Best Friends: A canyon paradise for homeless animals

By Kelli Hill

“Our mission is to end the killing of shelter pets.” For the past thirty years, Frances Battista and a group of friends have been working hard to accomplish that mission, founding Best Friends Animal Society and building the largest no-kill sanctuary for homeless animals in need. Located in the beautiful red rocks of Kanab, Utah, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is home to about 1,700 animals — cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, horses, goats, pigs and sheep — just to name a few.

“The animals here are not going to be put down — not going to be killed for any reason — unless it’s a matter of kindness or compassion or a genuine act of mercy,” Battista says.

While the animals are the main attraction at the sanctuary, the 8,000 volunteers who lend a hand each year are a very important part of its success. Patty Hegwood, director of volunteer and visitor engagement, says, “We need our volunteers to help us with a variety of opportunities to make sure these guys have a soft landing, to make sure they get socialized and to, you know, get them ready for that next new home. Our volunteers are absolutely integral to our operation.”

The sprawling 20,000-acre refuge also attracts nearly 30,000 visitors a year. Some visit just to spend time with the animals, but many also come to adopt a new furry friend. Best Friends has a very thorough adoption process, making sure each new owner is a perfect fit for the adopted animal. “Our adoption processes do vary depending on the species. There are some species that are going to need to require different things, not just a doggy door or litter pan,” Best Friends emergency response manager John Garcia explained. “We do have to be a lot more conscious of what home we’re placing them in.”

Best Friends Animal Society insists that even though its staff is doing great work at the sanctuary, there is still more that could be done to save shelter pets. Says Battista: “Over 3.5 million dogs and cats are dying every year. That’s about 9,000 a day. It’s unacceptable. It doesn’t need to happen. And so that is where our attention is on in the work that we’re doing.” Co-founder Cyrus Mejia adds, “We’re trying to change the way people think about animals in this country. We are too complacent in our country, where we just allow a pet we don’t want any longer to be taken to a shelter and be killed, rather than taking some responsibility ourselves.”

Best Friends operates pet adoption centers and spay/neuter clinics in Los Angeles, New York City and Salt Lake City.

Additional producing by Barry Stevenson.