My time at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, helping out as a volunteer, was mostly spent among those dogs who, due to their unpredictable behavior, have been assigned red collars — meaning only staff can interact with them.
I drew duty at Dulcie’s School of Dance, an octagon-shaped structure whose residents, for the most part, misbehaved either before or after their arrival at the southern Utah animal sanctuary, and who — though red collared dogs can be adopted under the right circumstances — in many cases will live out their lives there.
Dulcie’s is occupied by outlaws like Wooley Bear, a 12-year-old border collie mix who is one of Best Friends most prolific biters, a mutt named Billy Brindle, and Boo, a 14-year-old boxer who has spent more than a decade there.
Caregiver Carin Carothers was my supervisor, and she made sure a closed gate was always between me and the mostly notorious canines she oversees.
Shy dog class was easy lifting — not unlike a day at the park. I took a seat, bag of dog treats in hand, and waited for students, all green or purple collared dogs and all fearful of humans to differing degrees, to cautiously approach.
It’s all aimed at getting the dogs — many of whom came from hoarding situations — to trust humans more, difficult as that sometimes is to do.
Later, I caught part of a class for dogs who, rather than being shy, are aggressive.
I took a seat under the shade and watched as Carin and four handlers, each working with a single dog, sought to keep that dog’s attention focused on the handler. Another volunteer was called upon to approach the leashed dogs who, the hope was, would continue focusing on the treats and their handler rather than snarling and lunging at the person approaching.
I was wondering who that volunteer had made mad when I was called upon to do the same thing — repeatedly walk up to within five feet or so of a dog and be distracting.
Almost every time, the dogs failed to notice me — the preferred reaction, though I didn’t like it much. The only thing worse than not being able to pay attention to a dog is when a dog pays no attention to you.
Later, though, I did enjoy bonding with Smitty, another Dulcie’s resident — a green collar placed in the unit to be a good influence on the less friendly dogs. Carin suggested I take the coonhound for a spin in my car around the canyons — and Smitty seemed to love it, peering intently out the window.
Though we only planned for a day of volunteering, we stopped by Best Friends again yesterday, mainly to take Smitty for another spin.
This time he was even more gung-ho about the ride, throwing his front paws on the back of my Jeep and awaiting to be hoisted the rest of the way. Looking at him in my rear view mirror, I could swear he was smiling.
We tooled around the canyons, stopped and spent some quiet moments at Angel’s Rest, the pet cemetery on the grounds of the sanctuary. We listened to the wind chimes, and sat in the shade of a gazebo. He hardly howled at all this time, instead laying quietly and staring at me.
Were I not on the road for an extended period, or maybe if I had a bigger vehicle, I’d have taken him with me when I left Best Friends Wednesday afternoon. That I didn’t means you still can.
My day and a half as a volunteer at Best Friends may not have saved the world, but I had a good time, and I think Smitty, who’s not yet two years old and still a little shy around most people — did, too.
And while I’m not saying it’s karma or anything, I noticed as I headed back to the highway that my car’s version of the red collar — my malfunction indicator light — was no longer lit. I’d been fretting about it ever since it came on when I rolled into Phoenix last week.
I do believe that doing good things makes good things come back to you — just maybe not that instantly. And if there is such a thing as karma, Smitty — the role model at Dulcie’s, that green collar who lives among the reds — has good times ahead.