Just outside of Kanab, Utah, in a beautiful area called Angel Canyon, you will find Best Friends Animal Society’s Sanctuary. I recently spoke to chief executive officer and co-founder, Gregory Castle, about the sanctuary and what it has in store for visitors.
The sanctuary is celebrating its 30th year. As one of the co-founders — there were approximately two dozen — Castle has been with Best Friends from the start. He has seen the land that the group purchased grow from nothing to a multi-structure refuge for a number of different animal species. Castle assures me that the current buildings were constructed by “professionals,” whereas in the beginning, the original members had “construction talent if not a great deal of experience.”
Best Friends began opening sanctuary doors to visitors because, according to Castle, “We get so much support from the public.” In fact, as a nonprofit organization, the majority of its financial support comes from individuals. A number of these supporters, understandably, asked to visit. Best Friends decided they wanted to make those visits as pleasant as possible.
The sanctuary now also serves as a vacation destination for all animal lovers. You can stop by to simply enjoy the beauty of the canyon, for a guided tour of the facilities, or to volunteer with the sanctuary’s residents, among other activities. You can even stay overnight and invite one of the many adoptable dogs or cats for a sleepover — just don’t be surprised if the overnight guest becomes a permanent addition to your family.
Best Friends gets approximately 30,000 visitors of all ages — there’s even a camp for kids! — each year. When looking at a time to visit, consider that the area’s best weather happens between May and October, making it the sanctuary’s most popular time for guests. The winter, however, offers a beautiful snow-covered landscape and fewer crowds, making it a perfect destination for those looking for somewhere to go in the colder months.
The sanctuary spans 3,800 acres, and the large amount of land allows Best Friends to house a number of animals and to have specific areas for each species, such as Dogtown, Cat World, Horse Haven, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, Bunny House, Parrot Garden, and Wild Friends. FYI, Cat World is more than a mile from Dogtown, so that the rambunctious barking doesn’t cause problems for the sanctuary’s softer-voiced creatures.
Don’t worry, though, you won’t be expected to walk between the areas on the daily guided tours, as the tours are done in vans, with stops to meet residents and to hear more about what Best Friends does with each specific group. You are more than welcome to drive your own vehicle on the grounds, but Castle warns, “People tend to get lost.”
The most popular area on the tour? According to Castle, “Everyone loves the puppies and kittens.” If you want to spend more time with a specific group of animals, multiple volunteer opportunities are available. You can choose the area you wish to work in, as long as there is space available, as well as how long you wish to stay. Castle explains that visitors can volunteer from a few hours to a few weeks. They are required to attend an orientation, but Castle says the class isn’t very long and is designed to help volunteers understand safety requirements for both themselves and the animals.
The sanctuary has a number of lodging options on its property, including guest cottages that accommodate up to six people and three pets, cabins that accommodate up to two people and two pets, and even fully equipped RV sites. Pets are only allowed away from the accommodations when meeting a potential new family member. On-site lodging is limited, so you will want to book well in advance.
There are a number of overnight off-site options as well, and many also allow pets. If you do stay off-site, be sure to understand the pet policy; as noted, the sanctuary only allows pets meeting potential new family members to visit.
In addition to the cats and dogs available for sleepovers, both at sanctuary and off-site accommodations, pigs and bunnies are also available. No matter the species, the time they spend with you will help the animals improve their socialization skills. Cats and dogs also are available for outings during the day. You can go hiking with a dog on one of the many different trails in and around the canyon, for example. Perhaps you are looking for a more unique experience? Then why not walk a cat!
Certain cats love to take a stroll around the sanctuary, but “experiences vary,” Castle explains. “Some cats are almost like a dog, they really want to go and explore and wander around and are very happy with it. Others are much more circumspect.”
“They just have different ways of enjoying the outside,” he says.
Whether it’s on leash in a halter or in a cat carriage (picture a baby carriage for cats), you can have a fuzzy companion come with you as you explore parts of the grounds.
The beauty of the land provides a peaceful, almost meditative place for guests. One of the most relaxing spots on the property is the animal cemetery, Angel’s Rest, which is in an area that Castle describes as an “exceptionally beautiful spot down in the canyon.” The cemetery has wind chimes, trees, and gazebos, and he says guests find times spent there quite moving.
You can also find a vegetarian lunch buffet with vegan options on the grounds. The sanctuary closes at 5 p.m., so guests head into town for dinner. If you want to extend your trip beyond the sanctuary, Kanab is a tourist-oriented area with national parks, state parks, and national monuments within close proximity.
Castle hopes that visitors to the sanctuary leave with an enhanced appreciation of animals. “We want visitors to leave feeling that animals are really important and that they are of great value to people in their lives. We want to enhance that as much as possible.”
To learn more about the sanctuary, visit the Best Friends’ website.
What other vacation destinations can you suggest for animal lovers? Let us know in the comments below.
Read about more Catster Heroes:
About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.