My story: Best Friends volunteers Charlene and Jared Keller

For the people who’ve experienced Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, it's much more than a place where animal lovers go to work and play. There’s a certain magic in the air and in those unforgettable moments when someone makes a heartfelt connection with a rescued dog, cat, bird, bunny or barnyard animal.

Located in Kanab, Utah, the Sanctuary is nestled between the sprawling red rocks of Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks. But above all, it is an animal-lover’s paradise. People come from all over the country and the world to volunteer with the animals at Best Friends, and we’ve caught up with few of them for a chance to share their stories and experiences from the heart.

Here, Charlene and Jared Keller from Alberta, Canada tell us what they love most about the time they spent at Best Friends.

Where did you volunteer?

We have volunteered for the past four years, primarily in Dogtown. Our favorite area is the Lodges (where the single dogs live) because we have grown very fond of the dogs who live there. We love walking the dogs in the mornings and having the opportunity to take them on outings in the afternoons. We can honestly say experiencing the excitement of the dogs when you come to walk them in the morning and hiking up to the top of the trail surrounded by the beautiful canyon, is always one of our most favorite moments at the Sanctuary. We also absolutely love the sleepovers. We book the cottages each time so that we can take our favorite dogs for the evenings. One dog in particular, (Raisin), has captured our hearts and become our regular sleepover dog.

Raisin captured Jared and Charlene's hearts and become a regular sleepover guest

What made you want to volunteer with Best Friends and what made you want to come back?

My twin sister (Charlene) and I planned to volunteer at Best Friends along with our closest friends in celebration of our 40th birthdays. Volunteering has been a huge part of our lives, so it was only fitting that we would do so at such an amazing sanctuary. My husband and I loved every moment there and booked our next trip right after we returned home. We now go twice a year as we absolutely love the dogs we have gotten to know from our visits and sleepovers and the wonderful caregivers. The caregivers are so welcoming and their compassion for the dogs in their care is so evident. They truly make each of our visits so rewarding, particularly when they entrust us with a shy dog or one who is having his or her first outing or sleepover.

When you volunteered with Best Friends, what was your job?

We primarily volunteer at the Lodges or at Dogtown admissions — walking dogs, cleaning or taking dogs on outings, whether it be a fearful dog just spending time at our cottage or taking one of our favorites to the reservoir to play ball in the water.

They primarily volunteer at the Lodges or at Dogtown admissions — walking dogs, cleaning or taking dogs on outings

Which volunteer job is your favorite?

We love hiking on the trails with the dogs. Spending individual time with each dog is so rewarding. Regardless of what the dogs’ lives were like before they came to Best Friends, they truly live in the moment and we feel blessed to share in that when we volunteer. We also love picking up the dogs for the outings and sleepovers. Raisin is so funny. As we approach his building, he knows how to work us with his endearing eyes and goofy nature. He runs to the gate in anticipation of being picked for the sleepover. We absolutely adore him, and his efforts are always rewarded by taking him on multiple sleepovers.

What does volunteering mean to you?

Volunteering has simply become part of our lives as have our own rescued dogs. A normal routine for us on vacation is to spend our evenings feeding and comforting stray animals, whether it be searching for stray dogs in temples while volunteering at Soi Dogs in Thailand, or walking the beach at night in Hawaii to feed feral cats. At home in Canada, we volunteer at spay/neuter clinics with an organization called Alberta Spay Neuter Task Force and at a local shelter caring for rescued dogs. Our love of animals has become our passion and it is interwoven in almost every aspect of our lives. In addition, volunteering in the rescue community has given us both our loveable dogs, as well as amazing friendships. Being surrounded by people who are passionate about animals and demonstrate that commitment each day is a blessing.

They love hiking on the trails with the dogs

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Tell us about your favorite volunteer moment.

Jared volunteering at the Best Friends puppy admissions buildingTwo years ago, we were asked to assist at the Best Friends puppy admissions building when they had a newborn litter that needed bottle-feeding and a little extra care. It was so rewarding being trusted with feeding each puppy and comforting them. We were amazed at how organized the admissions area is. There are multiple moms and puppies, and each one is so loved. Having that hands-on experience was truly memorable.

Was there a favorite animal you met or worked with while volunteering?

It has to be Raisin. We absolutely love him. His loveable and calm nature has made him our favorite. He is absolutely perfect — loves hiking, is a ridiculous cuddle bug at the cottage and has such an attentive nature. I must admit he makes leaving at the end of our visits challenging.

What’s the most rewarding part of volunteering?

For us it is spending time with the animals at the Sanctuary and feeling like you are in a small way making a difference in a rescued animal’s life. Being a part of that is a wonderful journey. One of the most rewarding experiences — whether it be at the Best Friends cottages with a sleepover dog or fostering a rescued momma dog — is experiencing that deep sigh when they know they are safe and loved. Often in rescue work you carry a heavy heart, but those happy moments make it worthwhile.

What’s the most difficult part?

The constant feeling that we should be doing more. There are so many animals in need, but that motivates us to continue to rescue, adopt and volunteer. We truly live by the motto Save Them All. With respect to Best Friends, it is always difficult leaving the Sanctuary. We absolutely love volunteering there and the positive energy is amazing, which is why we always have our next trip booked before we get home.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about your volunteer experience with Best Friends?

We can’t say enough about the caregivers. It is clear that they love what they do, and every day they make sure that the animals are cared for and loved. Dogtown caregivers ensure that the dogs’ lives are filled with enriching and fun experiences — from golf cart rides and dog park visits to outings and sleepovers. To those who have not visited Best Friends, it is hard to articulate how truly amazing Best Friends is. But once you have visited, you will definitely be as hooked as we are.

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Jared taking a walk with Hoagie the dog

Photos courtesy of Charlene Keller