Volunteer vacation becomes a friendship’s best medicine

“We are going. Let's stop talking about it and go to Best Friends.”

That’s what Monica Daugherty said one day to Kitty Chelton, her best friend of 30 years. The year was 2016, and by then the two women had been dreaming for 25 years about taking a destination vacation to the Sanctuary. And it had been more than two decades since they first learned about Best Friends Animal Society — around the time they started working together to spay and neuter community cats in their northern California neighborhood.

A long-awaited volunteer vacation

They knew that someday they would visit Utah and make their dream come true. But for Monica, a school principal, and Kitty, a psychotherapist, life kept getting in the way. With everything that happened since they met — marriages, divorces, child rearing and finding their way from fledgling to successful careers — they just hadn’t yet made it a reality. Finally, in July of 2016, they took their long-awaited volunteer vacation to Best Friends, and it was everything they’d been dreaming of — and more.

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In the days and weeks leading up to their trip, Kitty was just as eager as Monica, but she also was somewhat apprehensive.

“I was so afraid that this place that I had held in such high regard, that had made me feel less alone in my compassion for animals, would let me down,” Kitty says. “I feared that the conditions would be painful and that I would want to rescue every animal that I met. I couldn’t have been more wrong. All of the animals were so well-cared-for and the people were generous and open-hearted.”

In Dogtown, the women played with puppies and walked dog after dog. In Cat World, they played with kittens and helped to socialize shy cats. In Horse Haven they fed and loved on horses. They immersed themselves in what Kitty calls, “a different culture, a community where everyone’s first priorities are love, compassion and understanding.”

In Cat World, volunteers Monica Daugherty and Kitty Chelton helped to socialize shy cats

The value of animal volunteer vacations

That’s why, in the fall of 2017, they returned to Best Friends. The women’s animal volunteer vacations give them the opportunity to work with cats, kittens, puppies, dogs and horses, as well as to enjoy adoptable animal sleepovers. Volunteering at the Sanctuary also has a deep personal value to them. It’s become part of the glue that holds their friendship together.

Kitty and Monica’s friendship, which was nurtured by being neighbors most of their lives, has weathered a significant change ever since Monica moved three hours away (by car). For the first time, their friendship is long distance. For them, coming to Best Friends has become a way to reconnect and to renew their lifelong bond.

“It’s been big medicine for our friendship,” says Kitty, “and we’re going to try to make it a yearly thing.”

Just what the doctor ordered

At the Sanctuary, the two share the feeling of living completely in the moment and immersing themselves with the animals and the joy they bring. They also cherish the memories of all the compassionate people they’ve met at Best Friends — not to mention all the animals they’ve fallen in love with.

Being in the moment, making new memories and volunteering together at Best Friends turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for this pair of lifelong friends. Like the friendship itself, it’s priceless.

Volunteer at Best Friends or one of our partners

Volunteering together at Best Friends turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for this pair of lifelong friends

Photos by Molly Wald