University student returns to Best Friends for animal sanctuary internships

University student makes happy memories while gaining skills and experience by taking advantage of Best Friends' animal internship opportunities.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

Katie Cox’s first visit to Best Friends was a happy celebration of milestones. Katie had just graduated high school, and her mom was having a 50th birthday. At the time, Katie had no idea that she’d have the chance to do two animal care internships at the Sanctuary in the coming years. She just knew she was hooked, and she wanted to come back again and again.

After a second trip to Kanab to volunteer, Katie, who is a student at Purdue University, applied for Best Friends’ five-week general animal care internship. Then, last summer, Katie dove eagerly into the daily routines of the Sanctuary, learning all she could about animal care and socialization, animal behavior and animal rescue. The experience included a week in five animal areas: Dogtown, Cat World, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, Parrot Garden and Horse Haven. It was a perfect mix for Katie, who’s majoring in animal sciences and thinking about getting a master's degree with a specific focus in animal welfare, or applying to vet school one day.

Internships with animals include goats

But Katie, who couldn’t get enough hands-on learning with the animals she’d fallen in love with, wanted more. She especially wanted to spend more quality time with her best barnyard pals, the goats. That would make her the first Horse Haven intern to work exclusively with goats. “They are so smart and fun, and they all have such different personalities,” she explains. There was no doubt she’d be returning to work with them. The only question was when.

Katie’s wish came true during her winter break in late December and early January. She returned to the Sanctuary to spend her three-week vacation helping out in the goat barn. There she met Boris, who she bonded with almost instantly, and who would become the main focus of her internship.

An internship at Best Friends was a perfect mix for Katie, who’s majoring in animal sciences. She is seen here interacting with a goat.

Bonding with Boris

Boris, who came to Horse Haven from a rescue group in Utah, is a Boer goat, which is the breed, unfortunately, most often raised for meat. Though Boris avoided that terrible fate, he didn’t have the easiest life before he came to Best Friends. His tattered, torn ears tell the story of a traumatic event — most likely an attack by another animal.

Through bonding with Boris, Katie helped him overcome the fears he carried with him from the past. Like Katie, Boris turned out to be a great student. “He’s very curious and he'll focus on you,” Katie says. He’s the kind of goat who’ll always give things a go to work through his fears.

The Friendly Game

For example, Boris is afraid of being touched on the head, so Katie immediately started working to help him build his confidence in that area. She began by playing The Friendly Game with him. One of the seven games of Parelli Natural Horsemanship (the training program used with all of the animals in Horse Haven) The Friendly Game involves touching and interacting with an animal in a way that builds trust.

Because Boris was nervous about having his head petted, Katie started with his neck and slowly moved upward. She learned that if she put Boris’ halter on him first, he’d let her touch the halter while it was on his face. Then, she clipped his lead onto his halter and moved it around his head to show that neither her hands, nor the leash were going to hurt him.

These were baby steps, but it was exactly what Boris needed to keep building trust and bonding with her. “We had a great relationship from the start,” says Katie. And it only grew stronger during the weeks she worked with Boris. Together, Katie and Boris practiced a few more Parelli games and worked on trailer loading, hoof trimming and navigating Horse Haven’s fun goat agility course.

Katie and the goats on the agility course

Memories made

These are skills that Katie can put to good use in her volunteer position back in Indiana, at a zoo near the Purdue campus. She may also need them one day in her future career.  But, without a doubt, her favorite part of the internship was building relationships with Boris and a few of the other goats. “It was cool for me to learn these things and cool that Boris was so relaxed with it. I really appreciated his confidence in me and how we built that confidence and trust just by hanging out.”

Now, whatever Katie goes on to do — whether it’s a master’s degree, vet school or a related field in animal welfare — she’ll take with her the skills and experience she gained from her Best Friends internships, along with all her happy memories of Boris.

Katie gained skills, experience and memories from her Best Friends internship. Here she is feeding a goat.

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Photos by Kurt Budde


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