Vol 3 September 2002       

Kanab UT painting Thomas Moran 1882


An Animal Sanctuary
with a Difference

with Faith Maloney

by Diane M. Cooper
For this article, we interviewed Faith Maloney, director of animal care at the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. Best Friends is the nation's largest no-kill refuge for abused and abandoned animals.

Diane: Recently, on a trip through Utah, I happened to find Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, and was so impressed I just had to speak to someone about what is happening there. Tell me how Best Friends came to be.

Faith: The concept came about in the middle to late '70s in Arizona. A group of us, some of whom had known each other in other walks of life, had acquired a 200-acre property with several houses just south of Prescott, Arizona, and we began taking in animals that had been slated for euthanasia.

The group of us that were involved in this definitely felt that the animals were getting a rough deal. Many of them had been abandoned, handed over, or casually related to, and consequently were being killed in shelters, humane societies, on the streets — you name it. We felt that maybe there was something we could do to make that situation better. This is how Best Friends got started.

In 1984, we were able to acquire the piece of property you visited in southern Utah. We've been able to utilize this for the animals, and to help the local environment in the process.

We started slowly. In the beginning, there was a lot of chicken wire, and asking people if they wanted their old two-by-fours. We know what it's like to do this on a shoestring.

But as time has passed, we've received more attention from the public and therefore more support, and we've been able to create some pretty smart facilities for the animals. And the animals are why we do this. We all have a deep personal love for animals and a sincere conviction that we can help to save a number of lives — and maybe, by example, help other people save a number of lives.

So that's what we do here now.

Diane: So let's talk about "no-kill" sanctuaries. What exactly does that mean?

Faith: "No kill" generally describes a more pro-life or lifetime-care approach than is found in traditional shelters, pounds, or humane societies that have to deal with huge quantities of animals.

Even having a phrase with the word "kill" in it is unfortunate. We often call it "lifetime care," which is a little less offensive to people and does describe what we're about — sort of. But the words "no-kill" are out there, and they refer to a facility that does not euthanize for convenience.

This is not to say that we never euthanize. But in the majority of cases, we do it only to alleviate suffering at the end of life. Not for space reasons. In our particular case, we don't use it for behavior reasons, either. If an animal is behaving badly, we create a facility where we can cope with that behavior, rather than destroying the animal. But it's different from place to place.

Most traditional humane societies are to a large extent euthanizing shelters. Some, because of the size of the population, work with the three-to-five-day rule. If the animal is not claimed or adopted in that time frame, then that animal is euthanized.

But there are no hard-and-fast rules. For example, we took a dog a couple of days ago from a facility in Kansas City which does euthanize, but they had nevertheless kept this particular dog for seven months.

A downside, if you like, of what we do is that we cannot take every animal. In upholding a lifetime-care program, we have space issues. Unfortunately, we cannot be building kennel after kennel. Instead, we have other programs.

We are attempting to help the local community become "no-kill" through our spay-and-neuter clinics and through aggressive adoption programs.

Much of our work throughout the country comes from a "no more homeless pets" concept, which we are applying here in our own state of Utah.

We do all of this in conjunction with a Southern California program called "Maddie's Fund." Maddie was a much-beloved miniature Schnauzer belonging to the developer of People Soft. He and his family have contributed large sums of money to help bring about the time when we can say the whole country is "no-kill."

Diane: Wouldn't that we wonderful!

Faith: Yes. But we're not naive. We know there is a huge challenge, and we also know that when people put their mind to it they can make enormous strides in reducing problems, and hopefully one day ending them.

Diane: Do you have any statistics on euthanasia here in the United States?

Faith: The figures we have are somewhat encouraging. Back in the '70s, the figure was seventeen million a year, and that wasn't counting those done in veterinary offices. The euthanasia figure is now somewhere between four and five million, so that is a huge improvement. That figure is still awful — no one's going to say that four-to-five million is decent — but because it's gone down so much, we can at least feel as though we're getting somewhere.

working dogI think our whole society has changed quite a lot over the last twenty years, in that pets — dogs and cats, primarily — are much more related to as a member of the family and less as a utilitarian object to help out on the ranch or the farm. The pet industry is just massive. It's in the billions of dollars. And that says that people do care.

