Best Friends Sanctuary

Angel Canyon

As I left Mexico this time for the long drive east to the Bungalow, I drove north past Tucson to spend a week volunteering at the Best Friends Sanctuary, an incredibly beautiful 3700 canyon in Kanab, Utah that has been turned into a No Kill shelter for animals of all kinds.

These are the folks who rescued so many of the dogs from Katrina and also many of the dogs from the Michael Vick dog fighting kennel.

A group of friends got together back in the ’80s and bought the canyon and they have been rescuing everything from dogs and cats to horses, mules, pot belly pigs, birds, and little furry bunnies ever since.   All in the national park environment of that canyon.  It seemed a little odd to be “volunteering” to take very cool dogs on long walks in the likes of Angel Canyon.  Kind of like volunteering to win the lottery.  It’s a bit of a given.

I got to see the “Running of the Pigs” while I was there, which is definitely something they need to put on YouTube.  The little tanks don’t get loads of exercise, so they feed them each meal in two separate locations.  First, they head up the hill for a snack and then barrel ass back down the hill for the main course at their pens.  Suddenly a herd of pot belly and teacup pigs of all sizes came tearing down the hill like a pile of boulders, hot on the trail of their next course.  It was a total hoot to see, along with the two lunkers following up in the rear, sauntering down the hill, resigned to a second course of leftovers.

National Geographic took notice when the folks at Best Friends stepped up during Katrina and they produced a long running TV show called DogTown, which featured the dogs and the sanctuary.  That put BF on the map and they get loads of visitors every year which is an enormous help to their mission.

I spent a week walking and working with dozens of the over 300 dogs they have, but Yogi, who was rescued as a puppy swimming for his life in the flood waters of Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 was the one who touched me the most.  He’s HUGE! and old and a bit lumbersome now.  A big American Bulldog who has recovered from mange from the Katrina water, but still nearly 10 years later he’s got some rough skin issues that give him that total junkyard look.  There’s no doubt that Yogi has been through the wringer, but he’s come out smiling.


The first thing he did was bust the sunglasses that I’ve had for many years and that was just while I was clipping him up for a walk.  HI!  and with one flick of his huge head, the glasses were toast.

He’s a bit mouthy, and with that big mouth and his interest in lovingly, but a bit excitedly chewing on ya, he can put most folks off a bit.  I got lucky and solved it by giving him a stuffed duck to carry around instead.  Then he just turned into a muffin, calmly mouthing the duck while I massaged those old worn bones.  There are few things more rewarding for me in life than giving an old dude like that a little comfort and he seemed to appreciate it to the fullest.

The whole experience at Best Friends was great fun and there were lots of families arriving daily to spend their vacation with the animals in this wonderful setting with side trips to Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon.

Angels' Landing

Best Friends home in Angel Canyon with places like this incredible rock amphitheater was enough for me though, so I just settled in and had a great time and chowed down on their great $5 vegetarian lunch buffet.

The picnic tables at the base of this wall give you some idea of  the size of the wall.  There’s a stream that carved the rock as it ran along the bottom of the wall that is now used for irrigating that beautiful lawn in the middle of nowhere.  I spent many an hour there lounging on that lawn with a number of great dogs.

One of the true highlights of it all was a private 2 hours I got to spend with Ann Hepworth, the horse trainer, as she worked with Jake who was a big rambunctious mule that was a new arrival.  Ann is a Parelli trainer, meaning ”horse whisperer”, meaning that she is an empathetic ally with the animals she works with.

She talked about how sensitive horses are.  Obvious stuff really.  If they swish their tales because they can feel a fly on their butts, imagine what a set of spurs does to them.  Imagine what getting jabbed with some spurs would do to you.  Not exactly a friendly approach.

Using lots of kindness, empathy, and patience (good watchwords for the planet), it was amazing to see what Jake was anxiously interested in doing for her in no time at all.

While he was cranking around a big round pen, he’d notice a slight motion of Ann’s hand and he’d turn and come right to her.  It was clear that he was pleased to be with her.  We walked around the grounds of the stables as she would urge him to find the next thing she wanted him to put his nose on, which he eventually did every time.  You could see him thinking it out.  Hmmm, it’s not that post, but maybe it’s this flower!?!  Yes!!  But all the time with that prey mind ready to bolt or revolt.

Ann said he was totally raw and untrained, but it was hard to tell that from what I was watching.

Mules are far harder to bond with and “train” than horses, which I could relate to because Anatolians like my old buddies Murray and Ben are sure the mules of the dog world in that respect.












Horses are prey animals, so they react differently than dogs which come from predators, but watching Ann work I started to think that Anatolians might be a bit different than your typical dog.

Ann and I talked about Anatolians and how raising them with the sheep for so many generations might over millennia instill some prey instincts into them.  It would explain a lot, like why they can be so aloof.  It’s not a matter of being too cool, but being a bit wary like a prey animal.  Just like Jake, they don’t want to get too close too quickly and they will make you pay long and dearly for one harsh word or action because as a prey animal they couldn’t afford any other responce.

With all dog training moving quickly to positive re-enforcement and the similarity of those methods with the Parelli system, it almost feels like we humans are starting to get the big picture.

Be nice.  It makes everyone’s life simpler and more fun.

Anyhow, if you ever get a chance, definitely go to Kanab, Utah and check out Best Friends.  Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon are so close that it’s easy to see a lot of the most amazing geography in the west.

Kanab is also where nearly every western was filmed, so the town itself is like a museum of westerns.  There’s even a place called Ambush Gulth because it was the sight of so many staged ambushes.  It’s a great area and I’m anxious to get back soon.


 "There is absolutely no evidence that life is serious"
Ogden Nash (1902 to 1971)


Leave a Reply