You can enjoy a rewarding and uplifting vacation at your choice of several hundred havens for animals in need, found all over America
If you love animals and care about their well-being, why not give them a hand on your next vacation? Instead of simply lying on a beach, you could be cutting papayas for iguanas, feeding fledglings, brushing a horse, soothing a bewildered cat, or hiking mountain trails with a grateful dog. You could be volunteering at an animal sanctuary. Hundreds of organizations all over America are engaged in the improvement of animals' lives: in species conservation, wildlife rehabilitation, education, and shelter. And most of them welcome the casual volunteer and appreciate assistance, whether to prepare special diets, add muscle to a construction project, clean cages, provide transportation, staff gift-shop sales, or even do fund-raising. They're in all time zones and climates, near national parks, interesting towns, and resort areas. With a modicum of research, you can create a meaningful vacation that's also fun and easy on your budget.
How to do it You simply choose a destination and then do a Web search for that area under zoos-worldwide.com, greenpeople.org, agsites.net, or save-a-pet.com. Check with the Humane Society (hsus.org) to find local chapters-look for the "Volunteering" category. Establish a dialogue; let them know your availability, targeted visiting time, and interest in helping. Some sanctuaries are large enough to provide housi ng, and all will suggest nearby budget facilities appropriate for short-term visits. As with any vacation, choosing an off-peak time may widen both the opportunity to get involved and the availability of flights or car rentals.
Three sample sanctuaries Located just outside Watkins Glen, New York, Farm Sanctuary (3100 Aikens Rd., 607/583-2225, farmsanctuary.org) is a "traditional" farm that was purchased in 1986 by Lorri and Gene Bauston as a refuge for agricultural animals. Here, on 175 rolling green acres, contented cows, fuzzy rabbits, grunting pigs, placid sheep, clucking chickens, turkeys, and ducks live out their natural lives in sweet retirement. A membership base of more than 100,000 (including a sister facility in Orland, California) works to promote humane farming legislation, animal adoptions, and a vegan lifestyle.
Volunteers (interns) who commit to a month's stay at Farm Sanctuary are housed together on the premises. Bed-and-breakfast cottages are available on the farm from May to October and cost $55 per night for the first person (with Sanctuary membership; $65 without), $10 for each additional guest, for two double beds and vegan breakfast (with discounts for longer stays). And volunteers clean animal barns or work on special projects.
If you'd rather live off-sanctuary, then head north from nearby Watkins Glen on Route 414 and stay in woodsy cabins at Chalet Leon at Hector Falls, a postcard-perfect waterfall cascading into Seneca Lake (3835 Rte. 414, 607/546-7171; $50 to $99 a night per room, with weekly rates as well). Ithaca and Cornell University are a short drive southeast.
Wildlife Care Center (3200 SW 4th Ave., 954/343-0758, wildcare.org) in congested south Florida is a jungly enclave lodged between the Fort Lauderdale airport, I-95, and the coast. Here, native species caught in the steamrolling path of development need all the help they can get-over 13,000 animals were aided by the center in 2002. Wildlife Care C enter rescues, rehabilitates, and releases native wildlife that has been injured or displaced, and treats confiscated exotic pets, birds, reptiles, as well as all manner of mammals, including horses, hamsters, raccoons, and guinea pigs. In March, baby birds requiring round-the-clock eyedropper feeding inundate the place, requiring extra volunteers, who are also needed for grounds-keeping, habitat construction, and transportation. The center is open all year; call for a heads-up about upcoming projects.
While there's no lodging on the premises, you can stay nearby along the older tourist corridor of Federal Highway (U.S. 1) for less than beachfront rates. The family-run Carolina Court Motel (3001 S. Federal Hwy., 954/462-9175), just north of the airport, charges $45 to $70 a night depending on the season for a room with two double beds, and there's a Motel 6 (825 E. Dania Beach Blvd., 954/921-5505) charging $40 to $62 a night farther south in antiques-filled Dania Beach, on th e way to a low-key beach and fishing pier. A popular meal deal is the all-you-can-eat soup and salad buffet (lots of fresh-cut veggies) for less than $10 at Sweet Tomatoes (2906 Oakwood Blvd., 954/923-9444), located in the Oakwood Plaza in Hollywood.
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (5001 Angel Canyon Rd., 435/644-2001, bestfriends.org) in Kanab, Utah, is America's largest no-kill animal refuge, whose war cry is "No more homeless pets!" On 3,300 acres of terra-cotta desert, thousands of abandoned, displaced, and abused animals have found a temporary or permanent home here. A staff of 200, along with thousands of devoted volunteers, give attention to every individual dog, cat, bird, horse, sheep, goat, and bunny unlucky or lucky enough to find their way there-1,500 to 1,800 animals in all.
After a van tour and orientation at the visitor's center, volunteers can groom, feed, and walk the residents of "Dogtown" or "Old Friends" over trails with vistas of white and pink buttes. They can attend to business in "Kittyville" or "Benton's House," named for a former feline inhabitant. Bird fans help out at "Wild and Feathered Friends."
Best Friends makes regular forays into nearby Las Vegas and Salt Lake City with platoons of adoptable animals. The goal: to make the killing of unwanted pets an outdated practice in Utah and beyond through spay-and-neuter education and aggressive placement programs.
In a stunning setting evoking old Hollywood Westerns, guests of Best Friends can stay in eight cabins on the grounds of Angel Canyon, overlooking the horse pastures ($100 daily for two people, $10 each additional), or five miles south on Route 89 in Kanab, a gateway to Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon national parks (entry is $20 a car) or Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (no fee). There's a wide choice of less-costly motels and lodges from $35 to $80 a night, depending on the season, and some friends of Best Friends give discounts to volunteers. Try A iken's Lodge (79 W. Center St., 800/524-9999; $35 to $56 a night for a double).
At the Vermilion Cafe Bar and Espresso (4 E. Center St., 435/644-3886) in the center of town, you can get a good cup of coffee, surf the Net, peruse the magazine collection, and pick up local gossip. The proprietor also rents rooms on a longer-term basis to nonsmokers. To inquire, call the number above or e-mail email@example.com. For a gourmet dinner and post-volunteering treat, dine at Kanab's attractive Rocking V Cafe (97 W. Center St., 435/644-8001).
At any of the sanctuaries, remember to watch your energy and balance the tasks at hand with time off for yourself. It's a challenge, because when you are doing something you love, time flies faster than a speeding Border collie.