You can't move without seeing a commercial or promotion for some sort of sophisticated pet product. This indicates that the value of pets has changed in the minds of the general public. I think this is why we are seeing the drop in the statistics.

Diane: How do you see the animal-human relationship?

Faith: I think this is another interesting aspect of society's changing as we become more urbanized across the country. Unfortunately, our farming and ranching has gone to these huge conglomerates, and so I think people miss that sort of mystical contact with nature and what nature symbolizes to us very deep down.

Basic to our core, we are linked to nature. We are from nature, and we are kin to the animals. I think in the "old days," when we were ranching and farming, we were in contact with the land and conscious of the weather and the crops, the horses that dragged the plow, and the dogs that helped with the sheep. There was a kind of intimate relationship with nature that the majority of us have lost. And I'm thinking that this is one of the reasons we put animals in that very special place in our lives now, because they belong to a link that is a part of us and in a sense is disappearing: a direct intimate contact with nature. So I think our animals are part of that mystery. Because animals are a mystery.

There are people who try to penetrate the mystery of animals: pet psychics and communicators for instance. Some of them do a great job; but we don't really know what's going on.

Diane: You're right. We really don't know what our dog is thinking.

Faith: Yes, they are a different species. We can observe and participate with them, and have a pretty good general idea about them if we hang around long enough. But they will always be mysterious because they are from "another place," so to speak.

I think this mystery is wonderful to have in life. In a time when everything is handed to us on a plate, when information is available twenty-four hours a day, we can still sit with our cat and look at her and say, "I don't know what's going on with you." We're not "getting" this cat the way we get CNN. This cat is mysterious.

We think we know our dogs, and then they turn around and do something so unhumanlike — we don't even need to go into that because it's a bit gross (laughter) — and it's a bit of a shock.

You asked earlier about how I got into this, and I think this mystery of animals has been the endless fascination for me over the past twenty-five years. It's a constant source of interest and excitement. I don't really know them. Their very existence is intriguing. That keeps me going through some of the ups and downs.

Diane: However mysterious, they certainly have proven, time and time again, to be a great comfort to human beings.

Faith: Oh, enormous! Just this morning, I was watching Animal Planet on television, and they were talking about how a dog, rather than paying attention to his owner, had turned his whole attention to a dying family member. The dog obviously knew what was going on.

Carmel the dogWe are in a rural ranching area that still uses animals in a utilitarian way, so most people around here don't expect their dog to be sitting on the couch with them. When we adopted a dog out to the local nursing home here in town, the dog found herself living with many people who had actually grown up without ever having had an animal in the house. They'd never before had the experience of a dog's coming up to comfort them when they weren't feeling right.

This dog even comes to sit with patients while they are passing over.

Diane: Really? The dog knows when this is happening?

Faith: Oh, yes! I've had feedback from the nurses in that facility. This dog is an old girl herself, now, and very sensitive to what is happening. And for the patients, it's very therapeutic to have contact with the mystery of nature while they're going through such a tremendous transitional change.

I highly recommend having animals live in care facilities, but many of the facilities won't allow it. However, even if the animals cannot live there, many facilities allow them to visit to do therapy.

Diane: It makes me want to cry to think about how these animals do a service to those who may feel lonely or unloved.

Faith: It makes me emotional, too, because I think of these people in some of their loneliest times. Many of them are so elderly that they don't even have family around any more. So to have a living being present who somehow or other has an innate understanding about transitions in life can be important.

Diane: I understand that many animals have mourning periods, as well. I'm thinking about a television special I watched recently about this behavior in elephants.

Faith: Oh, yes, and we've seen it here. I have a good story about that. It's about two dogs.

