KANAB, Utah (ABC4) – Just a short drive away from some of Southern Utah’s most awe-inspiring national parks and natural wonders rests a plot of land equally as magical for many visitors and those who call it home.

Funny enough, most of the residents there are furry and walk on four legs.

Situated on a massive, 3,700-acre property which is surrounded by 30,000 more acres of leased land at the bottom of the Beehive State, the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary houses and cares for over 1,500 animals, including dogs, cats, bunnies, birds, horses, and pigs. The sanctuary is operated by the Best Friends Animal Society, which was founded by a group of animal-loving friends back in 1984.

According to the society’s website, the group of pals, made of up of 31 friends from all over the globe, bought the land with the dream of creating a safe place for displaced animals, providing a solution to the mass animal euthanasia that was raging across the country at the time.

Since the sanctuary’s early days, which included straightening used nails by hand to build the makeshift shelters, the center has developed a reputation as one of the leading animal care facilities in the country, if not the world. National Geographic has done feature stories on the sanctuary, which drew fame for rehabilitating 22 pit bulls rescued from former NFL player Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring a few years ago.

Chili and Peanut gallop in the snow at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. (Courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society)

Faith Maloney, one of the founders of the sanctuary, tells ABC4 that the Best Friends Animal Society’s goal of creating a “no-kill” world for animals has come a long way since the 70s and 80s.

“Back then, it was terrible for animals, and we think that’s really why we started this, we became aware of how many animals were dying in our national shelters back then,” Maloney explains. “The figure that was quoted back then was that 17 million dogs and cats were losing their lives every year in the nation shelters, which is, like, unbelievable.”

Back in those days, shelters didn’t just put down animals for health reasons — which Maloney says can be a humane solution — but also for space. If there wasn’t enough room for an animal, it was often killed by the shelter.

With the goal in mind to provide a space with plenty of room for animals, the sanctuary was founded. Holding 4,000 acres of Southern Utah land, and using just 350 for the sanctuary itself, there is no shortage of space at Best Friends. And thanks to the efforts of groups like Best Friends, the nation is closer than ever to ending the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters.

A couple of volunteer guests interact with a pig at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. (Courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society)

While the sanctuary can be a great place for animals of all ages to live, and hopefully be adopted at some point, Best Friends has also become a source of tranquility for the many volunteers who come to visit from across the country.

“What we see with the volunteers, particularly people who are coming out of high-pressure jobs in a city or an urban area, they really let go when they come here because it’s fresh air, everywhere you look, is fantastic, is awesome,” Maloney says.

The sanctuary provides some accommodations for visitors, which Maloney says are sometimes booked a year or so in advance. While staying at the property, the volunteers can enjoy cleaning the animal’s quarters, feeding them, walking them around the area, and even having a cuddly sleepover with a new furry friend. A lot of times, volunteers go home with a new member of the family in tow.

Can the sanctuary be as therapeutic for humans as it is for animals? Maloney says absolutely.

Faith Maloney, as known as “Chief Dog,” plays with a pair of pups at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab. (Courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society)

“People are drawn here because of the animals and they love animals and they want to work with the animals. And I don’t think they would necessarily think that this would be so beneficial for them. But, you know, it only takes one time. We get a lot of repeat business from our volunteers because they just know it recharges them to go back to L.A. or Salt Lake or New York, you know, wherever it is they’re from. They just kind of get a whole big boost from coming here,” she says.

A lifelong lover of animals, and the founder of the area of sanctuary known as “DogTown,” (she has even gotten a nickname, “Chief Dog,” for her ability to connect with the canines), Maloney feels lucky that the sanctuary was built near an area known for such natural wonder. It’s a big reason why folks keep coming back to experience what she and the other best friends to the sanctuary’s animal residents provide.

“It’s otherworldly/ If you’ve been living in a city most of your life or you work inside the city, then coming out here to the country, and this beautiful red rock country is so rewarding and enriching for our volunteers.”