I've been a tad overwhelmed by current events lately. (I use the word "tad" loosely.) I needed sanctuary. So with the blessing of my husband - but not our dog - I headed to Kanab, Utah to volunteer for a week at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the largest no-kill animal sanctuary in the United States.
Just as there's only been one man in my life for years, there's only been one dog - Rio, our goofy rescued Lab mix. But I was heading on this adventure solo, and Best Friends has an overnight program where you can take an adoptable dog "home" for the night. I figured taking a dog back to the hotel each night would give them a little vacation and help socialize them for adoption. And as the saying goes, "It's not really drinking alone if the dog is home..."
So I'd spend each day helping Best Friends animal caregivers with feeding, cleaning and socializing - I took a cat for a walk on a harness for the first time, and read The Tale of Peter Rabbit to two bunnies, for instance - but at the end of the day, I'd head to Dogtown and ask for a sleepover buddy.
Monday night my date was Chunk, a fun-loving pit bull on a special diet because he has allergies. He leapt exuberantly into the back of my car and spent most of the drive with his two front paws on the center console, learning toward the windshield, ready for action.
Trusting in the adage "A tired dog is an obedient dog," I took Chunk for a long walk in the neighborhood around my hotel. At one point, he stopped walking and held up a paw plaintively - he'd stepped on a thistle. He let me pull it out and check his other paws, then gave me a sloppy wet kiss in gratitude.
At night, Chunk sprawled out on my bed, so I got into the other one. But I swear the look he gave me was so forlorn that I climbed into bed with him. He immediately snuggled into me and sighed with pleasure.
I ended up spooning with a pit bull all night.
Tuesday night I was partnered with Tigger, a sweet 13-year-old Chihuahua. "He has a heart murmur, so no long walks," advised his caregiver. I soon learned that Tigger might not bounce, but he definitely scoots - he scooted right off the passenger seat and onto my lap as we drove away. He's a bit of a lap jockey, actually - he took a few little sniffs at the doggy potty station at the hotel, but mainly wanted to be on my lap while I worked on my laptop at night. I lifted him onto my bed and he rubbed his little paws on his nose - it was completely adorable.
I'd slept in a corner of my queen-size bed the night before because Chunk had snuggled me into it, but I figured Tigger was so tiny that I'd be able to sprawl out. But he scooted right into me - I was corner bound. In the middle of the night, I got out of bed and switched sides, but the little Chihuahua scooted right into the crook of my body. He's such a little love bug who just craves human touch.
Wednesday I went from hosting a tiny dog to an enormous one: Caffrey, a 12-year-old Labrador retriever mixed possibly with bear (not really, but he's got to weigh around 100 pounds). He's a spirited guy who's spent over 700 days at Best Friends and is free to a good home. One of the caregivers at Dogtown Headquarters got a twinkle in his eye when he heard I was taking Caffrey for the night. "He's a recreational humper," he said with a laugh.
Thankfully I didn't witness any recreational humping, but I definitely saw plenty of vim and vigor for a gentleman of such advanced years. He had strong opinions about the best bushes to sniff and would lumber toward plenty of intoxicating aromas. He could be stubborn - why get off the bed when it's so comfortable? - but he'll do anything as soon as he sees a dog treat. He makes these cute chuffing noises when he's happy about getting to eat a snack. When I took his collar off and rubbed his neck, he groaned contentedly. And he snuggled into me all night, sweetly snoring with his tongue hanging out where a few teeth are missing.
Thursday night my date was Boone, a little 8-year-old golden retriever mix who acts like a puppy when there's a squeaky toy around. On walks, he'd look up at me for direction from time to time - it was endearing that he was so eager to please. He was affectionate but not needy - his confident, easygoing attitude allowed me to take a nice long shower since I knew he was OK without constant reassurance. He curled up like a little wolf cub on the bed. Such a charming guy. I cried when I took him back the next morning.
The hotel was so empty as I packed my suitcase to head back home. Every one of my canine companions touched my heart - it was fun but also profoundly moving to share intimate experiences with them. They were all so quick to trust me and offer love. I hope they find perfect forever homes because they are each so special in their own way. Isn't it amazing how much love is in the world? All we have to do to find it is spend time with dogs.
For more information about Best Friends Animal Sanctuary or to adopt one of the dogs, visit: BestFriends.org.