For a couple hours Monday evening in Vermillion, happiness wasn’t a warm puppy.
Happiness, instead, was a wet puppy. Scores of them.
In picture-perfect weather, approximately 100 dogs and their masters frolicked in the refreshing waters of the Prentis Plunge of Vermillion in that facility’s last hurrah before closing until the next summer rolls around.
Not wanting to put those thousands of gallons of refreshing water to waste, the Heartland Humane Society, with the help of the City of Vermillion’s Park and Recreation Department, put on its annual Pooch Plunge that allowed local citizens’ furry, four-legged friends to take a dip in the facility’s swimming pool and navigate its lazy river.
“This has been amazing,” said Kerry Hacecky, the executive director of the Heartland Humane Society. The organization, with headquarters and a facility in Yankton that boards stray pets, serves both Yankton and Clay counties. “I know we had 100 dogs last year and we don’t have anything added up, but we have to be at -- about 100 dogs.
“It’s been really busy the first hour so I think we’ll hit 100 again this year,” she said.
People who brought their dogs to the Prentis Plunge Monday night were asked to pay a $5 admission fee.
“It’s a small fundraiser for us and it’s courtesy of the city of Vermillion and we’re forever grateful,” Hacecky said. “We don’t have to do a whole to make this happen besides show up and run the gate. They (the city Parks and Recreation Department) set up, they tear down, they’re generous enough to get ready for the dogs. They help promote it.”
She added that it is “awesome” that communities like Vermillion and Yankton show that they appreciate a pet-friendly community.
“This isn’t an event that the city has to host. This is an event that they choose to host that brings all ages together,” Hacecky said, “and all dogs together. That’s what makes living around here so cool.”
This is the eighth year this event has been held during the last day of the swimming season at Vermillion’s swimming pool and, since 2017, at the city’s Prentis Plunge.
“Someone has had their dog here for eight years straight and they thought they were here for the very first year this was held,” Hacecky said.
Heartland Humane Society is a private nonprofit 501(c)3 organization governed by a volunteer board of directors. The organization is a limited admission facility, meaning that it takes in animals by appointment and only when appropriate space and resources are available to care for them.
As a non-profit Heartland Humane Society relies fully on private donations to operate. The organization generates funds through people’s contributions, adoption fees, fundraising events, and sales of merchandise and services. All funds collected go directly back to the general budget to care for animals.
HHS was established in 2006 from a group formerly known as the Yankton Area Humane Society. It serves primarily serves Yankton and Clay counties in South Dakota and Cedar County in Nebraska, with an additional 11 county area often receiving its services.
“We really try to make sure the needs are being met in Yankton and Clay first,” Hacecky said. “After that, it’s the surrounding communities. We touch about 11 counties on a weekly basis, but definitely Yankton and Clay counties on a daily basis. The majority of our volunteers and our board of directors come from those two counties.”
All of the animals at Heartland receive proper vet care, including vaccinations and prevention of common pet diseases and infections. Among the animals boarded at the facility, canines are tested heartworm in canines. Felines are tested for feline leukemia.
In 2014, Heartland moved its operation to its permanent home on Highway 50 east of Yankton, allowing the shelter to double the number of animals it serves annually. Heartland Humane Society again doubled its numbers in 2017 by opening an additional 4,000 square feet of facility at the shelter. At full operations, the shelter serves up to 850 animals each year.
Hacecky said the money raised Monday will to the Heartland Humane Society’s general budget.
“Heartland’s general budget goes to first and foremost veterinary care, vaccinations, those kind of things,” she said, “and then our second highest expense is the maintenance of the shelter -- paying the utility bills, keeping the lights on, keeping things clean and in workable conditions.”
The facility has experienced an uptick in activity so far through 2019.
“This year, we are averaging about 60 adoptions per month,” Hacecky said. “We used to average more like 40 or 45 and five years ago, it was more like 10 to 20 animals per month. We have four full-time staff and most days it is go, go, go for the 10 hours that someone is in the shelter.”
Heartland Humane Society also relies heavily on the help of volunteers.
“We’ve got about 75 active volunteers and without them the dogs wouldn’t get their needs met,” she said. “In the last four years, since we built a permanent foundation, we’ve probably tripled in activity.”
Since Heartland’s facility expanded to a total of 8,000 square feet, the organization generally houses about 60 animals per day.
There is a growing awareness, Hackecky said, among people who are seeking new pets to adopt homeless animals rather than purchase them from a pet store.
“There is a growing movement across the nation really pushing that,” she said. “The Midwest is really good about the idea of no-kill shelters and helping animals until they are adopted. Heartland is one of those shelters -- we don’t care if it takes one day or 300 days. We’ll keep each animal as long as we need to.”
There are areas of the country where strays are that fortunate.
“When you get down south, and especially the southeast (area of the United States), they’re euthanizing thousands of animals every day,” Hacecky said. “That trend won’t end until that problem is solved.”