A week ago Laura made the last-minute decision to fly to Salt Lake City to join me on a road trip to Southern Utah for a volunteer weekend at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. The plan for the trip looked something like this:
Drive 5 hours to Kanab. Grab some dinner. Check-in at the motel. Get a good night’s sleep. Be at Best Friends for volunteer orientation at 7:30 a.m. Volunteer all day. Grab some dinner. Get another good night’s sleep. Be at Best Friends at 8 a.m. to volunteer for 1/2 a day. Drive back to Salt Lake City at noon on Sunday. Fly back to Seattle Sunday night.
Our trip began last Friday with meeting an old high school friend of mine for lunch in downtown Salt Lake. I hadn’t seen Alyson in 25 years, and it was terrific fun catching up on families, her new life in Utah, and dogs. Turns out Alyson, like us, is a dog person so she appreciated how excited we were. After eggs benedict that doesn’t compare to Glo’s, we hit the road. It was a gorgeous Utah day. Not-a-cloud-in-the-sky, 60 degrees. Perfect for a road trip.
We stopped at the Flying J Petting Zoo. A zebra named Marty, bunnies, emus, lamas. As two people passionate about animal welfare, we both paused to consider how well the menagerie was cared for. Maybe no cause for alarm but didn’t seem quite right. This old bird lost her right eye when she was attacked by a swarm of bees.
We were about an hour away from Best Friends and stopped at a gas station in Penguitch for a quick break. I photographed this now-vacant coffee shop across the street. As we walked out of the mini mart, I spotted a small dog under a car parked at the pump. I panicked the car would pull away from the pump and run-over the dog so I made a shrill call. The dog–which turns out was a puppy–ran to me, and I scooped her up. Looking to the left and to the right, it wasn’t obvious where the dog came from. I spied a woman standing in the doorway of a run-down motel. Asked the guy behind the counter. Knocked on the window of the car still parked at the gas pump. The guy in the passenger seat didn’t roll down the window and hardly made eye contact as he shook his head NO. This was easy: She’s coming with us. It’s only then that the car parked in front of the gas pump drove off. It took me a while to realize they dumped the puppy. We called her Utah and Dingo Baby. Here she is.
As the sun set, we drove into Kanab with Dingo Baby on our laps and arrived at Best Friends. The Welcome Center closed at 5. Missed it by an hour. Given we didn’t have a collar, leash, or food for our adorable hitchhiker, we found Glazier’s Food Town, one of two grocery stores in Kanab. Laura waited in the car.
At the entrance of Glazier’s were three young girls, a man, a woman (maybe husband and wife), and a box full of puppies with FREE scribbled in red ink. I ran back to the car for my camera. The situation triggered me. They were passing puppies through car windows like hamburgers at a McDonald’s drive-through. The litter of 7 was only 6-weeks old and should still be with their momma. The people were half-friendly. As I snapped photos, one of the young girls thumped a puppy in the face because his runny nose dripped on her. It was more than I could handle: I’ll take that one. He’s going home with me.
Laura was cool-headed, We’ve already got one puppy, what’s two? We headed back with the two puppies to check-in to the motel. Enter Matt, owner of the Quail Park Lodge, a motel he dreamed he’d own one day when he was a little kid riding by on his bicycle. There are nice people in the world. And then there are people like Matt, people you wanna bear hug from the first-minute and share all your secrets with. He laughed when we told him our crazy story, gave us extra blankets for the room, and poured us a glass of Washington state wine. Turns out he lives most of the year less than 10 miles from my house in Seattle. Laura decided to name the puppy Fergus. She named him after Fergi, a female pit bull from the Seattle Animal Shelter that she went above-and-beyond to help.
We had a plan to show up at Best Friends early the next morning to see if they could help us with the puppies. It was a long night as Dingo Baby bounced from bed-to-bed, wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor. We arrived 30 minutes before the volunteer orientation began with puppies in our arms and butterflies in our stomachs. We met several people while we waited to speak with Animal Help. Irina and Becky from Las Vegas. Mike and Laura from Olympia and also staying at Quail Park. We shared our story with everyone we met. Chris, who works the front desk at the Welcome Center. Georgi, coordinator for Angel’s Rest. Diane, who organizes tours of the sanctuary. We were all eager to hear how Dog Headquarters would help us. Here’s Laura at the Welcome Center while we wait to learn more about our options.
