Retiree completes animal care internship at the Sanctuary

A 64-year-old retired woman completes an internship in animal care at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. She returns home to help animals locally.
By Jennifer Hayes

At 64 years old, Gerri Spiller describes herself as an atypical intern. However, truth be told, Gerri is not the kind of person to steer away from the road less traveled.

A passion for helping animals

Growing up, she never had the opportunity to bond with a loving pet, so it was not until adulthood, while living in Sarasota, Florida, that she developed her passion for helping pets. Volunteering for Southeastern Guide Dogs ignited that spark, and she hasn't looked back since.

Around 15 years ago, she read a book that changed her life. "Your Money or Your Life" opened her eyes to living simply, so that work does not rule your life. Taking the lesson to heart, she sold her market research business and moved to New Mexico to pursue her love for nature, art and animal welfare.

Best Friends internship program

She remembers receiving a mailing from Best Friends around this time and became intrigued by news of a beautiful animal sanctuary in Utah. Later, she enjoyed the "DogTown" television show, but it was not until 2012 that she came across the Best Friends website, discovered the internship program, and applied.

She ended up on the waiting list, but it must have been fate because only two weeks before the program began, she was accepted into the general animal care internship.

A profound intern experience

For two weeks, interns work in all the animal care areas, and by week three, they each decide to focus on one area. Luckily, Leesa Page, intern coordinator of Best Friends' Learning Experience, encourages participants to pursue their personal interests, allowing Gerri to once again buck the trend. Gerri continued working in all the animal areas, while also having one-on-one talks with several of Best Friends' co-founders to learn about the inner workings of running a Sanctuary.

Gerri Spiller's project dog, ButtercupHowever, like her fellow interns, Gerri did complete a project and work with one particular animal. In fact, Buttercup and Gerri got to spend a lot of quality time together. The Australian cattle dog/Labrador mix not only learned basic cues, but had the opportunity to go for many car rides and hikes around the Sanctuary and town.

"She's so sweet, and there's a deepness to her also," says Gerri. "Look into her eyes. She's a deep thinker or old soul. She'll be your soul mate."

Gerri made lifelong friends and feels that her time at Best Friends changed her life. "It was an incredible gift when the internship was offered to me," says Gerri. "Nobody knows what they're getting into when they sign up. Everybody experiences something profound."

She has taken those experiences and lessons back with her to New Mexico.

Helping animals locally

During the internship, the message was conveyed that you either have to look away or do something when it comes to animal welfare. Gerri has not looked away.

In addition to her work with Puppy Dog Ranch and End of the Road Ranch, she is part of a small group of advocates for Silver City's homeless animals, Animal Friends of New Mexico. Everyone was energized when Gerri shared what she had learned at Best Friends. Their plan is to start helping the High Desert Humane Society with volunteer recruitment, dog walking, and cat enrichment. Enthusiasm is high, and their effort to help save lives is gaining momentum.

"I discovered while I was at Best Friends that it's actually possible to create a no-kill city and county," says Gerri. "It made me realize it can actually be done, and we can do it."

Learn about Best Friends' internship program.

Photos by Leesa Page and Gerri Spiller


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