Now, normally, we house dogs in groups. Our staff decides, based upon size, behavior, age, and that sort of thing, who lives with whom. So in a sense we create the social pack, a kind of artificial family. But also there are what we call "out dogs" — meaning that they are not in a particular compound or building. They just hang out in the population. And these two dogs were "out dogs." They created their own family.

The male was a huge, 145-pound red Malamute named Amra who was just gorgeous — huge, friendly, and a good greeter. He'd go up to visitors and say hello in his doggy way — which usually meant going up between their legs. I remember one day when he came up behind one really short lady and the next thing she was in the air.

Then one day, a litter of pups was brought to us from a nearby town. The people didn't want them and couldn't find homes for them. And there was one who was very shy, so much so that she was a bit of a "fear biter." That made her a poor candidate for adoption, because it meant that she might bite the children.

So she stayed here in the sanctuary, and she was in a compound for a while. But one day she was out and about, and she spotted Amra "across a crowded room..." as the saying goes.

Diane: And their eyes met...

Faith: Yes. And it was so ironic. He was 145 pounds, red, and just gorgeous, and she was 17 pounds, brown, and very plain looking.

So here we have this Mutt and Jeff couple: this huge gorgeous cover guy and this little brown thing. It was just like nature: the incredible plume-tailed peacock and the little peahen.

But they formed this bond, and they loved each other.

It appeared that she was a terrible nag. She was one of those wives you've heard of. He'd lie down in the sand, and she'd stand over him and go, "Yap, yap, yap. Yap. Yap." You could almost hear her saying, "You've got the gardening to do, and you've got to change the window screen." And he'd kind of lie there, looking at her with one eye open.

But she'd wash his eyes and clean his ears, and they were never separated, until...

Well, he developed bone cancer. The pain was excruciating. We had veterinarians and specialists treating him, and finally we had reached the point where there was nothing more we could do. In order for him to have peace, he had to go.

I arranged for Rhonda to be there when it was done. She was in the room when he was very gently and easily put to sleep. And I have never, ever witnessed grief in a dog the way she exhibited it.

Her first response was to stay around the clinic, looking for him. She had her freedom on the property in Dog Town, but she stayed in the clinic and did a little bit of looking each day for about a week. We'd let her out to do her business, but then she would scratch on the door, come in, and look around for him again.

Then when she'd processed it, she left and went back up to the area where she and he used to hang around. And this is where the story becomes so amazing, because now Rhonda took over Amra's job!

As I told you, Amra was the greeter. He would go up to visitors to say hello. But Rhonda had been shy and would always hang back. Remember, as a pup she was a fear biter.

But now that Amra had passed, Rhonda took on his mantle. Visitors would come in, and she'd get up and come right over and say hello, doing exactly what he used to do. She just took on the job.

By the way, Rhonda's story had a really happy ending. Michael, who is the editor of our magazine, wrote an editorial on Amra and Rhonda, and a lady in Atlanta read it and was on the phone immediately. She said that she specialized in older animals, and would give Rhonda a home for the rest of her life because Rhonda was essentially a widow, now.

So Rhonda lived another year and a half with this lady, who just showered her with love and trips to the country and rides in the car.

Diane: What a beautiful and amazing story!

Faith: Yep, it just makes it all worth while.

albert the catAnd you know, beautiful though he was, Amra was abandoned — a "dump" — just tossed out of a moving vehicle and left on our property. And Rhonda had come from this strange litter of mutts, and had a personality disorder. In any other situation, she would have never survived because of her fear-biting as a pup. That behavior would have been an instant death sentence in a traditional setting.

Diane: I'd like to talk about dogs who bite. When I went through Cat Town and Dog Town, the guide talked about a fellow who works with aggressive dogs.

Faith: Yes, they're called "people aggressive" or "people biters."

The man's name is Tyson Horn. He's a very sweet man from Texas. He's also quiet, doesn't seek a lot of social contact.

