Wish comes true for boy who loves animals

Gavin Spencer in bed on a sleepover with his arm around Blair the dog in a hug
Make-A-Wish visit to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is filled with dogs, cats, pigs, bunnies, tortoises, and more.
By Alison Cocchiara

What’s the recipe for a magical week? First, add one 10-year-old boy with a lifelong love of animals. Next, mix in a dash of tortoise art, a sprinkle of piggy hugs, and a dusting of bunny kisses. Finally, add a variety of cuddly dogs for sleepovers in your hotel room. Garnish with copious amounts of slobbery kisses.

Gavin Spencer and his family found all of this and more during their recent visit to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundations of Utah and Georgia.

Granting wishes

Make-A-Wish grants life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. Gavin, who has a rare blood disorder that affects his bone marrow, has always been an animal lover — from snuggling with the family’s cat to digging under logs looking for insects. So when Make-A-Wish approached Gavin about his wish, he knew doing something with animals was paramount.

[13 stories of volunteers who save pets’ lives]

The family had adopted their two dogs in Atlanta from Best Friends, and that sparked an idea. “We spent several weeks discussing all kinds of options, but when I suggested he explore the Best Friends sanctuary online, he fell in love with the idea. It was everything he wanted — interactions with all types of different animals and people who love animals as much as he does,” says Gavin’s mother, Julie Greenwell.

The magic of the Sanctuary

Gavin and his family experienced the Sanctuary through a variety of special tours and animal interactions, including piggy snuggles, Hoppy Hour with the bunnies, building parrot toys at Parrot Garden, painting with desert tortoises at Wild Friends, and hosting cozy sleepover dogs.

“The Make-A-Wish trip to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary was magical in every way,” says Julie. “We loved staying at the (Best Friends) Roadhouse where we could host sleepover dogs every night and every amenity was set up for the comfort of the canines. Meeting other guests’ personal dogs at breakfast each morning was a highlight.”

[Volunteers expand homeless dogs’ worlds]

While Gavin’s favorite experience was cuddling with the piggies, he also enjoyed Hoppy Hour with Sequoia the rabbit and his three siblings. Gavin and his twin brother, Drake, wheeled the furry foursome of brothers from Bunny House to the play yard in special strollers. Once everyone was safely inside the grassy play area and out of the strollers, a serious case of bunny zoomies commenced. The bunnies especially enjoyed the special “salad” Gavin prepared for them using grass, juniper berries, and twigs. Delish.

Painting on the wild side

How often do you paint with tortoises? Not much? Now Gavin can add this unforgettable experience to his list of accomplishments. Desert tortoises Sahara and Thar enjoyed shell scritches while making one-of-a-kind art for Gavin and Drake. The brothers used juicy red peppers as incentive for the tortoises to walk through animal-safe paint and onto plain white canvasses. The result? Abstract, colorful, and distinctive masterpieces.

Gavin and Drake also created a special treat ball for the Sanctuary’s albino mink, Astraea. As a bonus, Best Friends staff person Elle Greer helped Gavin look under rotting logs for darkling beetles on the way to give Astraea her treat.

Plans for the future

It was a busy visit, and it already has Gavin thinking about the future. His mom says he has set his sights on applying for a Sanctuary internship when he turns 18.

“The staff at the Sanctuary were incredibly kind and welcoming, answering all his questions, giving him as many experiences as possible, and celebrating Gavin’s love for animals,” says Julie. “For me, a stroll through the (Sanctuary’s) Gratitude Garden was a special moment — not just remembering all the love and joy animals have brought into our lives but also celebrating that Gavin was here and healthy enough to experience this.”

Let's make every shelter and every community no-kill by 2025

Our goal at Best Friends is to support all animal shelters in the U.S. in reaching no-kill by 2025. No-kill means saving every dog and cat in a shelter who can be saved, accounting for community safety and good quality of life for pets. 

Shelter staff can’t do it alone. Saving animals in shelters is everyone’s responsibility, and it takes support and participation from the community. No-kill is possible when we work together thoughtfully, honestly, and collaboratively.

Silhouette of two dogs, cat and kitten

You can help save homeless pets

You can help end the killing in shelters and save the lives of homeless pets when you foster, adopt, and advocate for the dogs and cats who need it most.

Saving lives around the country

Together, we're creating compassionate no-kill communities nationwide for pets and the people who care for them.

Let’s be friends! 

Connect with us on social media to stay in the loop about the lifesaving progress we’re making together.  

Facebook logo    Instagram logo    icon