My story: Jean Schifferns and Steve Nussbaum

Jean Schifferns and Steve Nussbaum volunteer at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah. Read about their dog walking, hiking and other experiences.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

For the people who’ve experienced Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, it's 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.

Nestled between the sprawling red rocks of Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, the Sanctuary is located in Kanab, Utah. 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 a few of them so they can share their stories and experiences from the heart.

In the following interview Jean Schifferns and Steve Nussbaum from Portland, Oregon, told us what they love most about the time they spend at the Sanctuary.

Visit the Sanctuary

What made you want to volunteer with Best Friends, and what made you want to come back?

We’ve made six trips to Best Friends. We love the area because we are hikers, we've adopted pets from the Sanctuary, and we strongly believe in the work that Best Friends does. We feel valued as volunteers during the time we spend there. The sleepovers and the fact that we can stay in the cottages at the Sanctuary are strong draws. There is a calmness and a vibe at the Sanctuary that is hard to describe.

During our last three visits, we've had a chance to chat with several of the founders. And that has been very interesting and has increased our knowledge of what makes Best Friends tick. We also have really loved getting to know some of the caregivers. We are amazed at their knowledge, their love for the animals and the incredible strides they make with the animals.

Volunteers Jean and Steve walking three pigs

What was your job when you volunteered?

Dog walking (which we absolutely love), cleaning, feeding, meal prep and socializing (in all animal areas). We appreciate the fact that folks in Dogtown have confidence in us and trust us more with each of our volunteer visits. Our mantra to all the caregivers and volunteer coordinators is: Please give us the job that you need the most help with.

Which volunteer job is your favorite?

Dog walking is our favorite. We both love dogs but don't have a dog at home (though we do have three cats). We love meeting the dogs, learning new things about dog handling and being on the trails with the dogs. In our spare time, we do as much hiking as possible, so dog walking at Best Friends is the best. We love how happy the dogs are when they are out walking on the trails. Sleepovers are also our favorite. What's not to love about the adoration of a dog or cat for the 24 hours that they are with you?

Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment with Best Friends.

There are many favorite volunteer moments. For both of us, I think it's when we're out on the trails with dogs in January and it's snowing. The dogs love it, it's invigorating, and everyone seems happy. From our most recent trip, it was probably the sleepover with the dog Hercules. As soon as he got into the cabin with us, he jumped on the bed and went bonkers running around and rolling on the new soft blankets.

Volunteers Jean and Steve with Hercules the dog, during their sleepover

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

It was probably the cat, Mr. Romeo. We took him for a sleepover and fell in love with him. He's one of those "dogs in a cat suit." We really wanted to adopt him, but our own three 14-year-old felines wouldn't want another brother. We also absolutely loved our sleepover with Buffy, a pit bull terrier mix. Her middle name should be Love. Both Buffy and Mr. Romeo have since been adopted.

Buffy the tan pit bull type dog with Steve the volunteer

What’s the most rewarding part of volunteering?

Being at the Sanctuary for a solid week during each visit, interacting with the caregivers and seeing the animals’ positive responses to human contact.

What’s the most difficult part?


Steve giving Speedy the donkey a hug while volunteering

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

We can't wait for our trip that we have already scheduled for January 2020!

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

Volunteering means that we can help. Our careers were both in the helping professions. As retired people, it's important to be able to continue to give back. It's something positive we can do in a world that seems very unsettling and negative at times. Volunteering makes us feel like, despite all the nasty stuff happening, we can do a small thing to help and make animals a little happier.

Volunteer at Best Friends or somewhere near you

Volunteer Steve spoon feeding some baby food to some cats

Photos courtesy of Jean-Schiffens and Steve-Nussbaum