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DU Field Notes: Colorado’s splendid species are easy to enjoy

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Alyssa Hurst

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Colorado provides endless opportunities to see the creatures that light up our social feeds and warm our hearts. From greeting chipmunks and deer on the trail to petting the friendly pups that pack our local breweries, we get plenty of chances for a cozy dose of animal lovin’.

Bookmark this list for the next time you need some soulful puppy eyes or want to snuggle up to more unconventional creatures.

The Wild Animal Sanctuary

The Denver Zoo isn’t the only place around to see exotic wildlife. The Wild Animal Sanctuary, less than an hour’s drive from campus to Keenesburg, is home to more than 500 animals across 789 acres. Walking on the 1.5-mile raised walkway, you might spot a streak of tigers wading in a pond, grizzly bears scratching their big bellies and lions exercising their vocal cords.

The sanctuary takes in abused and exploited animals from across the country and provides large, wild habitats for them to live out their days. By keeping visitors above them and out of their territory, the animals aren’t stressed, and visitors get to see wild beasts behave in ways rarely seen in zoos.  

Rocky Mountain Arsenal

Unlike at other arsenals, you won’t find any weapons or military equipment here. In the 1980s, workers discovered a roost of bald eagles at the site, and in the 1990s, Congress designated the Rocky Mountain Arsenal a national wildlife refuge. Today, its 15,000 acres is home to not only 10 miles of hiking trails, but also 330 species of animals and rich plant life.

Take the 11-mile, self-guided wildlife drive, and you’re likely to spot white-tailed deer, bald eagles, prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets and more. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an up-close look at the many bison (and sometimes their calves) that call the refuge home.

Whether by foot or car, the arsenal offers a breath of fresh air and a special way to experience Colorado’s wildlife.

Local shelters

Whether you’re looking to adopt a companion, volunteer with pets in need, or simply get a fix of four paws and wet noses, the Denver metro area’s many animal shelters and rescues provide a wonderful resource. Within city limits, you’ll find the Denver Dumb Friends League, the Denver Animal Shelter and Maxfund. Head just outside of Denver and canoodle with new furry friends at the Foothills Animal Shelter and the Cat Care Society in Lakewood, the Aurora Animal Shelter and Littleton’s Humane Society of the South Platte Valley. Countless more animal-loving organizations are just a Google search away. 

While cats and dogs predominate, you can greet plenty of other pets as well. Many shelters house smaller creatures, such as guinea pigs, rats and rabbits. If you prefer hooves, check out the Dumb Friends League’s Harmony Horse Rescue as well.

Denver Cat Company

Denver’s spin on the popular cat café is the Denver Cat Company, founded by DU alumna Leila Qari in 2014. Inspired by Japan’s cat cafes, the lawyer-turned-catvocate set out to create a space that would be equally comfortable for humans and felines. As a guest, you can simply stop in to enjoy tea or coffee while getting your feline fix, or you can visit in hopes of finding your new best friend, as all of the shop’s cats are adoptable.

Luvin’ Arms Sanctuary

Luvin’ Arms Sanctuary in Erie, about a half hour from campus, rescues abused or neglected farm animals, including cows, pigs, turkeys, chicken and goats. While these creatures aren’t typically considered as cuddly as cats and dogs, they have plenty of love and warmth to share.

For Luvin’ Arms, rescue is only one part of the equation. The other is community education. The sanctuary facilitates occasions for people to connect with new species and to think more deeply about the complex lives these animals lead. With that in mind, you can take a 90-minute tour where you’ll meet the sanctuary’s many residents and learn the stories behind their unique experiences and personalities.

Zoology Foundation

Book a two-hour tour with the Zoology Foundation, and you might get to meet camels Chewie and Han Solo or Tommy the tegu. Perhaps you’ll catch Toogie, the famous dancing tortoise, sunbathing or alpaca Newman napping.

The Larkspur sanctuary houses 150 domestic, farm and exotic animals, most of whom were rescued or surrendered by previous owners. The organization was founded to promote and help create a more humane world, dedicated to the idea that all living things are connected and that these connections are an important part of being human.

Butterfly Pavilion

Any Colorado bucket list should include holding Rosie the Chilean rose hair tarantula at Westminster’s Butterfly Pavilion. She’s a celebrity among locals and has been held by more than 3 million people in her 25 years at the Pavilion. Meeting the famously lovable tarantula is one of the many ways the Butterfly Pavilion fosters an appreciation of invertebrates.

On any given visit, you can watch butterflies emerge from their chrysalises, learn about sea stars, horseshoe crabs and other underwater creatures, explore the diverse lifeforms that call Colorado home, and walk among 1,600 free-flying butterflies