I have to begin this story with a personal flashback to one of my scarier moments in life. When I read the tale of a lonely, scared and injured cat found on the road in the Black Hills of South Dakota, it all came rushing back.
In 2015, I drove through the Black Hills from Northern Illinois to Southern California on a solo adventure.
But instead of following the shortest route through the uneventful flat lands of the middle United States, I decided to take a detour. No offense flat lands!
What should have been a 2,000 mile journey turned into a 2,500 mile, 5-day-excursion. And what a detour it was; complete with narrow escapes and terrifying moments!
That journey took me northwest to Deadwood, South Dakota. I would stop at the historical town located within the Black Hills, and then travel south through Denver to Albuquerque and finally over to San Diego, CA.
But on the second day, storms rolled in soon after I arrived in Deadwood. To my dismay, I had to flee before the roads became too dangerous to pass.
A friendly couple gave me an alternative route through the Black Hills that would detour around the storms.
Soon, I was back under blue skies and traversing through hills, thick with forests.I stopped for a scenic “selfie” and tried to make the most of my new route.
Looks were deceiving however, and I was easily lost on desolate roads when my GPS wouldn’t “calculate”.
All I had was a sad excuse for a map from the Deadwood Cemetery I had hoped to tour. And sadly, I was forced to flee before getting too explore the landmark.
My gas tank was slowly draining and I could see dark clouds in the distance, again coming my way. Trying to work my way to the largest major highway, I finally began noticing more vehicles. Civilization had to be near!
But then 10 minutes went by before I saw another car. And then another 10…and another.
Then I passed a flashing light on the road, instructing me to turn on the AM radio for an update. The mountain pass ahead was flooded and there was no way to get through!
My heart was racing and my severe anxiety was kicking in. Would I run out of gas in the middle of literally nowhere? Would my heart explode before that even happened? The crippling fear began to overtake me as I tried to calm myself.
I resigned that I would turn at the next road and hopefully find a gas station soon after.
That road never came.
I finally met up with a group of vehicles and semi trucks who had stopped to talk to each other. The semi driver confirmed there was no way through at all, and we’d have to turn around.
Fortunately there was a “local” who told us the closest road 10 miles back would cut across to a major highway….eventually. After another 45 minutes of driving on fumes, I pulled into an overpriced and dreary gas station. I’d have paid any amount for gas at that point.
The day ended after 12 hours of driving solo through the Black Hills, lost and afraid. My hands cramped from gripping the steering wheel with nervous fear and my red eyes were burning.
Although the Black Hills are a breathtaking and beautiful landscape, these areas can be desolate and dangerous. Towns quickly disappear in your dust, and leave you isolated at the mercy of the elements.
Which brings me back to a little black cat, named Mad Max.
Mad Max’s story was certainly more of a life or death dire situation on those roads than mine was. But for the unlucky feline, he didn’t have the cognitive choices I did. I shudder to think what could have happened to him during his time wandering the hills.
Max had been found, lying on the side of the road on a frigid 5-degree winter day. He hadn’t been moving at all and was feared deceased. Cars drove by, either not noticing the black animal on the road or didn’t care to give him a second thought.
One person did though. It was the hand of fate that brought local Shari Rose to that spot that very day.
Her mother was flying in to the nearby airport, but had been delayed a day, likely due to the winter weather. Sheri also happened to be a volunteer for a local animal organization, West River Spay Neuter Coalition.
She noticed the cat hunched over with his head resting on the pavement. Expecting to confirm that he was dead, she prepared to sadly make the call for animal control to pick up the body.
Sheri made the grim walk back to her vehicle to tell her husband and mother the sad news. There was no sign of life in the poor cat.
On a whim, she glanced back one last time and was amazed to see his ear twitch!!!
She rushed to his aid, picked him up and ran him to a vet. Despite severe bruising, Mad Max had suffered no permanent injuries!
He had a bit of road rash and some mobility issues from being hit, but he would fully recover! He was an intact male so likely had lived a lonely life as a feral in the unimaginable habitat of the deep woods, ending up in the precarious situation.
Now the West River Coalition in the Black Hills is a bit different than other organizations.
The Coalition was formed in 2005 by a group of Black Hills residents. They were concerned about the serious pet overpopulation in the area, as reflected in the high intake and euthanasia numbers in town shelters.
The team began to research methods that other concerned animal activists around the country had undertaken to address this problem. Ultimately it was decided that the best approach would be through sponsoring low-cost spay/neuter cat clinics for low-income clients. Especially since no similar services existed, and still do not, in all of West River, SD.
Caring veterinarians are willing to devote their time to this cause and perform reduced-cost spay/neuter.
In Mad Max’s case, his luck wasn’t stopping there. They had found a donor who covered all his immediate medical expenses!
After a six week recovery in a foster home, he was fully healed. The Black Hills community is a supportive one, and they pulled together to care for Mad Max.
“A local retired vet, even volunteered to come to my (foster) home and neuter him.”
They put 2 large cages together to give him room to heal and separation to feel safe from humans. He was monitored with a motion sensor camera during the night as well. Coming from the streets, he was definitely a feral, but seemed to know he was being cared for now.
That realization was warmly accepted and Mad Max currently lives in a loving forever home!
“Although I acted feral for a while, after 3 months in my new home, I was actually a friendly guy!”
So thankfully for Mad Max and me, life on the road of the Black Hills is now in our rear-view mirrors.
It’s not only Mad Max that has been saved from certain death by the organization. More than 8,000 other felines, have all now been spayed or neutered by the Coalition since 2006!
Working on grants and generous donations, the Coalition has helped, and will be able to continue to help many needy cats.
REMEMBER: ADOPT, DON’T SHOP; FOSTERING SAVES LIVES & SPAY AND NEUTER!