Four weeks down, one to go, and this last week was one that has been hard to walk away from. While I’ve been able to connect with animals in each area, it’s interesting to see the different reactions each of the species gives when they see you approaching. This is also cut down into more micro-interactions based on individual animals, as all of them are unique in their personalities and behaviors. So for the past week, I interned at Deja’s in the Lodges area of Dogtown. Most of the dogs in this neighborhood are dog-aggressive, which means they are known to have a history of aggression with other dogs – whether it’s resource guarding, lack of manners, or a specific reactivity to something – so they reside in single runs. This doesn’t mean they wouldn’t get along with any other dogs, they just need to be introduced to the right dog at the right time. Also, many would be completely fine in a low-stress environment, like a stable home, rather than in a high-stress environment, like a noisy shelter. In any case, the interactions I was able to have with the pups were extremely valuable to my experience and understanding of their behaviors.

IMG_20150315_103456This is Pretty Girl – an American Staffordshire terrier from a dogfighting ring – and she did not appreciate me making her stop and sit on our walk, as is evidenced by her shut-eyed yawn. Pretty Girl was a lot of fun to work with, because she is a little bit of a slow learner. For feeding time, dogs are taught to find their “place,” sit, and wait for the cue (such as “free!” in a high-pitched voice) to begin eating. This ensures the safety of everyone involved, as food is exciting and a leaping, barking dog – as well as one that guards food, can be dangerous. This teaches the dog that once he is calm and listening, a reward will appear, and it will be worth it. Pretty Girl, along with all of the other dogs, go through this routine twice a day for meals, and before and after walks. For some dogs, they pick it up immediately and perform the ritual nearly flawlessly every time. Others take some time, but with enough patience from the human, will eventually sit and wait. Pretty Girl requires a few attempts, and is easily distracted – sometimes with a wall that just NEEDS to be licked, sometimes with a round of dancing and appeasing eye squints. Getting her to understand where she was expected to sit and that waiting for the release cue took more patience than I experienced with many of the other dogs, but once she got it, it was beautiful to see. I somehow even managed to get Pretty Girl to sit and wait patiently (without jumping up to lick my entire head) while I harnessed her for our walk a few times, and was able to practice clicker training with her.

Pretty Girl’s profile:

Can I express how much I love clicker training? It is just amazing to watch a dog process what I’m asking her to do with the obvious language barrier between us. The clicker is called a reinforcement signal, or bridging stimulus, and once the dog associates the “click” with a reward, it’s so much easier to reinforce the behavior someone might be trying to condition. It takes a lot of vigilance and a lot of treats, and figuring out how to generalize a cue to fit the context of the environment can be challenging, but it’s so much fun to figure it out with the dog – definitely a bonding and learning experience for everyone involved!

IMG_20150315_104900Yuma! This beautiful girl is a bull terrier/Staffordshire terrier mix and is extremely athletic. In her attempts to get attention, she would sometimes do flips off of the walls in her run – though we wouldn’t enforce this behavior, it was cool to see. I’m a sucker for that distinctive sloping bull terrier face, and while Yuma’s is less pronounced (and hard to see in the photo), I was drawn to her right away. She is reactive to other dogs, and during our walks I had to keep an eye on her body language when we were within 50 feet of any other dog, but when we had the trail to ourselves, she was just full of energy and paid attention to everything I asked of her. Yuma has “place, sit, wait” down so well that she actually lays in her crate before I even enter her run with the food and focuses intently on my face until I give the release. Going for a walk was a different story, but with enough ignoring of her rude behaviors (jumping, mouthing, demand barking), she would eventually calm and sit for leashing.

