Alternative vacations are journeys that are intended to satisfy multiple holiday objectives. In addition to breaking out of the nine-to-five routine, embarking to exotic locales and spending quality-time with loved ones, alternative vacations also offer unique and satisfying opportunities to do a good turn for others.
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For example, during spring break, my family (consisting of my lovely wife, Susan, and two beautiful daughters, Claire and Ruby) and I rented an RV for a week-long adventure in the southwest. Lest this outing might sound excessively bourgeois, I should hasten to add that the motivation for our journey was purely altruistic--well almost. For the second year running, my family and I made arrangements to volunteer at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, http://www.bestfriends.org
In case you haven't heard of it, Best Friends is a sprawling preserve that is set in Utah's southern red rocks region. In addition to being situated in a stunningly beautiful corner of the southwest, Best Friends serves as a monument to the special bond between humans and their animal compadres. To put it mildly, animals are mightily indulged at Best Friends. Indeed, one could even argue that they are downright spoiled: never would I have imagined a pig's peccadilloes, a dog's desires, or a horse's hankerings pandered to as immoderately as I have witnessed at Best Friends. In truth, it might be more accurate to describe Best Friends as the Fields of Elysium for animals who, in too many cases, have weathered more than their fair share of tribulations during their brief lives. From horses to dogs, cats, bunnies, pot-bellied pigs and a fair number of other critters, care providers at Best Friends do their utmost redeem the deficit of love and attention that their animal refugees have previously failed to encounter. And, in that same spirit, the volunteers at Best Friends are encouraged to be similarly unstinting.
Honestly, you've got to experience Best Friends to believe it. It's difficult to imagine that such a vast and unreserved fountain of collective human kindness could actually exist in this dog-eat-dog world.
Volunteers at Best Friends work in half-day shifts. This year, our volunteer assignments began with dogs. We spent the better part of one morning feeding, walking and playing with a kennel full of pound puppies. The toughest part was tearing ourselves away at lunchtime.
During the afternoon, we took pot-bellied pigs for walks--and, for those of you who are smirking, this is a vastly more challenging exercise than the uninitiated might imagine. On our final morning, we tidied up a bunny house that was overflowing with disabled rabbits. I'm not joking about this. Where else on god's green earth could hundreds of disabled rabbits catch this kind of break?
Even though the purpose of volunteering at Best Friends is to provide aid and comfort to the sanctuary's rescued residents, in my opinion, it's the volunteers who reap the greatest benefits. I am convinced that, at some point in our lives, everyone should have an opportunity to visit a selflessly altruistic sanctuary like Best Friends. In all sincerity, if people could learn to be as kind, generous and forgiving as the Best Friends' staff are with their charges, then the world would be a much better place. I can't think of a more valuable educational experience to share with my kids.
In closing, if you've got some time on your hands, and you are looking for a beautiful getaway, then I recommend an alternative vacation at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. You'll get dirt in your shoes, grit in your sandwich and a renewed faith in the virtues of human generosity.
Photo provided courtesy of Barbara Pritchard (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.