My story: Best Friends volunteers Lizel Allen and Tyler Bernius

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.

Lizel Allen and Tyler Bernius from Salt Lake City, Utah, dreamed of traveling to the Sanctuary, but by the time they finally did they’d already been volunteering for Best Friends for years. Lizel is now deep into her sixth kitten season (March through October) as a volunteer at the Best Friends Kitten Nursery in Salt Lake City. As a mentor in the kitten nursery, she trains new volunteers on how to care for the little kittens and help them thrive.

Learn more about kitten nurseries

The hardworking couple also fosters homeless pets for Best Friends in Salt Lake City. Over the years, they’ve fostered 100 kittens and two little dogs. Dahlia, their current foster, is a sweet little kitten with special needs because of an injury. She needs to have her bladder expressed a few times a day, but Lizel says, “She doesn’t seem to mind at all. She is such a happy kitty.”

Recently, the couple also learned how to help care for a colony of community cats. Lizel, who rides her bike to work, rode past where the cats live for the past four years. When she noticed the colony’s caregivers were moving away, she emailed Best Friends. The colony had already been through trap-neuter-return (TNR), and now she and Tyler take shifts to care for the cats by bringing them food and water and checking on them.

Though most of their volunteer work is done in their hometown, Lizel and Tyler finally were able to make their first trip to the Sanctuary to see the animal lover’s paradise for themselves. In the following interview, they share their experiences from the heart and explain what they love most about their time at the Sanctuary.

Where did you volunteer?

We volunteered at Horse Haven, Dogtown, Cat World and the Bunny House.

Volunteer Lizel Allen crouching down to pet a cat on a Kurunda bed

What made you want to volunteer with Best Friends?

This was our first trip to the Sanctuary. We have wanted to visit since our first group of foster kittens took a trip to the Best Friends Animal Clinic in Kanab for veterinary care. The litter came down with panleukopenia, a type of parvovirus, and half of them did not survive. The two who did were transported to the Sanctuary for treatment. After their recovery, we fostered them for a few weeks until they were ready to be spayed/neutered and adopted.

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

We enjoyed all four volunteer shifts that we completed during our visit. At Horse Haven, we started by feeding the goats breakfast and then went on the horse feed run. It was really interesting to see how each horse had a special diet that was lovingly prepared by the caregivers. We finished our shift by mucking the horse pastures.

Volunteer Tyler Bernius feeding hay to multiple goats

Then we volunteered at Dogtown. We spent the afternoon taking dogs for walks. It was fun to see their different personalities. Some were really shy and working on getting comfortable with people. One had so much energy and was such a smart doggie. We stopped frequently on our walk with her to have her show off her skills.

The next day we volunteered with the cats. Cats are our jam. We love them! We spent the afternoon cleaning a cat room and an outdoor catio, and socializing the cats. There were some huge cats and some lovey cats and some sleepy cats. It was a great afternoon.

Our last morning at the Sanctuary was spent volunteering at the Bunny House. We cleaned their rooms and changed out their bedding. We finished the shift by giving the bunnies treats.

Which volunteer job is your favorite?

We loved volunteering at Horse Haven! It was so different from what we typically do at work and volunteering. Tyler and I are both engineers, which is mostly a desk job. Most of our volunteering with Best Friends is with the cats. Volunteering with the horses was a new experience for us. They are so big! Plus, we met Speedy, the mammoth donkey. Who knew mammoth donkeys even existed?

Volunteer Tyler Bernius feeding Curly Sue the horse

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

We enjoy volunteering, especially with Best Friends. So many animals are killed in shelters each year. We support Best Friends’ work to end the killing in America’s shelters by 2025 and ultimately to Save Them All, and we are grateful that Best Friends gives us the opportunity to do something to help.

What was your favorite volunteer moment?

Feeding the goats was great! The funny goats followed us to each pen. Tyler felt like the pied piper of goats.

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

Speedy, the mammoth donkey.

What’s the most rewarding part of volunteering?

We enjoyed spending time with each other doing something new and different. We also enjoyed helping the animals. Volunteering at the Sanctuary was one of our best trips ever, and it didn’t include a beach like our typical vacations.

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Volunteer Lizel Allen crouching on the floor with an orange cat in her lap

Photos courtesy of Lizel Allen and Tyler Bernius