Breaking ground at Best Friends

While the official birthday party for Best Friends is in July, it was a cold day in February of 1984 that we rolled a small travel trailer onto the vast piece of unimproved real estate that would become the largest no-kill sanctuary in the country, headquarters for Best Friends, and a launch pad for the no-kill movement.

As I recall, that day was February 19th, which in 1984 was a Sunday. The trailer was kitted out with a small generator and served as the home and office of Paul Eckhoff, one of Best Friends' co-founders. Paul was an architect by training and the project lead on our new adventure. Sadly, he was killed in a car accident a few years back and is dearly missed by everyone who knew him. Paul was a rather Spartan graduate of the British Army and the English public school system (that’s private school to Americans), so living in a poorly heated trailer with a leaky roof – his boots would occasionally freeze to the lino floor overnight – was right down Paul’s alley. I, and the remainder of that first landing party, lived in a rental in Kanab.

There were a couple of sand tracks that crossed the land, but of course none that connected with our first building site. Bright and early the following day, we set about clearing sagebrush for a side track to the location of our planned work crew bunkhouse. That track is now the main street through Cat World.

The original Bunkhouse (capital “B” intended) was supposed to be a temporary structure, and I guess it was if you regard 25 years as temporary. The truth is that once we got full bore into building animal facilities, the Bunkhouse was good enough for one or more of us to live in until it pretty much had to be put out of its misery.

Those first days here were magical. To look up from your work and see the red rocks of Angel Canyon in the foreground and the monumental White Cliffs in the middle distance was life-altering. Actually, the experience of being at Angel Canyon is even more inspiring and magical 30 years on, because it is also home to about 1,700 dogs, cats, bunnies, birds, horses, pigs and rehabbing wild creatures on any given day. Each of those animals is being given individualized care and prepared for adoption by a dedicated staff and thousands of volunteers annually.

It is from this inspiring and uncompromising home on the Colorado Plateau that we championed the cause of no-kill, and it is the spirit of this place that imbues all that Best Friends Animal Society undertakes.

This year, we will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of Best Friends in a variety of ways, but I will always cherish the memory of those first chilly days here working with Paul and a group of founders, happily clearing brush without a clue as to what lay ahead or the impact that our pioneering adventure would have on the lives of homeless pets.

Someone once wrote that Angel Canyon is a miracle of nature and what happens here every day is a miracle of love. I agree, and having seen what has transpired for Best Friends and for the no-kill movement over the last 30 years, I know that together, we will Save Them All.

Cat Dog No-Kill 2025