Today, we are excited to share with you the story of Candice Acquino, our Global Marketing & Production Associate, who in true Living Barefoot-fashion traveled across the United States to give back to a cause that is dear to her. In her words…

Last month I celebrated my 30th birthday by traveling across the country from Boston to Kanab, Utah to volunteer at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the United States’ largest no-kill animal shelter. I’ve been an animal lover all my life, and growing up in a very wooded area on Long Island gave me lots of opportunities to nurse any number of small animals back to health, from mice to turtles to even the occasional snake! I also have a special place in my heart for adopted animals: we always visited the local animal shelter whenever we wanted to add a new furry member to the family. When I found out about Best Friends through watching their National Geographic show DogTown, I knew this was where I wanted to for my big birthday trip.

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is a 3,800 acre animal sanctuary nestled in the middle of a beautiful canyon in Utah. It is home to horses, dogs, cats, pigs, birds and exotic animals. Each animal is adoptable, or training to become adoptable. For most of them, Best Friends offered a welcome sanctuary from some very unfortunate situations. The work Best Friends does gives second chances to animals that may have otherwise never had any hope of finding a forever home and a loving family to take care of them. Despite the sanctuary’s remote rural location, it gets about 8,000 volunteers a year. These volunteers are vital to Best Friends-without them, this wonderful organization would not be able to continue all the great work it does.

At Best Friends, you have the option to volunteer in any-or all-of the designated areas, but my wife Patty and I chose to spend our time volunteering in the dog only area (otherwise known as “Dogtown”) the entire time. In the first part of our stay we were in a section filled with older dogs, and were tasked with sweeping and cleaning up, walking and feeding them, and simply taking time to sit in their runs with them for a quick snuggle. All the dogs were so friendly and so excited to have visitors to play with and show their toys to!

For the second part of our stay we were in the puppy only area, where we attended a puppy preschool class, worked on several training techniques, walked (or more aptly, attempted to walk!) them and gave them tons of love. The puppies were so adorable, and several were actually adopted out during our visit!

One of my favorite parts of our visit was participating in their doggy sleepover program. Best Friends encourages these sleepovers so the dog gets a peek into the life they would lead with a forever family. The volunteers are encouraged to put the dog in a situation, like sleeping in a hotel or going out to a restaurant, to see how they behave.  In this way, they can assess any issues that might come up that wouldn’t be triggered by their daily life at the Sanctuary. The other main reason for the sleepovers is that they give the dogs a chance to have one-on-one time with humans, and to take a quiet break from their normally very busy days living in Dogtown. For our sleepover dog Tidbit, that meant a long and peaceful nap on our hotel bed (pictured above)!

We had such a great time at Best Friends meeting so many amazing animals and connecting with the other staff and volunteers — I can’t wait to start planning my next trip out there! And if you are looking to add a new furry friend to your family, please think about visiting your local animal shelter. Adopting an animal is such a rewarding experience and can teach you so much about the unconditional love and trust that those animals can show you. For those of you in North America, you can also visit this site to search for adoptable dogs-and other animals in need of homes-in your area.

What is a charity, cause or non-profit organization that you care deeply about? Don’t forget — it’s never too late to start volunteering and giving back to your community!

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