My story: Best Friends volunteer Ines Lopes

Ines Lopes takes a volunteer vacation to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Southern Utah, where she spends time helping and connecting with animals.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

For the people who’ve experienced it — those who have walked in its red dirt, taken in its majestic beauty and touched the lives of animals there — Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is 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.

The Sanctuary, in Kanab, Utah, is nestled between the sprawling red rocks of Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks. But above all, it is an animal lover’s paradise. People come from all over the country and the world to volunteer with the animals at Best Friends, and we’ve caught up with few of them for a chance to share their stories and experiences from the heart.

Here, Ines Lopes, who recently moved to Las Vegas from New Jersey, tells us what she loves most about her time at Best Friends.

Volunteer at the Sanctuary

Volunteer Ines Lopes giving some love in Cat World

Which volunteer job is your favorite?

My favorite volunteer job is doing whatever is most needed on that day! I’m happy to help wherever. That’s given me the opportunity to go places and do things that might not sound as exciting, but they turn out to be rewarding, gratifying and absolutely perfect ways to spend my volunteer time.

Volunteer Ines Lopes pushing a kitty strollerWhen you volunteered with Best Friends, what was your job?

Each visit I spent time with both cats and dogs. With the cats, I help clean their rooms, give them fresh food and water, and then play and cuddle. I even took a cat (Martha) out for a walk in a stroller. After the cleaning was done, I’d sit in each room and let the cats come to me ― playing with and occasionally brushing some kitties, too.

My work with the dogs varied from area to area. I attended a shy dog class where we’d sit in a circle and give a treat to any dog who came to us on his or her own, to reward a positive interaction with a person. I’ve also done a bit of weeding, kennel cleaning and lots of walking dogs. I once assisted with physical therapy for a dog named Fi and then also helped with weekly relaxation sessions for a dog named Castiel.

I’ve practiced name recognition and clicker training, and have just thrown balls for the dogs, too. Every volunteer session is so different, depending on the dogs and cats there and the number of volunteers who show up that day. You never know what you’re going to get.

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

Volunteering to me means No More Homeless Pets. It means fewer animals euthanized in shelters, more awareness and education about pit-bull-terrier-type dogs, and keeping families together ― because our pets are family members.

I’ve volunteered with shelters and rescues for the past eight years. I know that staff members do everything they can to find forever homes for all of the amazing animals, but they need our help. It’s an enormous undertaking to Save Them All, and every bit I can do helps.

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

The staff and volunteers were all so wonderful. I loved seeing the amazing, innovative and dedicated ways Best Friends enriches the lives of every animal at the Sanctuary. Some organizations have a mission statement that isn't necessarily exercised on a daily basis, but that's not the case at Best Friends. Everyone really is trying to Save Them All.

This was especially apparent during our volunteer time with Castiel. My friend Meredeth and I took him out for his walk and then helped his caregiver, Paul, set up his special weekly relaxation therapy session. Castiel has a bit of an overactive brain and sometimes gets too worked up, so he goes to a quiet room once a week to relax a little bit.

Meredeth and I walked Castiel to his room and waited as Paul brought in all his supplies: lavender essential oil, a CD player, lots and lots of blankets and a Kong toy. What care and attention! It made me so happy to know that Castiel can have this at Best Friends and that it prepares him for a life in a forever home where he will hopefully have all the blankets and quiet rooms he can get.

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

This is a tough one. I had so many favorites, but I did really enjoy Rascal. Rascal is a quiet and unassuming cat, but he’s so funny. The first time I met Rascal, I had another cat on my lap and two more nearby wanting to be petted. Rascal nonchalantly began to get closer and closer, but, upon realizing my lap was occupied, he settled onto my shin and waited patiently. Soon, my lap freed up and not a second later, Rascal was there. He enjoyed a lot of chin scratches and compliments. He stayed, happily, until I had to go.

When I went back on my next trip, Rascal came right up again and was eager to get into my lap just like on my first visit. Rascal is a small little fella and he doesn’t make a big show. He’s content just sitting on your lap all afternoon long. And he gets along well with other cats. What more could anyone want?

Ines Lopes volunteering at Cat World

What’s the most rewarding part of volunteering?

When an animal you’ve volunteered with gets adopted. You know that your time with them contributed to building their trust in people, establishing a routine, and giving them love and confidence to be the very best they can be and find their forever home. Finding a dog or cat a home is the culmination of many hours of hard work from dedicated staff and volunteers. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing an animal go home.

What’s the most difficult part?

Leaving the Sanctuary. There’s something magical in the air at Angel Canyon that I haven’t felt anywhere else.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your volunteer experience with Best Friends?

I can’t recommend it enough! It’s such a unique and meaningful way to spend your time. I had never considered a volunteer vacation before, but I highly suggest everyone consider it.

Volunteer at the Sanctuary

Volunteer Ines Lopes having some fun with a sleepover

Photos courtesy of Ines Lopes