Eight-year-old Jayla Marie Rodriguez died on November 18 after being attacked by feral dogs on the hills behind her home in Pine Ridge. The little girl whose heart ached for the unloved and homeless dogs has, through her death, raised awareness and action for the feral dogs that roam uncared for throughout the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Two years ago, the Hope Project developed an anti-suicide program through Oglala Lakota College in Kyle, South Dakota. In a 2012 Rapid City Journal photo for the exhibit, Jayla’s mother, Danielle Griffith, stands alone on the windy prairie, holding a photo of Jayla hugging her dog Buppy. That photo of Jayla represented hope to Griffith then, and is now being used to bring hope to Jayla’s dream for all the feral dogs in Pine Ridge.
Jayla’s family reports that she was a special girl loved by all who knew her, but perhaps more than anything, Jayla loved animals. Griffith remembered, “Two weeks before she passed, we were sitting outside Big Bats in Pine Ridge, and Jayla saw a dog with a broken leg. She said, ‘I want to take them home and teach them what it’s like to have a family.’ She had this idea in her mind, ‘Even that dog right there, I want to take it home.’”
Griffith’s family is now raising money through Go Fund Me for “Jayla’s Dream.” They plan to further raise awareness and to begin a nonprofit organization to care for the dogs. The ultimate goal will be to create a shelter so the feral dogs will have the opportunity to find homes with loving families.
The need for a shelter has long concerned residents throughout the reservation. Packs of feral dogs can be found in communities throughout Pine Ridge and the stark winter landscape offers little in the way of food for the roaming canines. Stray dogs are regularly seen at the Wounded Knee Memorial, or hanging around the gas pumps at Big Bats, and in the communities of Pine Ridge and Oglala. Some residents said wild dogs were known to congregate in the woods behind Jayla’s Pine Ridge home.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe has begun taking action and is committed to enforcing all pertaining laws and regulations regarding the feral dogs, and residents have been advised to keep their dogs close to home.
A report from the Pine Ridge Authority said close to 40 homeless dogs were euthanized this past week, while the Oglala Pet Project and other groups are looking for homes for strays that have been approved for home placement.
The last two weeks of her short life, Jayla made many comments that have caused her family to ponder her death. In a recent video taken by her aunt, Jayla showed off her fierce kung fu moves, calling herself the Wasabi Warrior. At the end of the video, Jayla stood on the arm of a sofa and announced, “You must be strong in the heart. If you die or not die,” she looked right into the camera and said, “It’s all about life. Cut.” End of video.
Just days before the tragedy, Griffith decorated the little girl’s room with Broncos wallpaper and other accents of her favorite sports team. When Jayla saw the room, she exclaimed, “This is the best day of my life!”
“The next day we played basketball,” Griffith remembered, “and Jayla said that was the second best day of her life.”
Griffith has not been able to return home for more than a few moments since Jayla passed away. “It just feels like she should be there,” Griffith said sadly. A small laugh crept into her voice when she recalled that Jayla had very recently begged her mother for a McDonald’s smoothie. Griffith said she generally frowned on fast foods, “I usually say no. I’m glad I let her have it. It makes me feel good to know I made her happy. And she made sure to let us know these things.”