Volunteer celebrates her 80th birthday at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Volunteering means the world to Jo Anne Travis. It’s her natural inclination to help out where and when she can. But, there’s a caveat, she says: “I won't volunteer where it’s not fun.”

For the past 20 years, Jo Anne has enjoyed her role as a volunteer teacher and interpreter at the St. Louis zoo. She and her husband, Alan, also have an active therapy dog, a shih tzu, with whom they visit children and cancer patients in the hospital. So, when she and her family decided to plan a trip as part of her 80th birthday celebration, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary topped a list that included a cruise and a spa vacation.

Celebrating her 80th birthday at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

80-year-old Jo Anne with her family and a few puppies at Best Friends Animal SanctuaryJo Anne recalls visiting the Sanctuary about 10 years ago with a grandchild. Although she didn’t have a chance to return until now, that first visit made quite an impression on her. She could think of no better way to usher in her eighth decade. “The dogs and cats here all seem very happy,” she says, “and the place is gorgeous.”

Besides, who wouldn’t want to spend their birthday with a room full of adorable puppies? They were the icing on the cake for Jo Anne, Alan and their three daughters. The family also spent several days volunteering at Old Friends (a section of Dogtown especially for senior dogs) and Cat World before heading over to the puppy building. But Jo Anne can’t pick a favorite place or animal. “They are all wonderful,” she says. “I love volunteering with animals, because you get so much energy from them. They are so full of it.”

Volunteering together as a family

Alan agrees, adding that volunteering is an eye opener for him. “It fills my days and gives me enjoyment in life. Helping makes me happy.” Seeing Jo Anne enjoy herself so much on her birthday makes him happy too. “It’s been incredible,” she says. “The best trip we’ve ever taken.”

Though they did their fair share of work in Dogtown and Cat World, volunteering at the Sanctuary was also a way for this family to take a little break together. “The kids might have job and/or kid issues,” Jo Anne said, “but this was the perfect chance to put all that stuff aside for a week and it’s something we can talk about that we all did together.”

Her best birthday yet

As far as birthdays go, this was Jo Anne’s best one yet. "I have been treated like a queen this week. It’s been the happiest week of my life." After an experience like that, chances are good the Travises will be back — maybe even next year, when the family has two things to celebrate: Alan’s 85th birthday and their 60th wedding anniversary. 

Go here for more information about volunteering at the Sanctuary.

Photos by Molly Wald