When I started the dog area, Tyson was my righthand man. And when we would go to pick up animals from the local community, I'd work out that I wasn't going to be the one to get bitten. In other words, "If someone is going to be bitten, it's going to be you." We still joke about this a lot.

But what is marvelous is that in the process of doing this we discovered that Tyson had this unbelievable quality of communication with animals. Not just the bad ones, but any animal. He didn't seem to emanate what the rest of us do when we know a dog has a biting history, or if we witness a dog biting someone. Most of us will be a little bit afraid and will back off. But somehow or other Tyson does not project fear in his interactions, not even with extremely dangerous dogs. And if he does get bitten, he doesn't seem to hold the memory of it.

I've been bitten a few times — it's a rite of passage for anyone who works with dogs on this industrial level, in such numbers. And when it happens, I do what everyone probably does: I give the dog a wide berth and emanate a vibration of fear. But Tyson never does.

They can chew on him — which they do very rarely because of this quality he has — but if they do, he will go back and re-enter the relationship as if it were the first time, as if the encounter were going to be positive. And it works! This is what he has in relationship with these animals, and it is just amazing to watch. Many animals will bite you not because they hate you but because they are scared. He knows this.

Having Tyson at the sanctuary is a huge asset, I can tell you. Many of the dogs that come to us are very frightened. Something has happened to them, and so they lash out. Sometimes it's poor breeding — if you breed generation after generation of aggressive qualities, you're going to have a pretty dangerous dog on your hands. But having someone like Tyson in this kind of work enables us to safely take care of a few of these animals.

But we have limitations on how many aggressive dogs we can take. I know it's very distressing to our membership who bring in an aggressive dog and we have to say we're sorry but that area is full.

Tyson averages about fifty dogs in that particular unit.

Diane: And they are kept until they pass on?

Faith: Yes. We just lost Wolf, who wasn't a wolf but a German shepherd brought to us by a very interesting lady from New York — Harlem, I believe. He'd been a junkyard dog. They had baited him and tried to make him aggressive, and Wolf was very successful at that. But he ended up at the pound in New York and was about to be destroyed for biting. We made an arrangement through this woman to bring him here for the rest of his life. It was a court-ordered situation. He could never have been adopted out.

He lived here seven years, and we even found him a girlfriend. She'd been abandoned at Zion National Park — very aggressive, very difficult, even for Tyson. In the early days, we had to use special means of handling her. Then one day we looked at her and thought of Wolf, who was going to spend his lifetime here.

At first, they sort of ignored each other. Human-aggressive dogs are rarely dog-aggressive. They would keep to opposite sides of their run. I can't even remember when that magical moment happened, when they'd gone through the testing period in the relationship and decided each other was okay. But then they began to have the most wonderful life together — again, as a couple. It was very rewarding to watch.

Diane: So is it common for the animals to form bonded relationships?

Faith: Oh, yes. It's not necessarily a male/female thing, either. Animals can simply love each other. That's why we group house here. I knew, after having lots of dogs at my own house, that group housing was the way to go. We never even considered housing dogs separately.

All animals are alike in that they love the companionship of their own kind. Given any opportunity, any chance, they will form friendships, and it's not always just two. It could be a group of three or four. But usually you'll see a dog taking a shine to another one. For long-term housing of dogs and cats, we look for quality of life, and for us, that means contact with their own kind.

People ask if there are fights amongst the animal population, and occasionally that does happen. It's a lot like having a group of kindergartners. We deal with squabbles from time to time. But it's manageable if you understand the language of dogs and are on top of things.

When Johnny is thinking of pulling Betsy's pigtails, we usually know it.

Diane: I can see it with the dogs I've had in my life. Just as a short story, I've been around two Rottweilers for the past five years. Jag, at 85 pounds, is the intelligent gentleman. Bovis is very simple mentally, and he's huge, 142 pounds. They are both allowed on the couch, but most of the time you have to kick one of them off if you want to sit down.

