If I had to sum up my visit with the cats, volunteers and care givers of Best Friends Animal Sanctuary's Cat World, it would have to be Love. My prayers answered would mean forever homes for every single one of the 550 beautiful cats that Best Friends cares for in their 11 kitty-comfortable and well-appointed cat houses. But if you're a cat waiting to be adopted or getting help to become adoption-ready, this is the place to be.
It's so peaceful. There's a calming energy present that reminded me how important it is to slow down and appreciate the small and the subtle. I was on such a high, arriving at the sanctuary and taking everything in. From the ruckus of the chatty parrots to the boundless energy of puppies on their first walk, it was like a marathon for my animal-loving senses. But when I walked into Benton House, the original and first cat building on the sanctuary grounds, everything slowed down. It was like I'd found my zen.
Benton House is home to many of the special needs cats at Best Friends. I quietly entered one of the five cat rooms, each home to anywhere from 10-15 cats, and sat down on the floor. One by one, the cats came over to check me out, say hello and take a peek at the big camera I was toting.
Saying hello back is something you have to take slow. But gaining trust came easy. The cats reminded me of the importance of taking the time to enjoy the simple things. Neck scritches, head butts, soft and gentle conversation.
Welcome to the second of three chapters of my Best Friends experience. Katie and Waffles are taking the week off and turning the blog reins over to me (Glogirly) for the first time in the eight year history of our little cat blog. Don't worry, they'll be back to their usual antics in no time, that is once they forgive me for bringing home cat hair of every color. I hope you enjoy this series much as I've enjoyed sharing. And I hope Best Friends touches you as they've touched me.
Each of the 11 houses, has about five individual cat rooms where a group of cats who, for the most part, get along reside. The spacious rooms all have places to sleep, climb, scratch, play, hide, look out the windows, eat, drink use the litter box. And each of these rooms has it's own catio.
The catios, shown in the above photos, are glorious. The cats can enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors in a safe and stimulating environment. Some can even catch a passerby leaf or lizard through the mesh walls.
The climbing structures are made from repurposed wood used to build some of the first structures on the sanctuary ground and provide a perfect path up into the rafters where a kitty super-highway awaits.
The Super Highway
Way up high in the rafters of each catio is a network of ledges and runs for the adventurous cats as well as a place for some to just get away from it all. The entire time I was there, Jingles the orange boy, maintained his position high atop a carrier secured with bungee cords to one of the upper beams. It was clearly his spot and he could survey the entire area from his perch. Bruce (upper left) was on the move, jumping gracefully from beam to beam and Daisy, (bottom) was busy checking out the girl with the camera.
There was also a litter box, water dish and hidey hole box bungeed to the beams. ...a whole up-in-the-air world for cats that like to get high.
There are two 3-hour volunteer shifts everyday at Best Friends. People come from all over the country to volunteer, often as part of a family vacation. I met Numi, the sweetest young girl who was volunteering with her mother, Isabelle. They had driven in from Salt Lake City. Their job was to simply socialize with the cats. They were just peacefully sitting on the floor in one of the rooms with cats all around them ...and on top of them. Numi was reading to the cats.
The gift of just being with these beautiful cats was so moving. And Numi's soft voice filled the room with a presence that meant the cats were anything but alone.
Is it Dinnertime?
In addition to socializing, volunteers help out with whatever needs to be done. With so many mouths to feed, there are a lot of meals to prepare and dishes to be done. Each house has it's own washer and dryer for laundry and there's always some scooping to be done too.
I met a husband and wife from Virgina who make the trip to Best Friends every year so they can volunteer with the cats. They were so gracious to the care givers, the cats and to me. But they are not out of the ordinary. Everyone I met at the sanctuary was so friendly, so full of joy and so in love with the animals.
The first cat to greet me when I walked into Benton House was the sweetest little girl with huge green eyes. Slidell is a 5-year-old special needs kitty. Shel can't use her back legs, but they don't cause her any pain or slow her down. She's FIV+ and incontinent, so needs to have her bladder expressed and she also takes some daily medications. She's not a fan of her daily baths, but she always cooperates.
Like all the special needs cats of Benton House, Slidell doesn't know she's any different. She just knows she's a cat. A beautiful, loving and trusting cat. She just needs the right person to come along and be her 'one.'
Benton House is home to many of the special needs cats at Best Friends. Some are FIV+, deaf, blind, partially paralyzed or incontinent. It absolutely broke my heart to learn that due to tail pull injuries, some of the cats were incontinent and would be for the rest of their lives.
This is Aaron. He was lounging on top of a cat tree and was right at eye level with me when I walked into the catio. Before I could even say hello, he was greeting me with purrs and head butts, reaching out to me with his paws. He's a lover. He's 4-years-old and is clicker trained to shake hands. He suffers from incontinence so he needs a diet high in fiber and must have his bladder expressed daily. Despite his challenges, he's a happy kitty who loves people.
Some of the kitties at Best Friends enjoy going for walks, both on harness and leash as well as in strollers. The Meowzers Meander is a beautiful path created just for the cats. It winds through the trees and bushes, connecting many of the cat houses. There's a shaded gazebo with benches for resting in the breeze.
Holly, the beautiful calico girl pictured above, LOVES going outside in her stroller. We went for a stroll and roll so she could smell the sunshine.
One of the things that touched me the most about my time in Benton House was how special each and every cat is to the care givers. They know them all by name, they know their stories, their personalities, and silly little habits. They know who their buddies are and what makes them happy. They do absolutely everything they can to help each cat become ready for adoption, at their own pace and in their own way.
One of the last cat rooms I visited was called the lovers room. All of the cats in this particular room were so affectionate with one another. They groomed each other, exchanged head butts and just stuck together like glue. If two cats have bonded, the care givers make sure that they are adopted together. No exceptions. Just look at Nero and Maisie above.
It's with great emotion that I'll be sharing a very special glimpse into Angels Rest, the final resting place for those Best Friends who now fly with the angels: Where Angels Rest
Catch Up with Part One
If you missed part one's introduction to the sanctuary including horses, pigs, goats, parrots, cockatoos and puppies, you're in for a treat: Visiting Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
See the Entire Gallery of Photos
There's SO much more to see! I'd like to invite you to view my entire gallery of Best Friends photos.
- Visit Glogirly on SmugMug
- Select Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
- Enter password: SaveThemAll
A Destination Vacation With Purpose
Many people and families visit the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary as a vacation. I had the pleasure of meeting a number of people volunteering while I was there that did just that. It's an inspiring and meaningful way to experience the sanctuary, help the animals and enjoy the gorgeous landscape. For more information on how to turn your bucket list wish into reality, visit HERE.
Special thanks to Melissa, Hannah, Barb and the entire Best Friends family for hosting my trip to the sanctuary. You've each touched my heart and have inspired me by the kindness you show each other and the animals in your care.