When Valdemar the chug (Chihuahua-pug) puppy bounded toward me, I scooped him up in my arms and petted him. I was helping Valdemar become more comfortable with being handled by humans, so he would have a better chance of being adopted.
This summer, I volunteered at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, believed to be the largest no-kill animal shelter in the country. Best Friends has about 1,700 rescued animals, including dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, and birds. As I frolicked with Valdemar at the Puppy Preschool, I thought to myself, "This is a trip I won't ever forget."
All my life, I have loved being around animals. I grew up with a beloved Lhasa apso pooch named Benji, whose photograph still hangs on my wall. With a hectic life in New York City, I don't have time to own a dog, so I volunteer at local animal shelters. I enjoy walking the dogs and playing with the cats.
When the opportunity arose to volunteer at Best Friends Animal Society, I jumped at the chance. I would be able to help rescued animals and explore the stunning scenery of Utah. I booked the weeklong volunteer vacation through National Park Tourz.
In the mornings, I would volunteer at Best Friends. During the afternoons, I would go on hikes in nearby national parks such as Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park.
My favorite volunteer experience at Best Friends was Puppy Preschool. The animal caregiver first released a rambunctious group of shepherd-mix puppies into the room. He explained that the first 12 weeks of life of a dog were the easiest to teach him or her to be comfortable around humans.
As an exercise, we clutched a puppy's collar when he approached us and then gave him a treat before releasing him. It helped the puppy understand that being handled was a positive experience. While exploring the room, one the puppies yelped and backed away when he spotted his reflection in the mirror. I couldn't help laughing.
Another highlight of the week was volunteering with the cats. At Best Friends, cats can enjoy the outdoors. I took a cat out for a walk in a stroller. He peered curiously out of the mesh cover as I wheeled him around the desert trails. It was a novel experience for both of us.
In addition, I helped care for senior-citizen rabbits at Best Friends. These rabbits were at least 10 years old, because they had been rescued from a hoarding situation in 2006. As we cleaned and changed the bedding of their pens, the rabbits hopped around and twitched their noses. Afterward, we fed the spry bunnies some biscuit treats.
My trip to Best Friends was more meaningful and rewarding than my previous vacations. I had the opportunity to help vulnerable animals in need. In return, these animals gave me a sense of joy that is priceless. I will always miss Valdemar. As of now, he is still available for adoption.