The art of mindfulness with a chicken on your head


I’m looking at a photograph that Nick Walton, Best Friends national shelter outreach manager, just sent me. It shows his dog, DanDan, lounging on the patio at his home in Georgia, and there’s a little chick happily perched on his head. The caption reads: “DanDan has taught me the art of mindfulness, even when you have a chicken on your head.”

A few nights ago, Nick, who is an experienced animal control officer, was sharing video footage of two other officers on duty in Georgia crawling around a hot, stuffy attic to rescue five orphaned newborn kittens. And today he’s sending pictures of his dog with a chicken on his head.

This, in a nutshell, represents the spirit of the colleagues I have the pleasure of working with at Best Friends — forever engaged in lifesaving work, and always surrounded by animals.

A couple weeks ago, we asked Best Friends members to tell us how their pets are helping to keep them afloat during this crazy, uncertain time. And we got some truly heartwarming responses, including one from a Philadelphia health-care worker named Michael who said, “After a long 12-hour shift of caring for COVID-19 patients, coming home to my cat Lindy always cheers me up. I brush her, which she loves, and it resets the day for me.”

Over the last several weeks, with so many people now working from home, our pets seem to be not only cheering us up and resetting the day for us but defining a good portion of our daily lives. Hop on to Facebook or Instagram and people are conducting their Zoom meetings with their dogs and reporting their cats to HR for negatively affecting their productivity. It’s good stuff.

This got me thinking about the pets who inhabit the lives and homes of the 800-plus people who work for Best Friends. For those of us who work in this field, animals are the constant. We spend our days training and transporting dogs, spaying and neutering cats, facilitating parrot adoptions, finding foster homes for puppies, coordinating pet food pantries and free vaccination clinics, photographing and grooming horses, promoting pet-friendly laws and cleaning kennels. We have an endless rotation of foster pets moving through our homes, and we end up keeping quite a few of them because we can’t bear to let them go.

Everything we do is about and for animals and the people who love them. So, where do our own pets fall in that animal-centric universe? The answer: everywhere.

Our own pets are both centerpieces in and backdrops to our daily lives. They keep us company when we find ourselves unexpectedly quarantined from family or isolated from friends. They steal our office chairs when we’re not looking and dip their paws into our morning coffee to make sure it’s safe for us to drink. They dig mud holes in the backyard for fun and teach us that muting our computer audio before the FedEx guy gets to the door is key.

I posed that same question that we asked our members to Best Friends staff, and below are just a few of the responses that made me smile.
My dogs are amazing. Dozer attends all my meetings and Zoom calls with me. Mandy lets me know when our grocery deliveries arrive. Don’t want our produce to get hot! And little Muggsy lets us know that work ends at 5 p.m. sharp because … dinner. But the most important thing is the joy I get from just being able to stare at them 24/7.

Gratitude keeps me afloat as we celebrated Oakley’s 13th birthday recently with a 6.45 mile hike (he’s a bad ass), swimming in a pond, and cold beer and cocktails.

Louie, who I adopted from NKLA, is my little shadow. We meditate together every morning and he sits by my feet while I work. Louie’s always up for a hug or a snuggle. He is just the sweetest pea and gives me comfort when I’m sad or scared.

Bob the cat randomly sits on my foot. I’d say I am feeling the love, but I don’t think love feels like that. Thanks, Bob.

Finn the cat reminds me to slow down and find the sunniest spot in the darkness.

My cat Robot says, “You gotta make time for rest and relaxation. Fourteen hours a day at a minimum.”


This is a bittersweet week for me because it’s what would normally be Best Friends’ annual All-Staff Week. It’s a week when our team members from every corner of the country come together at the Sanctuary to connect with one another, visit with the animals and take some time to celebrate the past year’s lifesaving progress. But, of course, that isn’t happening this year. Like everyone else, we’re staying home, staying safe and carrying on remotely.

As far as all of our pets are concerned, that’s perfectly fine with them. In fact, they’re thrilled. Right now, Best Friends staff members are hosting town halls for shelter and rescue partners from their own homes, with cats sprawled across their keyboards and parrots perched above their desks. They’re coordinating pet food donations for shelters and communities in need with a trio of dogs piled up at their feet. They’re facilitating virtual pet adoptions for others while filming random TikTok videos of their napping cats set to the beat of Soulja Boy. And they’re making sure to take much-needed breaks during the workday to get outside, get some fresh air and maybe help a special-needs parrot remember what it’s like to be able to fly.

These are the people I have the unbelievable pleasure of calling my colleagues, and my family. They are a joyful force to be reckoned with, as is the colorful cast of fuzzy and feathered characters occupying their homes and their hearts.


Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society