Story and Photos by Ruffwear Pack Member, Rachel Blackmon
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
This Gandhi quote perfectly captures my experience at Best Friends Animal Society. This sanctuary sits in a stunning red rock canyon in Southern Utah. At any given time about 1,600 animals call this otherworldly place home. For some, this will remain home for all of their days. For others, it is a temporary place for rest, recuperation, and healing until they make their way to their forever homes. Little did I know I would find myself there for the same reasons.
Years ago, I stumbled upon a National Geographic TV series called “Dogtown” that featured Best Friends Animal Society, offering a glimpse into the lives of many of the dogs that reside there and the team members that care for them. When my beloved Rottweiler mix Skyla passed away last fall, I made a promise: I would give back to homeless dogs by volunteering at the sanctuary in her honor someday. I took some time away from my life working at Ruffwear to fulfill that promise this spring.
Pulling up to the sanctuary, I was overcome by emotion. The beauty was beyond words. The months of planning and the 15-hour drive were instantaneously worth it. After a grand tour to get a lay of the land, my partner Andre and I set off to volunteer at Dogtown for the week. We couldn’t wait to start meeting these special canines.
During our stay, we helped out in a variety of ways, like cleaning dog runs, groundskeeping, hand feeding, and, our favorite, going for walks. The dogs were as diverse in shape and size as they were in personality. Some were outgoing and playful, some mellow and elderly, while others were anxious and fearful. Our experiences interacting with them were all immensely rewarding. We even had a few sleepover guests, which is as much of a privilege for volunteers as it is for the dogs themselves. Some are sleepover favorites, and do their “happy dances” when they realize they are headed out for a night on the town.
While I can’t imagine a more pleasant shelter environment to find oneself in, the question we found ourselves asking over and over was, “Why are you here?” All of the dogs we met were incredible companions with grateful hearts. We learned many of their stories of how they came to be at Best Friends. One dog in particular who caught our eye was a Rottweiler named Coda. We instantly had a soft spot for this black and tan beauty. We learned that Coda was recently rescued from her previous life working as a guard dog for a reptile hoarding situation. She was obese and suffering from subsequent joint pain. Understandably, she could be a bit standoffish with strangers, particularly men. Through our short leisurely strolls together, Coda felt at ease and soaked up the love we gave her in a way only a dog who has not always had that can appreciate. Our stay confirmed what we already knew: to err is human, to forgive, canine. Rescue dogs may have had tough experiences in their past, but they are all forgiving and deserving of a life of love and adventure going forward.
The healing that these animals experience transpires to those who choose to spend time with them. We left with so much more than dusty shoes and sun kissed skin. We carried a sense of tranquility and peace back home to Oregon. We knew it was time to open our hearts and home to another dog in need, one who would step into the paw prints that our Skyla left behind. Best Friends Animal Society has Network Partners, shelters around the US that have a similar mission: to save lives and reduce shelter deaths. High Plateau Humane Society happens to be one of these partners. That’s how we met our little Nova, another Rottweiler mix to hit the trails with. And so we begin again…
Please consider starting down your own journey by giving back to the rescue community. If you’re searching for your next adventure partner, you can check out the dogs of Best Friends & Ruffwear’s RAD Adoption Program, a matchmaker service for dogs at the sanctuary that fit the lifestyle of many Ruffwear fans. You can also search for Network Partners in your area by visiting the Best Friends Animal Society’s website. Remember, October is Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month!
Whether you adopt a shelter dog or offer support to rescue organizations, thank you for your help in making Best Friends Animal Society’s goal a reality: to Save Them All.