By Patti Ledford, SWOS teacher, and Brianna Provstgaard, SWOS student
Special to the Journal
It’s amazing how original purposes can get redirected when you least expect it. Students from the Lower House Seminar class at Southwest Open School scheduled a couple of days of volunteer work at Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah to help care for and comfort shelter animals. What they didn’t expect was to experience a personal bolstering of spirit.
The 15-member group, comprised of twelve students and three adults, first traveled to Wire Pass trail head where they camped and spent the next day hiking through the pass into Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the Southwest. This annual rite of passage is one of the highlights of the SWOS school year. The group, led by SWOS assistant director, Dave Finlay, teacher Patti Ledford and intern Kim Johnson, explored the slot canyon in two groups. The trek included three somewhat precarious passes through mud and water, but all made it through without incident thanks to teamwork and the typical SWOS, “We can do it together,” spirit. The students enjoyed the awe-inspiring topography of the gulch and even took on the challenge as a unique “physical education experience.”
The third and fourth days of the trip included dry camping at a local state campground and volunteer work at Best Friends Animal Society. This no-kill shelter, one of the few of its kind, was established in 1984 by a group of friends who felt it was important to change the thinking of that time that shelters and humane societies had no option other than to euthanize unadoptable animals. The society is funded through donations and 90 percent of their staff is volunteer. The shelter staff explained to the students that it costs over $100,000 a day to feed, shelter, and care for the animals along with administrative costs. Animals in residence at the sanctuary (typically around 1,700 on any given day) include: horses, burros, pigs, birds of all types, rabbits, goats, various “wild” animals, and of course, a large number of dogs and cats.
The SWOS students spent their time at Best Friends performing a variety of services including: walking and socializing shelter dogs; talking to birds; cleaning rabbit enclosures; reinstalling rain protection for outdoor rabbit enclosures; feeding and watering rabbits; and clearing a new horse pasture in preparation for some new residents that were on the way. One of the highlights of their experience was meeting one of the 22 “Victory” dogs rescued by Best Friends from Michael Vick’s collection of abused pit bulls. Layla, a shy but loving, toffee-colored pit, was the object of lots of love and affection from the SWOS kids. Several of the students mentioned the similarity between the Victory dogs and themselves. “People often fear what they don’t understand; some of us have had a rough start in life, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t kind and loving beings with tons of potential. We just needed SWOS, like Layla and the other Victory dogs needed Best Friends.” So even though the intention of the trip was to perform service and provide love and care for animals, the animals in turn, shared their love and understanding with our students.
For more information, visit the Best Friends Society website at www.bestfriends.org.