Sometimes if Bovis is up on the couch in Jag's place, Jag will go to the window and start barking as if there were something happening outside. Bovis will jump off the couch to go look. Then Jag will come over and take his place. It's hilarious to watch.

Faith: Isn't that fun! I love that sort of thing, watching the dynamics of their relationships. Jag has worked out that his brother Bovis is definitely a little simple upstairs.

Diane: He talks big, but he's a little lacking in gray matter.

Faith: I love it!

Diane: There is another area at Best Friends I have to ask you about. When we were first driving around on the back roads, we came to this area at the top of the hill that just demanded that we stop. When I left the car, I heard the most amazing sound, and I discovered it was hundreds of windchimes blowing in the breeze. I can't tell you what it did to me. It was magical! The presence of Spirit was so tangible there. Then I discovered that it was an animal cemetery called Angels Rest. Could you tell me about this area?

gazebo at Angels RestFaith: Yes, isn't it incredible? You normally think of cemeteries as sad places, but in fact we find that Angels Rest is a magnet. We put up three gazebos there so people could sit if they wanted to meditate. And we've had all kinds of functions there.

Very often, as animals are very sensitive to barometric pressure, seasonal changes bring on different manifestations. For whatever reason, we'd been having a little bit of extra squabbling recently around the dogs, and one of our staff, who is part Native American, asked the Angels Rest manager if he could do a predawn ceremony with a Piute elder.

The manager said fine, so a bunch of us met at Angels Rest before the dawn came over the cliffs, and the elder led us in a cleansing ceremony for the agitation that was happening amongst the dog population. It was absolutely incredible to be there in this slightly chilly morning. And when the sun came up and hit the rock behind the cemetery, it illuminated the cliff space with its rays. It was very, very powerful.

Then many of us made a pilgrimage around the cemetery, visiting a lot of the little guys we'd lost over the years. It was very touching and moving.

At Angels Rest, we honor the animals, giving a final place of rest for the little beings we shared part of our lives with.

As a member of Best Friends, when your animal friend dies, you can go to our website and send a donation for a memorial windchime. At the bottom of each windchime there is a plate with the name of the animal engraved on it. They are then hung on the memorial chime trees we build at Angels Rest.

Ask your readers to check out our website. It's very moving. There is a lot of information about Best Friends there, including a weekly newsletter and information on the memorial site.

Diane: Thank you Faith, for all the good work you're doing.

Best Friends Animal Sactuary comprises 350 acres in the majestic red-rock country of southern Utah. It is home to more than 1,500 cats, dogs, and other domestic animals. In addition, Best Friends offers mobile adoption and foster care programs, low-cost spay/neuter services, and educational programs.

Best Friends also spearheads the nationwide No More Homeless Pets Campaign, sponsors a national network of animal lovers, and publishes Best Friends magazine.

Located in Kanab, Utah, Best Friends can be reached by phone at 435-644-2001, by fax at 435-644-2078, and via email at info@bestfriends.org. You can visit their website at BestFriends.org. The website features many lovely videos where you can see the animals in their loving and beautiful home. The pictures of animals and environs in this article are from the Best Friends site, some featuring animals up for adoption.

Faith Maloney was born in England and has a degree in Fine Arts. In the early days of Best Friends, she was mainly involved in the direct care and feeding of the animals. Today, on the phone and through writings, she devotes much of her time to helping people from all over the world who are starting sanctuaries themselves. In this regard, she wrote a manual titled "How to Start Your Own Animal Sanctuary."

Prior to working with Best Friends, Faith was involved with animal care in a small private sanctuary in Pennsylvania, and with counseling and social work in New York and Chicago. Two of her three children also are involved in the work of Best Friends.

When time permits, she still combines her artistic and counseling gifts in a form of painting she calls Images of the Soul. She also writes articles on animal issues and animal care for Best Friends magazine and other publications. Her email address is Faith@BestFriends.org.

Contributions to the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary are tax deductible.

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