Nine students and two staff members followed the road from Nevada to Kanab, Utah during spring break, to spend a week as volunteers at the no-kill, 3,000-acre Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Angel Canyon.
The co-curricular trip was a way “for our students to give back to a community partner that has demonstrated a need and to offer an immersive experience that provided an opportunity for each student to stretch their limits and learn about themselves as well,” says Gregg Grenier, Assistant Director for Student Leadership & Involvement.
Traveling with Gregg and Katie Walper, Freshman Services Specialist/Success Coach with CONNECT, the eight undergraduate and one graduate student worked with the volunteers and some of the 300 employees of the sanctuary who work to assure each animal has a place. “There were cats, dogs, rabbits, birds, pigs, horses, and more,” says Grenier.
In the morning and afternoon each day, students would work with subsets of animals, learning about them and assisting with their maintenance and care (i.e. weeding, cleaning living spaces, clearing trails, and feeding animals) . “Some days we got to take cats on stroller rides and play with the pot-bellied pigs, who like having their bellies rubbed,” says Grenier. He adds that the interactions were all part of the socialization of the animals, many of which were not only abandoned, but abused.
The students learned about animal behavior and how difficult it is to understand how they sometimes react. “You couldn’t just make an assumption that a puppy would want to play. They might be shy or scared,” Grenier says. “The students watched as the workers earned the animals’ trust.”
In the evening, the group got to form their own community at the pet-friendly hotel, dining together on the food that the students cooked themselves. “It was a great way for the students to get to know each other and to get out of their comfort zones by preparing meals for their peers,” says Grenier. “The relationships have continued back on campus.”
Grenier calls this Mustang Service Break a phenomenal experience. “A lot of students on the trip had not volunteered with animals before. They got to learn and appreciate the backstories of their prior life and rescue.”
And, he adds, the students, through sharing their daily journals, got to learn a lot about their own backstories and were challenged to reflect each day on what they had learned and felt.
One student, a Criminal Justice major says the trip made her sure that the career she plans as an animal control officer is the right choice. Another found the highlight of the trip was meeting a Mount Ida alumnae who worked at the sanctuary and gaining the self-confidence to introduce himself and engage in conversation about their Mount Ida bond.
One thing is abundantly clear, says Grenier. “We will be going back.”