From Pilot to Animal Rescuer

Serial reinventor Juliette Watt had been a casino card dealer, singer, soap opera writer and flight instructor. Then a volunteer vacation at an animal sanctuary set her on another path.

By Susan Crandell
Photograph: Photo: Jesse Chehak

Back in Utah, workdays are less dramatic. On a typical morning at Best Friends, Watt (now earning several thousand dollars more than she did in 2003) dresses for action in jeans, trail runners, a piggy paradise sweatshirt and a sparkle of eyeshadow. She’s a blur of motion, ponytail bouncing as she oversees workers stacking wooden supply-transport pallets, rustles up shovels for heaving gravel into storage cans and briefs volunteers on how to tidy an area outside Piggy Paradise headquarters. Patting shoulders as she bustles by, she calls everyone “darling” and swiftly molds a gaggle of California kids on spring break into a hardworking team. The students are here for a week, rotating through the various Best Friends neighborhoods. In Piggy Paradise, they fall in love with a potbelly named Sprocket and beg to take him on a sleepover to the house in Kanab where they’re staying. Best Friends lets volunteers take animals home overnight, and Sprocket, housebroken and unflappable, is on the approved list. Watt calls the owner of the house for permission, arranges for a van to transport the pig and asks her husband to send a photographer so they can post a story (“Sprocket Goes to Town”) on Best Friends’ website. 

 The constant motion of Watt’s job (“My iPhone is my office”) serves her restless spirit, but it’s Best Friends’ rescued horses that thrill her most. “They’re always monitoring what’s going on around them,” she says. “They reflect back the emotions you send out.” Not surprisingly, the Watt household has now swelled to three horses (two of them are fosters), three goats, six dogs and a group of feral cats.

Living in Kanab has also enriched Watt’s relationships with humans. “The silence of this place magnifies your inner self,” she says. “There are no distractions, so you concentrate on friendships. I’ve made the best friends of my life here.” On weekends, she and Jason cook with their buddies, watch rented films or go hiking. “The move was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Jason says. “It’s given me challenges, opportunities and skills I would never have had. I won’t ever leave.”

Still, there are trade-offs. Jason misses New Jersey pizza, Watt hankers for Whole Foods, and the nearest Target is 80 miles away. Kanab, population 5,400, is a place where you make your own happiness.

Of course, there’s a sad side to working at an animal sanctuary. “A dog was turned in a few years ago because he didn’t match the color scheme of the new house,” she recalls. Many of Best Friends’ inhabitants come from hoarders who amass hundreds of animals they cannot care for. And then there are the cruelty cases. “We did a rescue in Gabbs, Nevada, of dogs abandoned in pens in the middle of the desert. One, named Tuffy, survived the most awful injuries.” But the sanctuary’s success stories make the sadness more bearable. “Tuffy is happy and healthy now and in a wonderful home,” says Watt. That so many animals, even gravely injured ones, can be rescued, healed and placed for adoption inspires her to keep going.

Lately, Watt’s work at Best Friends has led to an interest in natural horse training, a style pioneered by Pat Parelli, who runs a worldwide organization that teaches people how to become the animal’s partner instead of its master. “I observed a demonstration class at Best Friends and realized I’d been working with horses the wrong way all my life,” Watt says. Now she wants to study the method, continue working at Best Friends and eventually run a side business as a Parelli horsemanship instructor. “I can use my airplane to visit clients who want me to train their horses,” she says. Will this be her last career change? Unlikely. When a visitor to Best Friends describes her as a serial reinventor, Watt cracks a big smile. “That’s the nicest thing anybody’s ever said to me.”

Volunteering at Best Friends

First Published November 15, 2010

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