For several years, Heartland Humane Society has been active in transferring dogs that need our help the most.

In mid-May, HHS began partnering with Almost Home Canine Rescue to serve the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (CRST). CRST is in northwestern South Dakota with a population of 12,000 people.

Tribal Health has one hospital with 8 beds, no ICU beds, 4 respirators and 1 respiratory therapist. At the direction of their chairman and against the opinion of our governor, the CRST is locked down, but their animal shelter is open and providing food and vaccinations to community members as they continue to accept stray and unwanted pets. Shelter staff are not allowed to leave tribal land to meet regular adoption/placement partners, creating new partnership needs for dogs needing placement.

In a world where racism and a pandemic consumes our attention, partnering with the CRST and working to rehome dogs known across the nation as “Rez” dogs is hard work. Racist views silently divide this population of dogs awaiting adoption. If we share their true stories, they seem to sit a little bit longer on our adoption floor than a dog that came in locally.  However, Rez dogs are some of the most adoptable dogs that come through our adoption program.  

Each Friday, the HHS team picks up two to four dogs from Sioux Falls to provide their last leg of travel. Some are too timid to walk, others may be covered in ticks, and most are overwhelming social with our staff — puppy kisses and paw shakes for all!

CRST is the third poorest reservation in the country. Because of the limited economic base, over 80% of the people are unemployed. There are approximately 2,500 households on the reservation. The poverty rate is 48%.

The existence of wild and feral packs of dogs running at large, attacking or killing people on the Rez is a myth. Most of the packs of dogs are a part of the friendly and functional community dog population. They form social packs they run with for the day — they sleep at one family’s home, eat breakfast at another house, follow the kids home from schools enjoying potato chips and play, enjoy dinner with another family and do it all again the next day.

Tribal leaders across most of the reservations are taking animal care seriously. The CRST’s newly adopted animal ordinance places the responsibility for pets on the guardians, removes the tribe’s ability to cull strays and street dogs, and outlines a registration system so that every pet is registered to the tribal member. The animal ordinance also includes animal cruelty codes for the treatment of dogs and cats so charges can be filed. They are mandating animal welfare more effectively than most rural counties in South Dakota.

I am proud to support their efforts. In my ten years of service to the animal industry, advancing animal rights across our state has been a huge struggle. Partnerships like this and others have taught me that if groups are willing to get creative, we can tackle almost anything. Tribes are trusting great leaders, many women, across our state to serve our animals and, together, they are making waves and changing attitudes and I feel so fortunate to learn from their efforts and support their goals.

If we can cross bridges and accept differences in an effort to serve animals who deserve our care, we can do it for humans too. We can all practice being kind.

Kerry Hacecky is director of the Heartland Humane Society, Yankton.

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