The gift that gives back

Former intern gets the best gift ever — a volunteer trip to Best Friends.
By  Jennifer Hayes

Nini with TyresiusNot everyone gets to celebrate a 10-year wedding anniversary. Even fewer receive a trip of a lifetime from their spouse as acknowledgment of their love. However, Nini Lacuesta-Ferguson’s husband, Elliott, knows his wife and knows how much she loves volunteering at Best Friends. So his special gift to her was an 11-day trip to the Sanctuary.

This wasn’t her first trip. In 2012, she took part in the Best Friends five-week internship program. Instead of picking one project animal to focus on during her stay, she chose an entire room of shy cats, a dog, plus three guinea pigs. And on her days off, she hung with Panda the pig — walking and reading to him to help him acclimate to people.

Bringing home new best friends

Nini’s time at the Sanctuary touched her heart and soul. So she and Elliott returned after her internship to adopt two cats (Daphne Mae and Gaston) as well as her three project guinea pigs (Stella, Scout, and Rufus).

Back home in Virginia, Nini continued to volunteer for Best Friends, helping with Strut Your Mutt and Lord and Taylor Perfect Pairs adoption events in Maryland. But she longed to return to the Sanctuary.

“Being able to go back to Kanab to the Sanctuary is a very uplifting thing,” says Nini. “It renews your spirit.”

So Elliott granted Nini’s wish as an anniversary gift. In September, she spent her time “doing what I love to do and giving back to the animals.” That included walking in the Kanab Strut Your Mutt and participating in dog outings and lots of cat sleepovers. In fact, she took an amazing total of 14 cats on sleepovers. Most of them were from Casa de Calmar, the Sanctuary home for cats with feline leukemia..

A shoulder to lie on

Elliott with TyresiusOne of the most memorable sleepovers was with cats Barney and Tyresius. Although both are quite energetic at the Sanctuary, they calmed right down in a home environment. Even so, Tyresius kept up his favorite activity — he loves  to sit on shoulders. In fact, Ty has never met one he doesn’t like. He slept most of the night curled up on Elliott’s shoulder.

Giving back

During Nini’s first trip to the Sanctuary, she cooked up a huge batch of macaroni and cheese that she and her fellow interns delivered to caregivers in all the animal care areas. It was her way of saying thanks for everything the caregivers do.

Wanting to continue that tradition (but lacking a kitchen) Nini distributed ice cream and root beer for floats to all the caregivers on the last day of her trip.

Nini feels she receives just as much back, if not more, than what she gives when volunteering at the Sanctuary. And since she has made a promise to some more cats about taking them on sleepovers, she’s already planning her next trip.

“It’s nice to go back and be appreciated, see old friends and be able to make a difference,” says Nini. “I believe in the (Best Friends) mission.”

Learn more about volunteering at Best Friends.

Photos by Sarah Ause-Kichas and Nini Lacuesta-Ferguson