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FOA responds to city representatives

Despite recent criticism amid controversial changes, Friends of Animals is keeping its focus on what it does best: helping animals find homes.

FOA is going back to their roots of focusing on rescuing strays and educating the public like founders Margaret Mell and Diane Parkhurst did over 30 years ago, according to interim director Mary Nelson.

The projected budget for 2019 is $324,790. Carlton County has provided FOA with $40,000 for the last few years to help spay and neuter strays, which helps cut down the number of unwanted litters. That money pays for an average of 366 strays each year.

Stray animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs have also been altered.

"The $40,000 made up 12 percent of our 2017 budget," Nelson said.

The impound contracts have been losing money the last several years.

Nelson brings a business degree along with 20 years of experience with corporate business and contracts to help FOA out of the negative and into the future.

With the help of local certified public accountant Ken Muckala, Nelson discovered the impound costs were not being covered by the contracts and money was taken from the shelter side of the business to cover the impound shortage.

From July to December 2017, the income from the impound contracts was $39,953 and the income from the shelter, which includes grants, donations and fundraising, was $156,800 for a total of $196,753.

After the impound expenses of $57,533 was subtracted, the net loss was $17,579.

The shelter profit was $1,070 after $148,627 was subtracted, leaving the total a loss of $16,506.

In 2017, Cloquet paid $31,000; Fond du Lac, $20,000; Moose Lake, $4,000; Esko, $5,100; Carlton, $3,900; Scanlon, $4,000; and Wrenshall, $500.

The seven cities and townships balked at the increased prices of the new contracts. They discussed the possibility of pooling their resources to provide their own impound.

Cloquet City Administrator Aaron Reeves led the meetings and stressed that the ideas discussed are only ideas at this time.

As reported in the Pine Journal on June 28, Reeves addressed everyone at the table and said the FOA had not reached out to him since the last meeting (FOA was not invited to either meeting). He expressed confusion that the animal shelter is not willing to work with the towns, even though together they would be paying around $100,000 to the shelter.

"They already have the facility, have the staff, have all of the infrastructure there," Reeves said. "If they don't, then we have to."

"In the June meeting, Mr. Reeves expressed confusion that FOA is not willing to work with the towns, even though together they would be paying around $100,000 to have impound provided by the shelter," Nelson said. "We have never been approached about this and do not know what he is talking about, as nobody has offered us $100,000."

Nelson noted the seven paid a total of about $68,500 for impound services last year.

Reeves said that for the idea to become viable, the county would need to redirect the $50,000 it provided to FOA in 2017 to the new impound currently under construction by the city.

In the most recent meeting, he encouraged the representatives to contact Carlton County commissioners to let them know they would like the money redirected.

He said he would bring the idea in front of the Cloquet City Council at its next meeting July 17.

Many residents expressed frustration and confusion about what constitutes a stray to the FOA.

Nelson explained that if an owner claims the animal, they pay for the cost when they pick up their pet from the impound and the city or township isn't charged. If the animal is not claimed from the impound within the five-day hold, it is deemed a stray and transfers to the shelter side of the business. At that time the city or township is charged for the animal's state mandated hold time.

"FOA's financial statement, budget and 990, (a non-profit form required by the IRS) that were used to determine the impound and shelter budget cost is available to the public," Nelson said. "It was also provided to the City of Cloquet with several options in the new contract." The details are included in the quarterly reports to each contract holder.

She said a summary of the past two years average animal intake was provided to each city and township when Nelson presented them with updated contract options.

"We are disappointed in the recent criticism that we lack transparency or detail, because we have provided detailed and updated contracts to each city and township," Nelson said. "We included the reason for the changes (contract funds were not covering actual costs), the stray numbers less claimed animals by owners and a detailed description of our impound services and requirements as well as contact information."

Rewriting the contracts was necessary to help balance costs and keep FOA financially responsible. Other changes include cutting payroll by 23% and the Broken Bag Program.

Something else Nelson is working on is bringing a veterinary onto the staff at the shelter. It would lower the costs of vet care and shorten up the animals stay at the shelter. By moving the animals through faster, room will be opened up allowing more animals to come in.

"If it were not for Mary, FOA would have closed already," Steve Parkhurst said emphatically. The retired chiropractor and volunteer is also the husband of one of the founders, Diane Parkhurst. Diane is a member of the FOA board.

He said Nelson was instrumental in reorganizing and restructuring FOA, including keeping to the tight budget.

"The board needs to approve all changes outside of daily operations, including the contracts," Nelson said.

Numbers not adding up

The city of Cloquet paid an annual fee of $31,000, which included a percentage of the wages of an animal control officer. He was available 24/7 and spent eight hours patrolling per week, with no cap on the amount of animals he brought in. That means that even though the contract funds were spent, the officer continued to bring in more animals.

In 2017 in Cloquet, there were 331 strays brought into impound, which broke down to $9 per day per animal with the $31,000 contract. When they realized the actual cost of housing a stray was much more than they were being paid, they knew they had to act, and quickly, if they wanted to keep the shelter open.

The contracts were updated to cover the actual costs of the state mandated five-day hold for all strays, which totals $213 and not $45 a week per animal that Cloquet had been paying. Nelson contacted each contract holder to notify them of the changes and why they were necessary.

Nelson gave the towns several options in their contracts to choose from to fit their individual needs and budgets. She also had an attorney look over the contracts before she presented them.

Officials from several cities and townships reacted in disbelief at the proposed updates.

FOA saves money

Nelson continued to look for ways to cut costs.

She asked local supermarkets to donate broken bags of pet food and cat litter. The first delivery from Super One in Cloquet was made recently. Nelson hopes more supermarkets will join the effort.

The donations will help shave an estimated $2,000 a month once they come in regularly.

An excited Nelson sent an update to the cities and townships letting them know she had successfully brought the initial cost per day per animal from $53 to $43.

She was surprised the representatives didn't seem excited about the lower cost. Some didn't respond at all.

"In the May 24 article (in the Pine Journal), Esko township board member Terry Hill stated that FOA was not willing to work with them and that 'they will not be held hostage by FOA,'" Nelson said. "We have never been contacted by either Hill or Esko/Thompson Township. Our calls and emails went unanswered, including when we proposed the lower amount of $43 a day."

Nelson said FOA is still willing to provide impound services for those willing to sign contracts with them. Four townships have signed the new contracts and are receiving uninterrupted impound services.

Nelson has been working closely with the Humane Society of Douglas County in Superior.

"They are a successful shelter model for us," Nelson said, citing the similar size of the towns. She said they have a good relationship with the city of Superior. Its animal control is also handled by law enforcement.

Nelson is excited to start new fundraising events and community education. They were scheduled to begin with a "Smooches with Pooches" kissing booth at Pinehurst Park on the Fourth of July.

Another new fundraiser includes local restaurants donating a part of each meal on a designated date. The organization is also working to create birthday party packages to help raise money, as well as "Coffee with Cats" events.

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