Yuma’s profile: 


Best Friends not only provides a life-long safe haven for dogs, cats, birds, horses, pigs, and bunnies – they also let in this little hippo, Ebony. Ebony is a Shar Pei/American bulldog mix with the wiggliest hips you’ll ever see. When she’s happy, the whole back half of her body swings wildly from side to side and her mouth opens wide in a great big grin. She was a challenge to walk, as she has a ridiculously high prey drive and is constantly on the hunt for lizards, and she just doesn’t get along with other dogs (at least in high-stress settings). She’s also pretty hefty, and takes full advantage of her weight to try to get where she wants to go. Trying to redirect her attention on a walk can be futile, but I found that if I provided enough stimulation to at least equal all of the dogs yelling at us from their runs as we passed them, she would return to me about half of the times that I asked – which I praised with lots of treats and petting. Ebony is a leaner and loved to press into my legs as I stroked her stubbly fur and massaged her rock solid head (so much muscle!), occasionally looking up at me with a wide smile.


Ebony’s profile:

Being able to work with these dogs, and many more, during my week at Deja’s in Dogtown was so invaluable to my experience overall…I can’t wait to start my next internship with dog training in a few weeks to learn even more!


This week I was working in Parrot Garden and had a day at Wild Friends. Parrot Garden is full of, yes…lots and lots of parrots. Just under 100, in fact. Birds from cockatiels to macaws (with some budgies thrown in for good measure) with varying levels of health and linguistic capabilities. I knew parrots lived a long time, but had no idea that many of them can live up to 80 years in captivity – sometimes longer, and get passed through many different families as they outlive their people. I noticed that many of the birds were a little camera shy, and I never really had enough time to sit with any one bird to help them get comfortable with my hulking beast of a phone, so I only snapped some shots of the cockatiels in one of the aviaries…while we were MacGyvering a little bird rescue.

IMG_20150304_100839 (1)

Here’s some of the peanut gallery who cheered us on while we rescued an adorable little yellow budgie from her devious adventure. Basically, she found a tiny little hole between two planks of wood in the ceiling that led her to being stuck between the wire mesh and the underside of the roof. Using only a net, 2 screwdrivers (a flat head AND a phillips), a staple gun with too-short staples, a hatchet (not to be confused with an axe), a blunt pair of pliers, a bigger set of pliers, a butter knife, some screws, zip ties, a ladder, a stick, and a rock, we managed to open a small hole for her to crawl out of, and then closed it back up with reinforcements. The budgie bragged about her death-defying journey and the excitement died down. But there is this picture – please note the sexy boot:

budgie maintenance

I met a lot of great people with actual senses of humor (that’s a thing), and I learned a lot about the wonderful world of parrots. I’m hoping to return to sit with some of the birds (and caregivers) to learn even more throughout my time here in Kanab – because I’m definitely staying.

Also this week, I completed my first interview for a cat caregiver position – it went amazingly well, and I hope to be able to pursue that route once I finish all my interning. On that note, I have been feverishly reading through books on dog behavior and dog training and dog learning and just dogs (read all the dogs!). At first it was to prepare for an interview I had on Thursday afternoon for a brand spanking new internship opportunity. Now it’s to learn as much as I possibly can from reading before I start applying it within the internship. I was accepted into the first ever dog training internship offered at Best Friends! Despite my utter lack of experience in this particular field, I’ve been interested in dog behavior and training for as long as I can remember, and now I actually get to learn it, hands on, with some of the most knowledgeable and forward-thinking people in the business of saving animals. It feels so unbelievable to even be considered for this opportunity, but to be chosen and then accepted…I have no words. So instead of talking, I’m reading. A lot. I might post notes here and there, or quotes from resources that really resonate with me, but my time here is being extremely well-spent. It helps that there is’t much to do in Kanab, and that the Buckskin is so divey. Also I have virtually no income right now, so learning, learning, learning – FINALLY about something I’m passionate about AND where I have people around me who are also passionate about it (thus a fostering of passions is happening, it’s a beautiful thing).

Once I start that internship in mid-April, I’ll be able to talk more proficiently about it, but until then, here’s another photo of a few of the cockatiel onlookers:

IMG_20150304_105351As a final note, I’ll be taking 3 weeks off between the end of this first internship and the beginning of the dog training one. One of those weeks will be in Arizona to see friends and family. And to pick up beer. Because Utah is not only a desert, it is basically dry when it comes to alcohol…and I can’t keep driving to Fredonia for a Bud Light.

