Dogs find treasure at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

A person and dog in a green canoe on the water in front of a rock overcropping
Photo essay explores dogs taking a dip in waters rumored to hide ancient riches and how they end up discovering something even better.
By Molly Wald

Editor’s note: Best Friends photographer Molly Wald reflects on what warm weather outings with dogs to a special place really mean.

For over 100 years, local lore in Kanab, Utah, where Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is located, has been wrapped up in the enduring mythology that Montezuma’s gold is buried somewhere in the hills. Why and how Aztecs would bury treasure in Utah is a question for another day; that story goes back to 1922 when a gold prospector claimed he found a 500-year-old map from Mexico that proved it. But the legend has persisted and led to much intrigue.

One of the hot spots where gold is rumored to be is at the bottom of a pond called Three Lakes, which is part of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Over the years, past landowners have made great efforts to explore beneath the water, sometimes with spooky results. An attempt was made to empty the pond, but it was halted when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discovered that an endangered snail lived there and draining the pond was forbidden. Divers went down to explore but found their air compressors malfunctioning and experienced ghostly choking sensations.

Maybe there is something behind all the rumors. Maybe the treasure is guarded by an ancient Aztecan curse.

Undaunted by the prospect of ghosts or curses, the pond is a great destination for our Dogtown residents during a heatwave. On our hottest, longest days of summer, many of our canine residents trade their walks for swims. Water is a great enrichment tool when it’s just too hot to hit the trails.

Of course, each dog has their own preferred style of recreation, and for those who prefer wading, the creek might be a better option.

Some are more into poolside lounging, in which case the Dogtown dog park or a kiddie pool is their go-to.

And some do ... whatever it is that Archo is doing here. You do you, buddy.

But for dogs who are true swimmers and can brave the deep, Three Lakes is the perfect place.

And for dogs who are intrepid enough to go on a boat ride, Three Lakes is also big enough for canoeing.

Or paddleboarding.

I’m not entirely convinced there is gold at the bottom of the lake. But while watching the dogs splashing around in the water on a hot summer day, I see another kind of treasure. These dogs all lost their homes, but here at the Sanctuary they are cherished. They are venerated by volunteers and fussed over by caregivers. They are the stars of photoshoots, YouTube videos, and magazine features.

Here in southern Utah, glinting through the haze of a hot afternoon, homeless dogs are enshrouded with dignity and belonging. They are happy in the sun and are deeply loved. This is my hope for all the pets in shelters across the country — to be so loved. This is the real treasure.

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Our goal at Best Friends is to support all animal shelters in the U.S. in reaching no-kill by 2025. No-kill means saving every dog and cat in a shelter who can be saved, accounting for community safety and good quality of life for pets. 

Shelter staff can’t do it alone. Saving animals in shelters is everyone’s responsibility, and it takes support and participation from the community. No-kill is possible when we work together thoughtfully, honestly, and collaboratively.

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