By Janet McAfee

Looking for vacation ideas as the stay-at-home year 2020 finally comes to an end?  A trip to the spectacular Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, nestled in a beautiful red rock Utah canyon, is a journey to Mecca for nature lovers and animal lovers.  In 2008, my good friend Linda Olvera and I spent a week volunteering at this magical site.

We signed up to volunteer in several of their separate sanctuaries, including the Old Dog sanctuary, the puppy sanctuary, and the Bird sanctuary.  Nothing could have prepared us for the majestic beauty of Angel Canyon bounded by red rocks, just 5 miles north of Kanab, Utah, a charming Western town.  Our first stop was at the Visitor’s center for a free sanctuary tour, a trip that left us animal lovers spell bound.  We could not have imagined the animal miracles and the many programs happening in each “mini sanctuary.”

The 1,700 rescue animals call the red rock canyon their “home between homes” where they are loved, vetted, rehabilitated and adopted after often enduring a difficult past.  There are dogs, disabled dogs, senior dogs, cats, disabled cats, rabbits, birds, horses, pigs, mules, sheep, and other barnyard creatures housed in separate areas, creatively spaced miles apart on 3,700 acres of breath-taking country.  Their Dogtown was featured in a long running National Geographic television program.

In 2008, the Michael Vick fighting dogs arrived at Best Friends in what proved to be one of the most amazing dog rehabilitation programs in our country.  Their special retraining program resulted in almost all of the 22 “Vicktory” dogs getting adopted.  Some even became therapy dogs, and one is in a children’s reading program at a library.  The results of this “experiment” changed the way confiscated fighting dogs, once automatically euthanized, are now evaluated individually by shelters across our country.  A Victory dog is pictured here giving a grateful kiss.

Best Friends has programs and conferences across the country.  They were one of the first organizations on the ground during Katrina.  Best Friends has established “No Kill” programs in many communities.  They lead the battle to convert our nation’s public shelters to the “No Kill” model by the year 2025 (generally defined as a 90% live release rate). One of their founders reminisces, “We could never have imagined how the simple and seemingly obvious idea that homeless pets should be saved rather than killed would change the world of animal welfare.”  They continue to push the envelope as to what constitutes an “adoptable” animal.

After a morning of training the puppies with the guidance of a Best Friends dog trainer, we were ready for lunch.  The Angel’s Camp café offers a delicious array of vegetarian and vegan dishes, overlooking an expansive view of the red rock canyon.  The gift shop was unlike any other, and of course you can purchase holiday gifts online before your visit.

While there are opportunities to explore on your own, it is recommended you book lodging and activities including volunteer assignments well in advance.  Situated in the heart of the Golden Circle, you can easily make side trips to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and the Grand Canyon.

There are cottages and RV sites on the grounds but lodging at Best Friends is often booked up a year in advance.  A new pet-centric motel, the BF Roadhouse and Mercantile, recently opened, offering a healthy vegan breakfast.  We located a comfortable motel in nearby Kanab.  The motel desk clerk inquired as to whether we were bringing a dog from Best Friends in their “doggie sleepover” program, and of course our answer was “Yes”.  During the early days, locals were a bit suspicious of the “hippie animal lovers” arriving in their town.  Today Best Friends is the biggest employer in that part of Utah, and local residents are proud of and often involved with the sanctuary.

My friend Linda recalls, “It felt like the animals were truly at home in this incredible place.  There is a feeling of comfort, safety, and happiness from the animals who live there, unlike any other place or shelter.  Getting to see a variety of animals with each group having its own sanctuary was amazing.  The gorgeous rescue birds were particularly beautiful. The staff and volunteers take such good care of the animals!”  A state of the art veterinary clinic on site provides medical care for the residents, including some precious creatures with special needs.

I make a yearly donation to this wonderful organization and receive their monthly magazine containing inspiring animal stories.  You can follow them on Facebook at “Best Friends Animal Society”.  They offer so many online programs to help pet owners and other animal welfare organizations, and the message is always positive and uplifting.  You could spend hours on their website but be sure to take the tour of the sanctuary,

Every animal there is a hero, and so are the group of “best friends” who came together 37 years ago to make a difference for them.  There is no place on earth like Best Friends.  In 2019, over 30,000 visitors made the journey to the Sanctuary. Their slogan HELP SAVE THEM ALL inspires each of us to join this movement. Not only does Best Friends save at risk animals, it transforms the lives of the people who journey there.

Below is a partial list of shelters and rescues in the Inland Empire with animals for adoption. They are currently closed for walk-ins, and you must call for an appointment.  You can view most of their animals online before calling.   Thank you for rescuing!

COACHELLA VALLEY ANIMAL CAMPUS – The county shelter is closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt.  You can view the animals at all four Riverside county shelters at, and get the ID number of the animal you want to adopt. Email them the animal’s ID number at, or schedule a virtual adoption appointment at, 72050 Pet Land Place, Thousand Palms, (760) 343-3644. (Public)

PALM SPRINGS ANIMAL SHELTER – The shelter is closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt.  They schedule appointments Wednesday through Monday.  View their animals online at, 4575 E. Mesquite Ave, Palm Springs, (760) 416-5718. (Public)

ANIMAL SAMARITANS – The shelter is closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt.  View their animals at  Email to foster.  Located at 72307 Ramon Rd, Thousand Palms, (760) 601-3918.  (Private)

CALIFORNIA PAWS RESCUE  – The shelter is closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt. Located at 73650 Dinah Shore, Palm Desert.  View their animals at, (760) 656-8833.  (Private)

HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE COACHELLA VALLEY – The shelter is closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt a dog or cat.  This shelter has lots of big dogs in addition to small dogs and cats. View some of their animals at Located at 17825 N. Indian Canyon, Palm Springs, (760) 329-0203.  (Private)

KITTYLAND – The shelter is closed so call for an appointment to adopt a cat.  Located at 67600 18th Avenue, Desert Hot Springs,, (760) 251-2700.  (Private)

FOREVER MEOW – Foster based  rescue for cats located in Rancho Mirage.  Contact them at, (760) 335-6767. (Private)

PRETTY GOOD CAT – Foster based rescue for cats located in La Quinta.  Contact them at, (760) 660-3414 (Private)

LOVING ALL ANIMALS – The shelter is closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt. Located at 83496 Avenue 51, Coachella,, (760) 834-7000. (Private)

MORONGO BASIN HUMANE SOCIETY – Located at 4646 Sun View Rd, Joshua Tree,, call between 11am-4pm for updates (760) 366-3786 (Private)

CITY OF SAN BERNARDINO ANIMAL SHELTER – Shelter is closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt.  Hours for adoption 10am – 4pm Tuesday thru Sat. Google “City of San Bernardino Animal Shelter” for website to view animals and get the ID number of the animal you want to meet.  Located at 333 Chandler Place, San Bernardino, (909) 384-1304 or (909) 384-7272. (Public)

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY ANIMAL SHELTER AT DEVORE – Shelter closed but you can call for an appointment to adopt. Call (909) 386-9280 daily.  View animals at and get the ID number of animal you want to meet. Located at 19777 Shelter Way, San Bernardino (Public).

DREAM TEAM ANGELS RESCUE – Foster based rescue located in Grand Terrace/San Bernardino area.  Contact them through website, (360) 688-8884. (Private)