Don’t Stop Looking

I’m doing some in-depth reading and studying up on my animal behavior and dog training knowledge, because it’s always something I’ve wanted to have more awareness of and be able to put into practice. I’m only halfway through my first book – “Inside of A Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz, but I’ve made note of some of the items I’ve been learning about, which I may put into a post all their own. For now, I just came across this very interesting paragraph that talks about how dogs never lose their sense of observation, while naturally-awed children grow up into adults who fall out of the habit of noticing things in general.

Dogs don’t stop looking — at the gimpy walk, at a rush of leaves tumbling down the sidewalk, at our faces. The urban dog may be bereft of natural sights, but he is rich in the odd: the drunken man swerving through a crowd, the shouting sidewalk preacher, the lame and destitute. All get long stares from the dogs who pass them. What makes dogs good anthropologists is that they are so attuned to humans: they notice what is typical, and what is different. And, just as crucially, they don’t become inured to us, as we do — nor do they grow up to be us.

Leela – a one-eyed great dane I’m honored to call my niece, and who has amazing surveillance skills

Rescue Village

Day 1 of my second week at Best Friends was a little rough. The whole of Southern Utah woke up to about a foot of snow, with even more tumbling out of the sky as big, fat flakes. I, along with most of the other employees, trudged very slowly to the sanctuary to start a cold morning of work. No sooner had I arrived, I was promptly told it was a red snow day and that all non-essential personnel would be sent home. I had time to watch a safety video about rabbits, see the runs, and then I was shooed back into the snow. So I slowly trudged home and went grocery shopping instead. It might be the only long weekend I have ever had that I wasn’t really grateful for. I wanted to be with the animals. Nevertheless, Dragon Age got some much-needed play time.

snow1 snow3

By the end of the day, it was piled up almost 2 feet in places and lots of vehicles were in the ditch, including a jack knifed semi. Let’s just thank the mule deer that I got back to the house safely. By the way, it’s still gorgeous out here in the canyon, with snow lingering on the red dirt and hanging from the red rocks…maybe a photo later in the week.

Day 2, I showed back up and was finally able to work with some bunnies! Well, I was able to work around them, as bunnies are not so helpful (about as helpful as cats, and probably most animals) in the cleaning department. Working with any animal requires a lot of cleaning, a lot of patience, a lot of self-forgiveness – you will NOT get all the poop, you just won’t – a lot more cleaning, and some treat time. I didn’t get many photos on day 2, but today I got a whole bunch because my job was to supervise a bonding, and they did so well that I had time to observe the other bunnies.

What is bonding? With rabbits, they prefer being with a buddy, or companion, rather than living alone. They are just happier when they can share their life with another bunny that has the same ideals and goals and loves cilantro the same amount. Also they are great at grooming each other in those hard-to-reach places, so there’s a big health benefit there. Rabbits are fiercely territorial and will fight to the death (by biting each other’s genitals) if they aren’t familiarized. Basically, the rabbits are slowly introduced to each other every day in small increments until they can tolerate each other safely without micromanagement. This can take anywhere from 1-6 weeks, starting at 20 minutes together and leading up to 4 hours or more a day, depending on their temperaments. Today was day 21 of the bonding experience between Teddy and Courtney, both females. Yesterday, they were together for 40 minutes before Courtney started pulling fur out of Teddy and they had to be separated. Today, I watched them for two and a half hours with minimal aggression (some thumping of the feet and one or two chase scenes, but no guns were drawn and no cars were wrecked) and they were only separated because it was the end of the day. Success! Here’s Teddy, a very overweight bun with great markings who loves grooming Courtney even though she picks on her:


Teddy’s profile:

I didn’t really get to hang out with the rest of the rabbits, but I kind of tried to watch them during the afternoon to see how they behaved. They’re all really cute, but they are pretty independent and don’t crave human interaction, unless you’re feeding them.

LyleAbove is Lyle, he lives with the adorable Netherland dwarf pictured below. It’s tough being roomies with someone so miniature, but Lyle handles it pretty well by being outgoing and quick. Lyle really likes romaine, but only the soft part of the leaf, not the hard stem. His head is a little blurry in this photo because rabbits move fast and randomly.