Best Friends’ position was this: You picked up a stray that needs to go back to Penguitch Animal Control. You shouldn’t have taken the puppy from the grocery store because you made it easy for that irresponsible pet owner to keep backyard breeding. Given you took the free puppy, congratulations, you now have a new puppy that will fly back to Seattle with you.
There were many tears because I knew they were right. And there were many tears because we came all this way to volunteer.
We made a plan so that Laura could volunteer that afternoon and while I gave the wonderful staff at the Welcome Center an update on what would happen to the puppies, Chris explained that homeless pets is an epidemic in Utah. Best Friends turns away 400 animals a week because they simply don’t have the capacity to care for that many animals. At any given time, there are ~2,000 animals at Best Friends, many of which will remain there for the rest of their lives.
Chris also explained Dingo Baby’s chances of being adopted within Animal Control’s 3-day waiting period were slim. After 3 days she’d be euthanized. As I weighed the options of taking her back to Penguitch and flying her back to Seattle, Georgi–who’d been chatting with us off-and-on for a couple of hours–announced, I called my husband Joe, and he’s gonna come get her. Her husband was reluctant but she convinced him by saying, Convenience isn’t worth the life of this dog.
Georgi added, Since you’re already crying, I might as well tell you we’ve decided to name her Maggie. We hope that’s okay with you.
More than okay. Here we are with Georgi and Joe. Turns out Joe also works at Best Friends. He’s the grounds keeper at the pet cemetery, Angel’s Rest.
While Laura volunteered that afternoon, I went to the pet cemetery. When I pushed open the cemetery gates, Angel’s Rest wrapped itself around me. The breeze, the chimes, the names, the photos, the memorials. So beautiful. A blessing. And while I was there, I held tight to the fact that Maggie, our Dingo Baby hitchhiker, was on her way home with the man who cares for these grounds with such tenderness and respect.
The day winded down back at Quail Park with Matt and a childhood friend of his, Lad. Turns out an employee at Best Friends was having a birthday bash that night, and they invited me along. Laura stayed with Fergus so I could go.
Around two bonfires with dogs running loose and bottles being passed from person-to-person, I met about 30 people that work or volunteer at Best Friends. The birthday girl, Kirsten, is the team lead at Puppy Playgroup. Laura is a vet tech at Cat World. Deidre cares for the birds at Parrot Garden. Sara is a dental tech at Dog Headquarters. Tyson makes sure their computers work. I met one person without a connection to Best Friends. He lives down the road from Kirsten: Randy Yellowhorse, a Navajo Indian that works for the Forestry Service. I knew I liked him when he said, Hold my Merlot, I have to take a leak.
The next morning Laura offered to watch Fergus so I could do my volunteer shift. At orientation, I watched a safety video that included three people I’d met the night before around the fire pit.
I set off for my dog walking shift at Angel Lodges in Dogtown. Here’s the first set of dogs I encountered. And here’s Terry, my team lead, with Pinky Pie, the kitchen dog.
Terry warmed up to me once I told her I was at Kirsten’s birthday party the night before. She asked, Now how in the hell did you end up there? I hiked about 8 miles that day with 4 different dogs: Sunshine, Waldo, Sweetie Pie, and Gossom.
Terry gave me a big hug when it was time to say goodbye. Now we’re friends, she said.
We made the 5-hour drive back to Salt Lake City, bought Fergus a plane ticket, and now we’re working on finding him a home through the Seattle Animal Shelter where we volunteer. Here’s Fergus at the airport waiting for our flight, and here he is at my office this week.
The word that keeps coming to mind is serendipity. And what Georgi said to me at one point keeps ringing true, I know it’s not the trip you planned but it’s the trip you were meant to have. The trip changed me. And I’ll be back in Kanab.