My story: Best Friends volunteer Howard Haber

For the people who’ve experienced it — those who have 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, as well as 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 lovers’ 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, Howard Haber of Boston, Massachusetts tells us what he loved most about his time at Best Friends.

Howard Haber volunteering at Cat WorldWhere did you volunteer?

I was excited for my most recent visit to the Sanctuary, as I literally earned my gold star (awarded to people when volunteering for the tenth time). Woo-hoo! During this visit I volunteered at the Bunny House, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, Cat World and Dogtown.

What made you want to volunteer with Best Friends and what has made you want to return?

My friend Linda, who was one of my earliest mentors in animal rescue, had been to the Sanctuary and was planning another visit. She was kind enough to invite my wife and me to join. I was hooked. Ever since, I try to get to the Sanctuary at least once per year. When I return, it’s like I’ve never left. I immediately settle into cleaning, feeding, socializing or whatever is needed. It’s a soul-cleansing experience.

When you volunteered, what was your job?

During each visit I try to balance work and downtime. I’m just as happy scooping poop in Marshall’s Piggy Paradise as I am sitting on the floor at Cat World and socializing with the cats. I also try to balance what’s needed on a daily basis (cleaning, feeding, etc.) with new experiences (walking a cat on a harness, filling a hole dug by a dog, etc.).  I’m just happy to be on the team.

Which volunteer job is your favorite?

There’s so much to do and it’s all so rewarding. If forced to choose my favorite, I’d pick socializing activities. Something as simple as sitting with a shy animal can make such a huge difference in that animal’s quality of life and increasing the chance for adoption. There are stroller and leash walks, clicker training, grooming, etc. There’s always something to learn and to feel a part of.

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

The animal welfare movement has come a long way. Whether small steps or big leaps forward, the world is a better place today because of the past efforts of so many. To be a part of the change — to be part of something positive and to bring about a better world through kindness, dedication and respect — is so life-affirming.

Volunteer Howard Haber with Belinda the cat

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

I had a couple of opportunities to volunteer at the Best Friends Animal Clinic. I did a lot of support activities — folding laundry, sweeping floors, walking dogs recovering from surgery, etc. Being in that environment allowed me to observe the amazing care provided by the fantastic vets, vet techs, support staff and the intricate logistical ballet that makes it happen.

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

Talk about a difficult question! I’ll go with Moses, a cat with feline leukemia virus (FeLV), who I met in 2011. Moses was a bundle of energy. During a marathon harness walk we explored every anthill, smelled all the brush and visited every building in Cat World. Within five minutes of returning to his building, he went out for a walk with another volunteer. He was constant motion. I took him on a couple of sleepovers, and that’s when he turned on the charm. He was cuddler extraordinaire. He was so enthusiastic about cuddling that he put his head down, placed the top of it squarely in my chest and pushed as hard as he could. Then his legs gave out and he flopped next to me where he spent hours in cuddly bliss. A couple of months later, he graced the cover of Best Friends magazine. The moment I saw it my heart melted. I didn’t see a cat; I saw right through the picture to his personality. I learned he was adopted a couple of months later.

Learn more about cats living with FeLV

What’s the most rewarding part of volunteering?

It’s making a positive difference in the life of an animal — enhancing well-being and improving quality of life. It’s also soul-cleansing to shrug off the negativity and frustrations that sometimes accompany everyday life and simply be a part of something positive.

Volunteer Howard Haber with Magnolia the dog

What’s the most difficult part?

The feeling of not having done enough. Animal rescue and welfare can seem like bailing out the ocean with a teaspoon. To know that more needs to be done and that resources can be limited is an emotional obstacle.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your volunteer experience with Best Friends?

The Sanctuary is brimming with positive energy. It’s infectious. The staff and volunteers make each visit so rewarding. Volunteering with Best Friends should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Volunteer with Best Friends or one of our partners near you

Volunteer Howard Haber with Selma the cat

Photos by Molly Wald and courtesy of Howard Haber