If you buy a tiger cub on the black market, it will interact with you just like a domestic kitten the first months of its life. Some people easily slip into the belief that their illegal "kitty" will always retain that temperament if treated like a house cat. Wrong. Eventually its adult instincts kick in and there's a potential man-eater sharing the house. The same story plays out with bears, leopards, African lions, and other wild animals unfortunate enough to encounter less-than-astute humans. Authorities eventually seize these animals and some end up just west of Spearfish, living out their lives at the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. They're joined by animals rescued from rinky-dink circuses and other exhibits, and some are highly leery of humans because of past abuse. If you visit the sanctuary, you'll do so on the animals' terms. Visitor amenities are sparse and the animals don't entertain. More than 300 of them, ranging from exotic species to common farm animals, are free to dismiss you by retreating behind a tree rather than posing for your photo. On muddy days don't suggest paving the walkways, because dollars donated (including your admission donation) support animal welfare, not human comfort. Every human you'll see working here is an unpaid volunteer. Call ahead (605-642-2907) for tour times. And be aware that asking for directions from Spearfish will probably get you lost. Instead get on Interstate 90, go to Exit 8, and drive south a little more than four miles. When the road turns to gravel, it's a good sign. You did indeed turn south, not north.
Photos courtesy Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary