My story: Best Friends volunteers Joe and Jennifer Dujka

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.

Located in Kanab, Utah, the Sanctuary 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 around the world to volunteer with the animals at Best Friends, and we’ve caught up with a few of them for a chance to share their stories and experiences from the heart.

In the following interview, Joe and Jennifer Dujka, from Austin, Texas, tell us what they love most about the time they spend at Best Friends.

Where did you volunteer?

At the Sanctuary we've worked at Cat World, Dogtown, Horse Haven and Wild Friends. We've also volunteered at the Austin Strut Your Mutt every year since it started.

What made you want to volunteer with Best Friends?

When we began dating we started watching DogTown on National Geographic, and we both agreed that we wanted to go see the Sanctuary. That set us up for our first trip. We fell in love with the Sanctuary, the volunteers, the animals — and with each other. We so enjoyed our volunteer trips to the Sanctuary that we've visited a total of five times. On one of those visits (in 2015), we were married at Angel's Landing.

On a volunteer visit to Best Friends in 2015), Joe and Jennifer Dujka were married at Angel's Landing

Which volunteer job is your favorite, and why?

Jennifer likes walking cats on a harnesses and leash because it’s so soothing. When Joe isn't mooning over Dilly the cat, his “Utah girlfriend,” he enjoys working with the purple collar dogs. (Dogtown has a color-coded collar system to indicate which dogs different volunteers can help with.) These are the dogs who can safely interact with people who are 18 years of age and older. It’s nice to work with dogs that not everyone sees and to learn how to help some of them with behavioral challenges.

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

Our first experience at the Sanctuary impressed and moved us so much that it’s now "our place." You work, but it doesn’t feel like work. It's an escape. People look at us weirdly when we say we're going on volunteer trips to help animals. We just smile, show them the pictures of the Sanctuary, tell them the stories and then they get it.

Joe and Jennifer Dujka say volunteering at Best Friends doesn't feel like work

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

Spending Valentine's Day afternoon at Cat World headquarters in a room with 13 or 14 kittens.

Volunteering at Cat World headquarters in a room with 13 or 14 kittens is a favorite memory

Was there a favorite animal you met or worked with?

We have to pick one? Joe's all-time favorite is Dilly. He met her on his first visit and he spends a shift every trip with her. He loves her spirit. On our last trip, he really enjoyed meeting Azalea at Old Friends in Dogtown and working with her. Azalea is a big girl who wants to be loved but needs time to get comfortable with men.

Jennifer cannot decide which dog stole her heart more on this trip. Lincoln is a sweet old dog who deserves lots of love, while Ludo is a big lover dog who gives great sloppy kisses. Angel is a dog we met on a previous trip who we've taken for two sleepovers. We wanted so much to take her home with us but can't provide her with the kind of home that she needs and deserves.

Jennifer cannot decide which dog stole her heart more on this volunteer trip to Best Friends

What’s the most rewarding part of volunteering?

Jennifer Dujka enjoying time volunteering with Speedy the donkeyWe love puppy kisses and kitty purrs. It’s also amazing when a shy animal decides you're OK to come check out, or one of them gets brave (however briefly) because we spent time with him or her.

What’s the most difficult part?

Going home … and not being able to take all the animals we’ve met with us.

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

The Sanctuary is a unique place. Before we went the first time, we really didn't make any inquiries or do any research and didn't know what to expect. We wanted to work with animals and see some beautiful country, and we did. Now we love going there and sharing our love with as many cats, dogs, horses and wild friends as we can.

Volunteer with animals

Photos courtesy of the Dujkas