Half way to Salt Lake City and tears still fill my eyes and run down my cheek. I sob, then laugh, then sob again. It’s a good cry, but my heart is breaking at the same time. Timon, with whom I spent the last 12 hours, is back at his shelter and I am sixty miles north. I don’t know if I will ever see him again; the woman at the desk said she would let me know what happens to him.
Timon is a dog living at the Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS) in Kanab, Utah.
My relationship with the society starts with one serendipitous conversation – something I have come to cherish on the road. Hiking the hoodoos in Bryce, I encounter a trio snapping pictures of each other – you know, two in each picture, rotating the camera, but never capturing the whole group. I offer to take one of the threesome; they are grateful and we strike up a conversation as we walk through the amazing variety of red rock pillars.
They make annual volunteer pilgrimages to BFAS. After telling me about their experience, I make plans to arrive the next morning. Once there, the woman staffing the information counter tells me “there is a volunteer orientation at eleven. If you want to take an animal on a sleepover, you must volunteer with dogs or cats.” “A sleepover,” I inquire.
“Yes, where you take one of our animals overnight,” she says.
“Dogs,” I say after explaining my complete allergy history.
Before the end of the orientation, tears fill my eyes. The Sanctuary overflows with love; it’s in the air and the people working or volunteering here. I make it to Dogtown Headquarters after a wonderful vegetarian lunch in the cafeteria. It’s dusty and hot as I drive up to the main building, which is situated in the middle of the Utah dessert.
My assignment is to take dogs for walks, one at a time so they don’t bite each other. Andy, a Dogtown caretaker, walks with me to show me the trail. Along the way, we swap broad stroke stories of our lives – how he ended up here and where I am going. We also talk about the dogs. He knows practically every one by name and each has a story, many unfortunately unpleasant. Michael Vic’s pitbulls are here, as are dogs who are abused, neglected or sick. No matter, BFAS provides a place for every animal to live out their life.
After the walks, it’s feeding time. We prepare meals in a sink with special ones prepared by the handlers. Andy tells me “many dogs have allergies and eating problems so we have to be careful what we give them.” Jagger, a dog I walked earlier, eats too fast, so receives her food in an upside down bowl that slows her down . . . slightly. Other dogs need enzymes or vitamins. I laugh – they take some of the same stuff I do, with food.
There is amazing calmness that comes over the place after the dogs have eaten. The ones that were barking or digging or feverishly running around are now sitting quietly, resting. “If you’d like to socialize with some of the dogs, you can go into cage 2, 4 or 7, but don’t go outside at 7 and the dog in 4 might nip at you – it’s a nervous thing,” Andy says to me. I choose cage 2 because it seems the safest. There I meet Timon. He’s a friendly, warm 2-and-a-half year old mutt. His run mate is almost as friendly, but I notice that she is eating her stuffed toy – well, ripping it apart and then eating it.
The dogs and I talk for a while and I pet them while in their home – a five-by-five cinderblock cell with a metal gate for a front door and a cot and blanket for each pup. This is where unwanted, unhealthy or dangerous dogs end up – doggy prison. The difference between this and human jail is that someone else is responsible for them being here; they’ve done no crime, but suffer the punishment anyway.
“Have you connected with any dog to take on a sleepover?” Andy asks. “Yeah, Timon,” I reply. A broad smile comes across his face as he says “he’s a great dog, one of my favorites.” Moments later, Timon and his overnight bag – a bed, water bowl, leash, doggy bags and treats – area ready to go. We climb into my Jeep and drive to the Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park. The reddish-pink sand is amazing and I let Timon walk around with leash in tow. He stays close, sometimes venturing away, but when I call him, he perks up his ears and runs back, tongue dangling to one side. We walk and dance on the dunes for an hour.
That evening we dine at a local Mexican restaurant that happens to be dog friendly – many businesses in Kanab are, the work – I suspect – of the BFAS. There are no seats available in the outdoor patio, so two grey-haired Texan women invite me to sit at their table. They have two small dogs with them on their Colorado – Texas trip. Over my chicken chimichanga and their burritos we agree on the best path forward for our country and solve several other world problems – this is another one of those moments I cherish on the road.
Timon and I head back to the hotel room; he sleeps in his bed and I sleep in mine. Andy said he thinks dogs get better rest on sleepovers because they don’t have to sleep with one eye open. I image that’s true and Timon barely moves all night.
The next morning, we get up, have breakfast (Timon has a handful of Scooby snacks) and head back to the shelter. As soon as I’m in the car with him in the back seat, I start to cry, then sob. I’m not at a place in life that I can care for a dog and myself at the same time, but if I were, I would adopt this dog. I cry all the way to the facility, while I wait to turn him back over to the caregivers, then half way to SLC.
The folks at BFAS are grateful for the half-day I spend there and the sleepover with Timon. But I think I get so much more than the dog or anyone there. I get my heart back . . .and it breaks as I drive to SLC without my new buddy.
An update as of this publication from the BFAS: “Timon is doing great, still living with Dixie and is continuing to go on sleepovers.”