Lyle’s Profile:


Charlie is a Netherland dwarf (thanks, Jade!) with an attitude. He knows how cute he is, and flashes his baby blues every chance he gets. He forms this fantastic little green moustache after eating his favorite treat – cilantro – which is what he’s chomping on in the photo above, and I’ve been told that if he eats raspberries, he sports a lovely grin full of lipstick!

Charlie’s profile:

And this is Conley. I’m hoping to learn more about him tomorrow, but I did notice that when he moves, he drags his hips and rear legs around, rather than hopping – which I assume is from a back injury, arthritis, or something related to old age. He was slightly shy and would pull himself into his hide box when he was frightened, but I managed to sneak a video of him nomming on some delicious romaine. Something about the sound of a bunny chewing is reminiscent of a cat purring, and is actually quite relaxing to me. Maybe I am a rabbit person, after all.

Conley’s profile:

Squirt, Zinnia, & Annette

Yesterday was my last day in cats. I had a lot of conflicted feelings around working with cats in general, which kept my week interesting. Initially, I was stoked to be working with cats, I mean, I’ve had cats my whole life, so I knew that I liked them. Then I remembered that I absolutely abhorred cleaning out litter boxes, and wasn’t sold on the prospect that if I took a job as a cat caregiver, I’d have to do that every day. By day 3, I was finally learning many of the cats’ names and personalities, and litter boxes were fairly easy since they were being dumped and refilled every day, not scooped – plus the process was pretty much streamlined thanks to years of experience by past caregivers. By Friday, I was looking online for a job with the cats in Casa de CalMar (thanks to another intern who already applied and needs a roommate if this all works out, she’s also extremely cool and I’m really glad that our lives have crossed paths).

For week 2 of my internship here at Best Friends, I’ll be working with rabbits. I have only had bad experiences with rabbits in the past, but I’m determined to make this a better adventure and work my hardest (even with my sprain boot still on, which I’ll write about…eventually) to learn more about them. Until Monday though, here are a few more friends I made while working in Cat World, including some wild turkeys:

And then I couldn’t pick just one, so here’s Squirt, Zinnia, and Annette, the extraordinary lobby cats.

BFAS - Squirt, Zinna, Annette

Squirt is usually sleeping in the window and rarely leaves her perch. Whenever I walked past her room, she would raise her little head and say “hey!” in the squeakiest mew, squinting her blue eyes at the disturbance. It was really difficult not to shower her adorable innocence with affection.

Zinnia is a lovely little Russian Blue who loves full body rubs. Anytime I would sit in the room, she was on my lap and stretching out to the full length of my thighs. She kneaded my knees during a good petting, and left quite a few love pricks through my jeans.

Annette is a stoic, but temperamental tabby with the silkiest fur. She’d sleep in a bed that sat waist high in the narrow hallway. Sometimes she was so deep into her kitty dreams that she’d tolerate me loving on her; other times she would swat and hiss anyone that invaded her bubble (which ranged from the tips of her whiskers to the entire hallway). Annette also was a great supervisor during meal prep, and made sure to taste test everything before it went out. Quality control at its finest!

All of these cats are ‪‎FeLV‬+ and love the company of other felines.

Squirt’s profile:
Zinnia’s profile:
Annette’s profile:


After a long morning spent cleaning out rooms full of cats and all the messy things that come with that, the afternoon was a welcome respite. I returned to find a cat that wanted some alone time, and was told he really enjoyed walks. So we harnessed him up and took him outside. Mind you, I’m still only in the first week and a half of wearing my lovely tall sprain boot (for the sprained ankle I may have forgotten to mention…anyway, my left ankle is sprained), so getting around is slightly awkward and cumbersome – not to mention loud. Velcro. Velcro everywhere. Luckily, the cats seem to enjoy the sound, or at least they don’t mind it…look, they’re not complaining, ok? Barney actually liked my boot because it’s like a mobile chin scratcher, and since I followed him around, it was ever so convenient. Here’s a short teaser of what most of our walk looked like:

And here’s Barney from the front – note his happy claws digging into the sand (and his freckled nose!):

BFAS - Barney

I’ve tried walking cats before, and it’s always ended right as it began…because thecat turned into a sack of cement. Here at ‪Best Friends, they have many furry friends that enjoy strolls through the high desert landscape, including felines! The thing I had to remember was that I do not walk the cat, the cat walks me. Beautiful Barney (Bo’s brother) took me on a nice little jaunt around Cat World this afternoon and showed me his favorite spots. He talked a bit, occasionally rolled in the dirt, and stopped to snack on dry grass, but he was a great tour guide. He’s FeLV‬+ and always looking for a new adventure.

