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Shelter gets new 'leash' on life, requests ongoing support from county

Washington Elementary School students Kaylee Peterson (left) and Madysen Waters worked for a couple of months making rubber band bracelets and doodads to sell to raise money for the Friends of Animals Humane Society in Cloquet at last week’s spaghetti dinner fundraiser at Atkins-Northland Funeral Home in Cloquet. Madysen and her grandfather, Steve Waters, often visit the animal shelter. Contributed Photo

The Friends of Animals (FOA) Humane Society's shelter and stray hold facility is breathing easier — at least for now.

In an appeal to the Carlton County Board on Monday, FOA's Shelter Director Cynthia Haglin told commissioners that the community responded with "astonishing" results to the FOA's appeals for support to help keep its shelter doors open. She reminded board members that when she came to them in August asking for additional county support, the organization's resources had dwindled to alarmingly low levels, leaving them in "dire financial need" and in danger of having to close their doors by the following February or March.

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"At that time, one of you commissioners encouraged us to take our plight to the media, which we did," said Haglin. "What came out of that was a $10,000 challenge grant from Enbridge and the community responded. People used their voices and opened their wallets. We are happy to say that we won't have to close our doors in February."  

Haglin said the board of the FOA remains realistic, however, and will continue to work at cutting its operating and staff expenses to keep in line with ongoing budget constraints. She admitted that wages are the shelter's greatest expense, adding that it takes a dedicated group of paid staff members and volunteers just to care for the animals on a daily basis.  

"Every day we have to house, feed, water, care for and clean up after an average of 135 animals, including approximately 27-30 dogs," Haglin said.

She explained that it takes three to four  staff members each morning to sweep, scrub and mop floors, provide food, water and clean bedding, walk dogs, disinfect cat kennels, attend to medical needs and wash some 120 blankets and 200 towels. The staff that comes in at noon, when the shelter opens to the public, helps with animal intake, shows animals to potential adopters, walks dogs and provides ongoing care as needed. The staff that comes in from 4-7 p.m. basically repeats the entire morning routine. She said shelter employees also take in sick and injured animals and remove dangerous animals from the streets, as well as provide one-on-one services such as syringe feeding of kittens whose mother is either unable to feed them or who are orphaned.

"All that takes a lot of work," summed up Haglin.

She went on to tell commissioners that while the shelter is immensely grateful for the infusion of support from Enbridge and the public, she added, "We cannot survive by returning to to public every time we run out of money."

She said the shelter's needs are ongoing and acute, pointing out that although some townships contract with FOA for animal control services, several do not.

"And yet," she said, "we often end up taking in animals from all over the county, because we simply will not just let them die."

Haglin said the shelter's deficit has now been reduced significantly.

"We now have a cushion, thanks to the people," she said. "However, we are here today to ask you to consider your legal responsibility under the law, exercise your moral responsibility and hear the people."

The Board currently budgets $9,550 a year toward animal control, and FOA is asking that the county up the ante to help support the shelter and the county's animal control services in a more significant way.

Commissioners asked a few questions about what percent of the shelter's budget goes to staffing (approximately 54 percent, according to Haglin), how the shelter covers the cost of spaying and neutering (through a "very generous" discount from a local vet), and how many dangerous and aggressive animals they take in (in general, approximately five a month, since "every animal who is lost is scared and can be aggressive when that's not the way they normally behave," said Haglin).

The Board thanked Haglin for her presentation and did not take any action on the request. The Board has to finalize its 2015 budget by mid-December.