Pawsitively Perfect

Hurricane Ida displaced thousands of people in Louisiana last summer, but also hundreds of animals. Fortunately, animal lovers were on hand to help them find new homes — some right here in the Black Hills. 

When Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana last summer, Greater Good Charities was ready to help pets and families in need. The national nonprofit offers a variety of animal services, including disaster response and pet transportation. Greater Good Charities connected with Darci Adams in Sioux Falls, who called her friend Jamie Al-Haj, a regular animal fosterer and advocate in the Black Hills. They agreed that if Darci could cover eastern South Dakota, Jamie would take the western half. 

Thirty-eight dogs and cats made their way to the Black Hills as part of Operation Sunflower, and 33 more arrived six weeks later during Operation Harvest Moon. When they arrived at the airport, Jamie and a crew of volunteers got to work. They placed the animals in cars that would take them to three shelters around the Black Hills, including Hot Springs, Spearfish, and Rapid City.

“We had one dog in particular that was really happy to see us,” Jamie says. “It was a little red pit bull with a white spot on its neck. When we got him to Spearfish, he was all excited and jumping around, and you could tell he was just elated.” It turns out the dog’s joy might have been about more than just excitement to be out of his carrier: “We found out later he had been on the euthanasia list, so coming here to South Dakota literally saved his life,” Jamie says. 

Shelters need our help

While many of the animals are now in good homes, Jamie’s work isn’t over. Even before Hurricane Ida, shelters have seen a larger than average number of animals in need, and have fewer volunteers. 

“This last year has really stopped a lot of things in place. We’re dealing with a huge overabundance of animals right now,” Jamie says. “Even with the high number of animals we already have, our shelters opened their door to help animals from the hurricane-stricken areas of southern Louisiana that continue to struggle with no homes and lack of resources.”

The Western Hills Humane Society in Spearfish helped several dogs find loving new homes.

If your family is considering adopting, Jamie encourages you to do so. “When you adopt, you save a life,” she says. “But you’re also not contributing to puppy mills or other bad situations. Just understand that it is a lifetime commitment to that animal and be prepared for that.” Every animal adopted from a shelter also frees up space for another animal in need. 

If you can’t adopt, or aren’t sure if you’re ready to, fostering is another great way to help. “The whole idea with fostering animals is to love them and help them get to a point where they can find that good home,” Jamie says. Donations of food and supplies, and volunteers willing to help out are also always in need. 

Having animals in our life teaches us many things,” Jamie says. “Children who are raised with animals learn responsibility, but they also learn love, and loss. Animals teach us so much, and without them we can miss out on a vital piece of getting us to adulthood.”

Want to learn more about pet lovers doing great things in the Black Hills? Check out Andrea Goodman and the Oglala Pet Project!