Barney’s Profile:








I’ve passed the halfway mark on my first week as an intern at Best Friends Animal Society. I feel like I’ve learned a ton, yet there’s so much more I don’t know. I’m trying to pay attention to everything and keep mental notes, but my internal filing system is overflowing. Thankfully, afternoon downtime means being able to sit with the cats and socialize with them in the sunny catios (patios for cats!). As soon as I find a chair in a sunbeam, the cats swarm around me – a couple will play king of the hill for my lap, one will wrestle with my shoelaces, and others will weave between the chair legs. It’s an intriguing dynamic, and it’s even more interesting when the turkeys show up to eat all the treats that have fallen outside of the gates. It was a long time volunteer’s birthday yesterday, and a piñata stuffed with kibble was hung in one of the catios for her to bash open. Treats went everywhere, and eventually there is too much of a good thing.

Once everyone calmed down, the turkeys showed up – a whole gang of big males – to help with the mess. As they silently picked their way closer and closer to the cages, the cats watched with serious determination. Then, one by one, they lunged at the turkeys, scaring them into a flapping frenzy. Yet the turkeys recovered and persevered, continuing on down the line of catteries until every last treat was pecked up. The lunging and scaring happened multiple times, but I think they knew there was nothing the little furballs could do; they were about 1/3 the size of these birds. After all of that excitement, it was time for the 5th nap of the day, and beds were filled with dozing purrs.

BFAS - Murray

I can’t walk into room 2 without Murray loudly proclaiming that he wants attention. He is quite the talker, and would probably type in all caps if he knew how to use a keyboard. As I move around his enclosure, he’ll find a perch to reach my shoulder and ride along, purring into my neck and hair (and he gives a not-so-professional-but-free massage…with claws). He’s FeLV‬+ and just about the happiest little orange ‪‎cat‬ one could hope to meet. Murray celebrated his first birthday this month, which can be a big milestone when they’re diagnosed with FeLV so young. Here’s to many more!

Murray’s profile:


It’s been about 5 years since I tried this. Let’s start over.

Hi, my name is Lys. I’m just over my quarter-life hump, and sailing through the crisis that accompanies that. To cope, I’m finally pursuing my dream to work with animals. In The Southern Part of Nowhere, Utah. The great thing about it is that I’m not alone. I have found my people, and the animals that I’ve always wanted to surround myself with. This will be a short journal to keep track of my journey, and hopefully to my lifelong career. I’ll get to some background later, if at all, so here’s the present:


Day 2 of my internship at Best Friends’ Animal Society – Casa De Calmar‬ / Cat World: I made friends with Bo the handsome tomcat‬. This guy has such a great face, like he could tell the best stories. He’s a big boy with a gentle heart, and he softly pads behind me, waiting for me to sit so he can get a lap to curl up on. Though he’s intimidating in size, he is friendly with all the other cats – even grooming them when they allow – and moves calmly regardless of what’s going on around him. He’s FeLV‬+ and absolutely loving life (though a forever home would be even better!). Casa De Calmar houses about 50 cats that have tested positive for FeLV, or Feline Leukemia Virus. FeLV can cause anemia and lymphoma among other serious illnesses. The virus can also suppress the cats’ immune system, affecting their ability to fight off bacteria, viruses, and fungi which contribute to other serious health problems. The average lifespan of a cat with FeLV is around 4 years, though they can live longer depending on when they became infected. It is transferrable through saliva (sharing food/water bowls, bites and scratches), shared litter boxes, and from mother to kittens in utero/during feeding. There is no cure for this disease, so quality of life is very important.

Bo’s adoption profile: