People and Places

Report 3 from Utah

Posted on July 7, 2013

Earlier in the week we visited Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and returned there yesterday to spend the morning at Dog Town (made famous in three seasons of a National Geographic series of the same name), the boisterous and loud and largest part of BF.  Whereas Cat Town was all about quiet and being chill and not startling the cats, the dogs greeted our arrival with exuberant barks and howls and jumping up and down.

We reported in to Dog Town HQ and were assigned out to one of the many buildings dedicated to dogs (puppies, old dogs, injured dogs, and so on).  We had young dogs and Haley, the staffer in our area, gave us a run down.  The dogs are in shared runs of two to four dogs, each run being large and clean and well equipped.  There are dogs that are not yet socialized to be with others and they stay alone until ready.  So many of them have been traumatized in one way or another.  Nelson, a sturdy little pit bull, was taken from a dog fighting ring in Tennessee.  Odette was abandoned in a house for almost three months as a puppy.  With no entertainment, she amused herself by chasing her tail and it has now become obsessive compulsive behavior that she can’t stop.  Emma started by hand feeding a dog so shy of humans that she had to sit quietly at her side (approaching from the front signalling aggression) and look away as the poor thing timidly ate from her hand.  Hannah had a similar dog that couldn’t quite yet take food from a human and sat in the corner of her run cowering.  I can’t understand what lack of empathy or kindness leads people to treat helpless animals this way.

BF has a color system: dogs with green collars are good with everyone; dogs with purple are not for children and have issues; dogs with red are to be handled only by staff.  There are quite a few pit bulls and pit bull mixes and BF works hard against what it calls bred discrimination and fight laws like the one in Ohio that simply bans the breed.  As they point out: most people can’t distinguish the actual breed, the bad actors have to do with the humans who own them and how they have been trained; and that these dogs can be as good and gentle with families and kids as any other breed.  To their point, in the 1970s Dobermans were the badass dogs of the time.  Rottweilers replaced them in the 80s and into the 90s.  Now it is pit bulls.  It will be some other breed in the future.  I’m thinking poodles.

BF works with any and every dog, no matter how damaged.  It is a no-kill shelter and every person we met has been extraodinary.  We watched three staffers introduce a new young dog to a run, a delicate process of finding acceptance by the “pack” and the dogs making sure the newcomer knows his or her place.  They brought each dog into the outdoor area of the run one at a time to make sure  the one-on-one chemistry worked. The new dog became immediately submissive and tails mostly wagged with lots of sniffing.  When each individual dog had been introduced, they allowed all of the dogs in the run to enter the space under their watchful gaze.  One staffer had heavy gloves in case she needed to intervene (Never grab a collar or neck as dogs will instinctively turn and bite.  Grab the back legs, which surprises them and stops the behavior while keeping hands and arms at a distance.).  The introduction was done slowly and even after all seemed fine to our inexperienced eyes, they waited outside the run just to make sure.

Every dog has a file — almost all a sad tale of abuse or neglect — and we were impressed with the detailed knowledge each staffer had of each dog.  They mixed and matched dogs in various runs and switched them around as they adjusted behaviors.  My favorite dog, a long legged and brindled coated hound named Deva, was the picture of calm and they often use her to settle a new, troubled dog.  She seemed wise.

The BF staff love to have volunteers walk dogs.  The dogs love to get out onto the high desert trails and the one-mile walk through great smells and sounds.  So we were each assigned dogs and we walked.  Again and again, eventually walking 16 dogs and getting four miles of excellent exercise on the soft sand trail.  There was the aforementioned Nelson, with muscles as hard as a rock, who pulled the whole way in his intense pit bull manner. 


 Deva walked with not a pull of the leash.  Wrangler, a young energetic dog, couldn’t get enough human contact and was happy to stop, hug, and lick faces.  Odette, enthralled with the outdoors, stopped her OCD circling and just sniffed everywhere.  Newt, a hound with a great howl, kept seeing lizards and stopping in perfect “alert” position — he really could be in Westminster his poses were so good.  Zeb was so shy of humans that she walked warily, keeping her leash at its greatest length, and watching us with sad eyes.  Some dogs could be walked with others in their run.  Others had to be kept at a distance still.  It was a lovely way to spend the morning.

If you want to learn more about Best Friends, make a donation, or adopt a pet, their web site is:  As I’ve said before, it’s a place that will make you shake your head at how awful some people can be and marvel at how wonderful humans can be as well.

We lunched in nearby Kanab, a small town that has grown on us.  We haven’t quite figured it out yet.  It seems a mix of BF staffers and guests (many of the hotels and restaurants allow you to bring in BF animals on outings to town), actual Mormon polygamists, hippies, cowboys, tourists and services for the parks, and locals.  We had lunch at a remarkably good little restaurant, Linsey’s, specializing in vegetarian food, and walked across the street to the Three Bears, frozen in the 1950s, for ice cream.  On the 4th we stopped to watch some of the town parade, a small town mix of cheerleader on a wagon puled by a tractor, people’s muscle cars decked out in bunting, and home made floats.  It was quaint. 

This being Utah, alcohol never seems to be on the menu.  There is always a message on the menu that says, “Ask about our beer and wine menu” and when you do, the waitress produces it out of another pocket.  To buy beer you go to the state liquor store, a tiny place next to the highway patrol and Kanab police stations.  The local spa menu includes “modest massage” in loose full clothing, presumably another nod to local Mormon sensibilities.  Honey’s Market is the best of the two small grocery stores and seems frozen in time as well, though it has pretty much everything you might need (well, no gruyere….though that seems like an eastern effete thing to point out) including Red Rider BB guns, for you lovers of A Christmas Story.  Kanab is a 40 minute ride from our house and it must be a sign of our becoming accustomed to a western sense of distance that we think of it as a “quick run” for supplies. 

Part of our joy in renting a house, something we’ve done elsewhere, is that we spend a lot of time just preparing meals, playing board games, watching movies, and talking and laughing in ways that busy lives and schedules and far-flung locations rarely allow us.  Even better here, there are really no restaurant alternatives, so we eat well and slow and rush off nowhere.  I am also taking a “news break,” barely glancing at headlines online and spending no time worrying about events in Egypt (it’ll still be a mess when we get home and back into our routines) or debates in higher education (we’ll be debating the same issues a week from now) or water levels in NH (they’ll go down and we are in the land of perpetual sunshine here). 

Two movie recommendations, both having been out for a while now:

Safety Not Guaranteed, a wonderful sweet comedy from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine that had escaped our notice. 

Silver Linings Playbook, which we watched again.

Both are humane, lovely little films (the latter actually has big name stars and the amazing Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar for her role) that are affirming and warm and worth watching.  Both are terrific.

Off to Sunday brunch in Sprigdale, a 40 minute ride that takes us through Zion.  Now that’s a ride worth taking again and again.


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