loved by us. Sometimes the most important thing a volunteer can do is shower an animal with love and spend time with him or her. The animals are always so full of appreciation and love.

What’s the most rewarding part of volunteering?

I always leave the Sanctuary knowing that I was able to make a difference in a short amount of time. Best Friends does a great job at helping volunteers understand that even a little contribution helps to make a difference and impacts the entire organization.

One of the most rewarding parts of volunteering is getting to interact with the caregivers and seeing their dedication and love for the animals they work with. It filled our hearts to see their love and to know how well taken care of the animals are. The staff at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is truly amazing.

Catherine Welch with the group from Saint Michael’s College at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

What’s the most difficult part?

Saying goodbye is always the most difficult part, but we know that we’ll all find our way back to Best Friends someday soon.

Be part of the magic by volunteering at the Sanctuary

Photos courtesy of Catherine Welch