Friday, March 17, 2017

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary: Day 2

After taking that guided tour of the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, they knew I wouldn't be able to say no to picking up a volunteer shift.  Only a monster would have been able to say no to those adorable fuzzballs that only want cuddles.  The animals, not the employees.  The employees did not want cuddles.  In fact they mostly wanted me to stop trying to give them the cuddles I assumed they wanted.  The cashier was not amused.

So I signed up for a morning shift (8am-noonish) the following day, and showed up a little early, a spectacular feat for someone typically incapable of arising early.  Christmas morning kids would understand.  When I checked in at the Visitor's Center, they told me to leave my trailer down in the huge lot by the horses, as Cat World didn't have adequate parking for that sizable a rig.  This would be my first time unhooking the trailer since Mississippi.  Ok.  I could handle this.  All I need to do is park it somewhere level, put wedges under the trailer tires so it didn't roll, disconnect the electrics, unhook the two safety chains, unpin the hitch stand, lower the stand, unlock the ball hitch, raise the stand over the ball, pull the truck forward, lower the stand so that it was level, and put the hitch lock in place so the trailer couldn't be stolen.  Nothing to it, right?

A surprisingly short time later, I was on the upper canyon, high above the Visitor's Center  in the Cat World parking lot.  I needed to first check-in at the Cat World HQ/Clinic where I was shown a short video about cat handling.  Fun fact: Don't pick cats up by their hind legs like you would a chicken.  I guess chickens really only have hind legs as their front legs are wings.  Or are they arms?  Or are our arms just front legs that are really bad at running?

Cat World is made up of a six or eight or something around there buildings housing over 600 cats (also something around there).  Each has it's own theme, and I was assigned to Colonel's Brigade.  The Brigade, like the other buildings, was a large building that could be broken down into about seven to nine rooms.  The doorways on either side led to a long, rectangular room that served as the hub of the building.  That main room had multiple storage closets, a couple loose kitties, and a prep area with a sink for getting food and meds ready.  Then, all around that long room, were the cat rooms.  Each room had ten or so cats in it, as well as ample sleeping, eating, hiding, and bathrooming areas.  Everything a cat could need.  Those rooms were nice, but fairly boring, almost like they were designed from recycled office blueprints.  But connected to those rooms were the most amazing part of the whole building.  Each of those cat rooms were connected to their own very large, screened-in patios full of climbing structures (large driftwood, cat ladders, cat hotels, etc.) that led to exposed beam ceilings.  But they didn't call them patios.  No, I was in Cat World.  They were called Catios!  How cute is that?  I just want to cuddle that word!  Catio!

The Catios, aside from providing a lot of free space and fresh air, provided something a lot of those rescued cats desired more than anything else: seclusion.  Up in the ceiling, hiding in the rafters, were cats that were terrified of people.  They were all over, and there were even litter boxes and bowls of food and water so the cats would never have to come down if they didn't want to.  The kitties in Cat World were given time and space to acclimate to human interaction.  This is probably why Best Friends has an over 80% placement rate.  They let their cats get used to people on their own terms rather than forcing it.

Hiding out in the rafters!

After checking in, my first job was to take Benton for a walk.  There were only two people working in the CB, and they were busy with important morning tasks, so I think this was mostly to get me out of there hair for 20 minutes so they could get settled in.  At least that was what I thought until I unzipped the front of the blue cat stroller.  As soon as that first tooth passed through the slider, I heard the thump thump thump of a cat bounding down from atop a cabinet.  That was Benton, and he had clearly been waiting for his walk.  He jumped straight into the stroller and I zipped him back in.  I was told to take him on the winding walking path outside and to watch out for rattlesnakes while I did so.  To be fair, I'd been warned about eminent death when I signed the volunteer waiver.

While walking around in the blazing Utah summer sun, we happened upon other cats in strollers as well as some on leashes.  They all looked like they were having the time of their lives!  And they were all being walked by volunteers.  That's why this place was so successful.  There were a lot of animals and a lot of work to be done, but people come from all over the country to volunteer to help make the lives of these animals a little better.  And it was working.

Meowzers Meander??? Are you kidding me???

After a long stroll with Benton (seen above), I headed back to the CB.  Once there, the real work started.  Cleaning litter boxes, emptying uneaten food, putting out fresh food, putting out fresh water, washing dirty dishes, mopping, sewing up holes in the strollers, and more.  Pretty much anything that didn't involve some sort of special animal training.  Other than those jobs, though, there was the extremely important job of playing with the cats.  A very important job indeed, as all of those cats needed cuddles.  So many cuddles!

Aside from just playing with the cats that wanted to be played with, I also needed to put some face time in with the cats that weren't quite down with human interaction.  The rafter cats.  Petting a rafter cat isn't easy, but as with most creatures of some intelligence, bribery could probably get me through the door.  Armed with baby food and a small spoon, I moved the ladder under some of the rafter cats and attempted to grease the wheels of affection with mushy chicken.  I was mildly successful, which was good enough for me.  I would load that spoon up and slowly work my way towards one of the cats, and then, if they didn't run away, let them lick the spoon clean.  I'd do that a few times before eventually feeding them directly off of my finger.  It was real progress for some of them.  For others, not so much.

I say them, but you need to know that every single one of them had a unique name.  There was Darla (she had a smooshed face and a tongue that always poked out just a bit), Corky, Rhett, Nibs (so tiny!), Smoochy, Callista, and many many more.  And it wasn't just that every cat had a different name, each name had a two-year hold placed on it after a cat left (adoption or otherwise).  This meant that Mr. Whiskers would be the only Mr. Whiskers for at least two years after his departure.  That is some serious dedication to critter naming.

My four hour shift flew by in no time at all, and before I knew it, it was lunch.  This was when I found out that Best Friends Animal Sanctuary has a $5, all-you-can-eat, vegan buffet at lunchtime.  What???  Was I in heaven?  Had a died?  Did a rattlesnake bite me a few hours back when I was walking Benton?  Does time continue seamlessly as our consciousness evacuates our dying bodies?  Does that mean we have souls?  If we do and they maintain consciousness, why do we even need bodies?  Is it to dance?  I heard it's to dance.  That seems silly.  But then, a lot of silly things are fun.  Like pogo sticks and Halloween.  No, I wasn't dead.  I was hungry, and why would a disembodied consciousness be hungry?  Duh, of course I was alive.  Also, consciousness ends when we die.  It's a function of your brain you dumb doy-oy.

Before I left for lunch, my two CB leads asked if I wanted to work the afternoon shift too.  There wouldn't be any other volunteers in that day, and I just couldn't imagine those cats not getting vigorously played with, so I said, "Of course I'll stay!"  My original plan was to do a morning shift and then leave for Capitol Reef, but Capitol Reef was just going to have to wait because I was busy hanging with some cool cats.

This is how cool cats hang.

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