By Jim Struve
I have visited Best Friends Animal Sanctuary many times during the past decade, each time offering my volunteer time in service for abused, neglected, or orphaned animals who inhabit the Sanctuary. Memories are vividly held deep in my heart and mind, as well as somatically throughout my body.
I remember my first visit: sitting on a sofa in the midst of a large screened-in porch; surrounded by a multitude of cats, some roaming the open ceiling beams above my head, some watching me while hiding amongst objects throughout the room; some of them cautiously scurrying across the outer frontiers of the sofa. Most of the cats had visible injuries: damaged or severed limbs, missing or destroyed sensory organs, remnants of chronic or untreatable physical health issues, skiddish behaviors that communicated traumatic psychological harm.
Provide A Safe Presence
My instruction as a volunteer was simple and excruciatingly difficult: just sit on a sofa in the middle of the room and provide a genuinely safe presence so the cats could decide whether and to what distance they felt safe to approach me.
As a survivor of sexual victimization, I immediately accessed my empathy and understood that my job was to breathe deeply, ground myself, and open my heart to unconditional acceptance so I could genuinely be a safe object for the cats. No judgement of the cats who wanted to maintain their distance from me; no favoritism of the cats who risked approaching me more closely.
As I sat on the sofa adsorbing the overwhelming emotions of my experience, I envisioned someday returning to the Sanctuary with a group of survivors: survivors providing service work to contribute to the healing journey for animals who are trauma survivors.
MenHealing Best Friends Service Project is Born
I have continued to volunteer at the Sanctuary for many years. In 2019, I approached Best Friends with a proposal for Alumni. They were receptive and we planned an event for 2020. Unfortunately, COVID delayed our initial visit until April 2021. We recently returned in April 2022 for what has become an annual MenHealing – Best Friends Service Project.
The Project has evolved into a combined WOR Alumni – MenHealing Support Staff Service Project. MenHealing is committed to supporting other organizations whose purpose intersects with our mission to provide resources for healing from trauma. This Service Project demonstrates our commitment in action, not just words. Healing our animal friends deepens the experience of our own personal healing.
Our 2022 Service Project was varied and profound. We spent time sprucing up the landscapes surrounding Dog Town and Horse Haven, enhancing the environment in which those animals live. We had time to interact with orphaned puppies being prepared for adoption; we interacted with horses who had vision impairments, from missing eyes and even one spirited horse who was completely blind. We were able to visit the goats, including several infant goats. We offered cleaned outdoor cages for several dogs who have been quarantined due to distemper; then we doned haz-med clothing to allow one-to-one physical contact inside the cages for these dogs who had been deprived of human contact for the previous 2 weeks.
In addition, we enjoyed several hikes in the surrounding environment which is stunningly beautiful. A highlight was sharing time hiking together in nearby Zion National Park.
Stay Tuned for Future Best Friends Weekends
We plan to continue this Best Friends Service Project and Hiking Weekend as an annual activity. We will soon have a short video sharing some moments from our 2022 visit. Stay tuned for more information and registration if you want to join us in 2023.
Special thanks to Jim Struve, MenHealing Executive Director, for sharing his experience. MenHealing offers many different programs. Check out upcoming events to see what is already in the works. Subscribe to the MenHealing email newsletter for up to date news.
To learn more about Best Friends and their incredible work check out their webpage.
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Be well. Stay safe. Take good care.