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City to allow strays

Provided the animal is not dangerous or a nuisance, stray animals are no longer against city code.

At least for now.

Cloquet City Councilors voted 5:1 (Ward 4 Councilor Kerry Kolodge dissenting) to change the definition of "running at large" in the animal control ordinance to only animals "causing damage to property or injury to people other than its owners while at large" and except in defense of the animal's owner of the owner's family. The ordinance also changes licensing clause to a requirement that any pet over four months of age wear an ID tag or have a microchip.

City Administrator Aaron Reeves recommended the change rather than continuing the temporary contract with Animal Allies that expired Tuesday night, noting that the Duluth-based humane society only received 15 cats and zero dogs from Cloquet since April. That's when the longtime contract between the city and the Cloquet-based Friends of Animals humane society ended over demands by FOA for more money for fewer services.

Between the administrative fee charged by Animal Allies plus the costs for boarding the cats and sterilizing them, Reeves said it worked out to about $400 per cat, roughly $6,000.

Reeves stressed that the ordinance change is only a short-term solution.

"I think everyone wishes we still had a local humane society that we could work with, but we don't," he said, referring to the closure of FOA earlier this month due to financial difficulties. "So until we work out something else for those animals, this seems to be the best option for the city moving forward. ... If we start seeing a lot of issues with strays we'll have to look at doing something else."

For now, he explained, dogs and cats just roaming around town will no longer be considered a problem, but if the same animal causes damage to another person's property, the animal can be picked up and held in the city's new three-kennel facility for up to five days.

The police department will still try to find the owner by posting the animal's information on social media and scanning the animal for a microchip. However, if an owner doesn't come forward within the five-day period, the city would first try to find a humane society to take the animal. As a last resort, Reeves cautioned, the city could have to euthanize the animal because they don't have a long-term facility to hold it.

"Animal Allies and the other humane society have pretty much guaranteed someone would take it if it goes five days so it doesn't have to be euthanized," Reeves told the council, adding that the Duluth humane society also agreed to take dangerous animals if Cloquet ever has more than three at a time.

Kolodge wanted the council to continue its contract with Animal Allies through the end of the year as the city and county work with FOA and other groups to try to find a local solution. His was the sole vote against the ordinance change, although all the councilors present — Ward 1 Councilor Jeff Rock was absent — agreed that they consider this strictly a short-term solution.

"It's patchwork, but it's going to get us to where we need to go," said Mayor Dave Hallback.

Kolodge said any review needs to factor in public feedback — which is ongoing — not "just numbers of animals taken in or dollar figures," he said.

After the vote, Animal Allies volunteer and board chair Dan Leslie addressed the council during the public comment period.

"I take a little offense when you say "tell them (Cloquet residents who call the city or 911 about a stray) to take it to Animal Allies," Leslie said. "So you've just moved the burden from your yard into our yard."

He explained that, by law, no animals are allowed to leave a shelter without being spayed or neutered, which adds enormously to the cost of a litter of kittens for example.

"We have 110 cats at Animal Allies right now, partly because of this, and partly because it's kitten season," he said. "They're coming out of the walls.

He noted that Cloquet was being charged the same administrative fee as Hermantown or any other city contracting with the humane society.

They've already heard from Hermantown officials speculating if they could quit paying their fees to Animal Allies, he said.

"If that happens, then pretty soon it's not only Friends of Animals that falters or goes away," he said, noting that the Grand Rapids humane society collapsed earlier this year. "It takes a lot of money and a lot of dedicated people to keep these running."

Reeves assured the council and Leslie that the city, county and various township officials are continuing to meet and seek a solution for the long-term problem of stray animals.

Reeves said earlier in the meeting that he understood the county board is supportive of the concept of using tax dollars to support an animal shelter to serve the entire county but the issue was who would run it. And who would pay for a new or improved shelter building. And whether the city and/or county would have oversight of any non-profit organization's finances.

"The county is in the same boat we are: we can levy money but where is it going," Reeves said. "We have nowhere local to put our money right now. That's what we're still working towards."

Leslie pointed out that the "other" humane society that Reeves kept referring to — Superior, the Pine Journal learned — makes its home in a $3 million facility.

"I hope it all works out here, because the statistics show that the farther away you take an animal from its home, the less likely it is to be recovered by its owner," Leslie said.

***

In other matters Tuesday, Councilors voted unanimously without discussion to add "buy local" wording to the city's purchasing policy.

The policy now reads that if a local (Cloquet-based) vendor's price or quote doesn't exceed the lowest non-local vendor's price or quote by more than 5 percent, the purchase must be made from the local vendor for purchases of less than $10,000.

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