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Take a Look Inside the Best Friends Internship Program

The society's serene Utah sanctuary trains scores of volunteers in animal welfare. They can chose to work with rescue dogs and cats, of course, but also horses, pigs, bunnies, and parrots!

Wendy Newell  |  Apr 29th 2015


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The Best Friends Animal Society Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, may be best known for its rescues who made international news. Many of Michael Vick’s Vicktory Dogs were rehabilitated at the sanctuary, and, more recently, German Shepherd Bela was brought there after her owner died and had as an option in her will that her dog be euthanized (Bela has also since passed and was buried with her owner).

The Best Friends Animal Society Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. (All photos courtesy Best Friends)

The sanctuary is more than just a place for dogs who need help, though, it’s a refuge where animals of many different species can find safety in a no-kill environment, and even have the opportunity to meet their new forever family. Best Friends also has as its mission to help the U.S. become a no-kill nation. One of the ways it works toward this important goal is through volunteer internships at the sanctuary.

An intern works with one of the residents of Dogtown.

Eileen Clark, manager of Best Friends’ Learning Experience, explains how her department is making a difference. “A lot of people didn’t know about Best Friends, and they didn’t know about things they could do in the community.”

Clark came to Best Friends in 2008 and was originally a Dogtown caregiver. Dogtown houses the dogs who call the sanctuary home — not to be confused with Cat World, Horse Haven, Marshall’s Piggy Paradise, Bunny House, Parrot Garden, or Wild Friends, which are all on the grounds in Utah. Clark now runs the sanctuary’s internship program along with other learning opportunities Best Friends offers.

An intern poses with Pony Boy.

An intern helps with training.

There are two different Internship programs. One is a five-week general animal-care program that focuses on a different animal area each week. There is a week for dogs, one for cats, and the final three are chosen by the participant based on interest. The second program is four months long, with in-depth studies done in one specific animal group. Clark explains, “We not only want these folks to come in and get a feel for what it’s like to work at a sanctuary, but to get a feel for what they can do when they leave.”

Both internship programs are open to people 20 years of age and older. Clark explains that the age limitation is very purposeful. This isn’t a program necessarily designed for high school students who are still trying to decide their path in life. The detailed syllabuses are geared toward those who are “interested in a hands-on experience with animals in a sanctuary setting, but who are also interested in a career in animal care or animal welfare.”

During the five-week general animal-care internship, Clark’s department sets up presentations by industry leaders, covering such topics as advocating for Pit Bull Terriers, learning the basics of TNR (trap-neuter-return) programs, puppy development, quality of life, and adoptions. Participants also sit in on sanctuary activities such as dog assessments, which are conducted to help understand where a dog should be housed, what additional (if any) rehabilitation is needed, and what level of interaction the dog can have with visitors.

An intern poses during his Dogtown rotation.

An intern works with Avril on some focus training.

Of course, those five-week interns aren’t getting away from classes! Puppy Socialization and Shy Dog are just a couple of examples of courses interns attend. Then there is an extensive list of topics covered in each animal area. The focus for each intern is geared toward his interests and can include feeding, training, socialization, basic medical care, vaccine protocols, and special-needs animals.

Clark explains that one of the great things to see is an intern realize she has a passion for an animal group she didn’t original intend to love. This love happens fast according to Clark — within the week. “It’s that ah-ha moment, that ‘I [the intern] knew I was supposed to be here, but I didn’t know why, and now I get it.'”

A happy intern gets in some cuddle time.

The four-month internship has attendees focusing on one of the sanctuary’s animal groups. Currently the program is offered in dogs, cats, parrots, and horses. The dog group is by far the most popular, and Clark herself is impressed with the level of detailed training available. “As a caregiver in Dogtown, I read through their syllabus; they [interns] learn more in that four months than I did in a year and half as a caregiver. It’s pretty complete!”

Despite the hard work and intensive syllabus, or perhaps because of it, Best Friends interns often stick around, with about 50 percent of them being hired to work at the sanctuary. Those who don’t stay go back to their community to help pass on what they have learned.

A group of 2015 interns shows off their certificates of completion.

At the end of the program, each intern is tested and receives a certificate of completion, which can help open doors to positions that will further their animal-focused careers. When possible, Best Friends will also reach out to its network to help make introductions.

Best Friends’ internship programs are available throughout the year, although there are a limited number of spots available. Internships are unpaid, and participants must pay for their own living expenses. To apply for one of the internships and learn more, go to the Best Friends Animal Society’s website. You can also check out the Learning Experience’s Facebook page to follow programs that are currently happening.

Read more on Best Friends Animal Society on Dogster and Catster:

About the author: Wendy Newell is a former VP of Sales turned Grade A Dog Sitter. After years of stress, she decided to leave the world of “always be closing” to one of tail wags and licks. Wendy’s new career keeps her busy hiking, being a dog chauffeur, picking up poo, sacrificing her bed, and other fur-filled activities. Wendy and her dog, Riggins, take their always-changing pack of pups on adventures throughout the Los Angeles area, where they live together in a cozy, happy home. You can learn more about Wendy, Riggins, and their adventures on Facebook and Instagram.