BMHS makes strides since 2012 fire, but needs remain

HOT SPRINGS – For a woman who less than a year ago was homeless, cut and bleeding, Tonia Wagoner has a clear vision for the future of the Battle Mountain Humane Society.

The only stumbling block is finding a way to get there.

Eleven months ago, the old Battle Mountain Humane Society building north of Hot Springs on Highway 385, was consumed by fire. A faulty fluorescent light fixture was the cause of the catastrophe that killed 11 dogs and rendered Wagoner, who had an apartment in the building, homeless.

She herself suffered a serious cut to her hand, while attempting to rescue animals caught in the burning building. While that was undoubtedly a low point in the shelter’s history, it has seen an upswing since April 4, 2012, the date of the fire.

Volunteers sprang into action, donations poured in from the area, state, nation and even from international donors. Celebrities such as NASCAR driver Ryan Newman stepped up through his foundation to lend a hand.

Now, after a whirlwind of activity since the fire, Battle Mountain Humane Society (BMHS) stands on the precipice of what it will ultimately become.

“All we need is the funding to get there,” Wagoner said last week as she talked about plans for the no-kill shelter.

Immediately next to the cement pad where the original building - a converted riding stable - stood last year, a new metal building is now in place. The back portion of the building, where the dogs have their indoor kennels, has water, cement floors and a drainage system.

The front part of the building – the part that you can easily see from the highway – remains to be finished and it is this project that has Wagoner and the other BMHS board members working on raising the funds.

White spray paint on the dirt floor outline where walls will be, separating offices, veterinarian space, mechanical room and space for the animals seeking adoption to meet prospective new owners.

Wagoner said that finding funding to have the concrete floor poured and have walls and the rest of the work done is the next thing on the agenda, all the while continuing to provide veterinary care, food and a home for the 63 dogs currently residing at the site

“We have some things happening to draw attention to the facility and hopefully, raise some money,” Wagoner said.

To draw attention and raise money, BMHS is partnering with Black Hills Harley, to raffle off a 2013 Harley Davidson Heritage Softtail Classic 110th Anniversary edition motorcycle. Tickets for the limited edition bike are $25 or you can invest $100 for five tickets. The drawing is set to take place on Aug. 10, at the Sturgis Bike Rally.

Tickets may be purchased and other monetary donations can be made at the BMHS website – battlemountainhumanesociety.org – and you can also find information on the site’s Facebook page. For those who choose to do so, raffle tickets can also be purchased through the mail. Send your check to Battle Mountain Humane Society at 27254 Wind Cave Rd., Hot Springs, SD, 57747 and they will send your tickets out.

Another upcoming event will involve the popular “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan.

“Cesar does an ‘Adoption Day’ every Thursday,” Wagoner said. “We have been in contact and are working out the details to get one or maybe two of our dogs on his show.” Getting the national recognition that would come with such exposure may hopefully help raise awareness for the shelter, which is undergoing growing pains.

“We need to let people know that we are a serious, professional organization,” Wagoner said, “an organization that provides a valuable service to the county and the region.

”That’s part of the reason that the dogs’ living area inside is finished and the offices are not.” The dogs are the priority in living arrangements and when it comes to adoption.

Last year alone, Wagoner said that 92 dogs were adopted from the BMHS, each going to a good home; to people who will love and care for the animal. Wagoner screens each potential adoptee prior to placing the dog, and if for whatever reason things don’t work out, the new owners are required to bring the animal back.

“People need to have references,” Wagoner said. “I have been involved in 100s of adoptions and kind of get to know what some of the warning signs are.” Having a good working relationship with the Animal Control Officer and local law enforcement is beneficial as well.

“We take care of the basic as far as veterinary care,” Wagoner said. “The dogs all get wormed, get rabies and distemper shots and are either spayed or neutered, but our $75 adoption fee doesn’t cover our costs. As we are a non-profit, 501(c)3, no kill shelter we do what we can solely on the donations of others.”

She added that last year more than $27,000 went to veterinary care for the animals.

Last year donations led to the construction of the building and Wagoner said that the Newman Foundation donated 25 kennels after the fire. Airmen from Ellsworth Air Force Base spent weekends at the site last summer, constructing shelters for the dogs to get out of the elements before the new building went up.

And bags upon bags of dogfood.

Eric Olson volunteers “pretty much every day,” at the shelter. Olson is retired from a career with a Michigan phone company and does whatever needs to be done.

“I was the guy that came back the next day,” he quipped. “And I have kept coming back since.” He said that he feeds, waters and interacts with the dogs but he would be glad for some company.

“Oh they really need some help,” he said, “and some more helpers. Everyone who pitches in volunteers; nobody is getting paid money. Our compensation comes from helping the dogs.”

Wagoner looks to the future with an eye that sees a large, completed facility. It has space for the dogs and is landscaped with an outdoor canine playground and a home for all the BMHS records and paperwork to be stored in one place. A site that provides educational as well as volunteer opportunities and is an integral part of the landscape.

“We’ve accomplished a lot and have worked hard to get where we’re at,” she said. “We are ready to move forward and continue; all it takes is money.”

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