The basement of the Carlton VFW held the first meeting of the newly formed Carlton County Area Animal Shelter Advocacy Group on Thursday, Oct. 14.

With no animal shelter in Carlton County, residents decided to take matters into their own hands. The group started after Bekki Babineau posted about a lack of an animal shelter in the Cloquet Neighbors Facebook group.

“The idea has been noodling in the back of my mind for a while,” she said. “I want to pair my professional skills with an area I am passionate about.”

Carlton County’s last animal shelter, Friends of Animals, closed its doors in 2018, leaving the county without a shelter for three years.

Babineau said the void has been filled by other volunteer organizations like Missing Pets of the Northland, but nothing has been set up in Carlton County. Sometimes it is difficult to work with volunteer organizations outside of the county.

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The newly formed group has 114 members, and the meeting brought in 10 people who are interested in more active or leadership positions.

The first meeting meant as an organizational and planning meeting, to decide the leadership and vision going forward.

After introductions and over an hour of discussion, the group had “homework” for members to get to the next phase.

The main tasks the group is trying to accomplish before the next meeting are figuring out how to set up a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and what other shelters use as bylaws or guidelines.

Cory Martinson, a dog lover and administrator of the Cloquet Neighbors page, said he was happy to see people come to the meeting, but wished more people had attended.

“I’m hoping this is the beginning of some momentum,” he said.

Prior to the meeting, Martinson said he worried the group was going to attract people who liked animals but didn’t have the time or resources to move the project forward.

“But what it seems like is we have people that have resources and connections and good thinking strategies,” he said. “That’s really what this needs — people who are willing to take this one step at a time.”

While being an administrator of the Cloquet Neighbors page, Martinson has seen the volume of concern on the issue of lost or stray pets in the area.

“I saw a post with somebody showing a picture of ‘here’s a dog I found,’ and somebody at the same time ‘I lost my dog,’ and it was the same dog,” he said.

Martinson and the rest of the members agreed that starting a nonprofit organization would be the best way to go, as it would allow the group to fundraise in the future.

“A lot of people don’t have time and don’t have resources to help … so they’ll write a check,” he said.

Angela Hillman, a Carlton County resident, wants to invest her time and energy into a project she cares about.

“We need to obtain information for the county if we really want to provide a service,” she said.

Hillman added the group will have to get a handle on what the need actually is in the community, whether it be fostering lost dogs or providing additional services, like microchipping, spay and neutering.

While there are still lots of details to iron out, like if the group will start out fostering before acquiring a physical shelter, Babineau said she was happy with the progress made at the first meeting.

“We left here with some specific next steps, which also helps this group feel good like we are doing something,” she said. “I think establishing and creating a nonprofit is the number one (priority).”

The group used the time to discuss how they would ideally want the shelter to function in the future. Some ideas were using it as an educational tool, having a social media presence and possibly partnering with established shelters or missing animal groups.

The Facebook group will remain open, however Babineau said they will look to solidify a core leadership group in the near future.

The group plans to have their next meeting at 6 p.m. Oct. 28, at the Carlton VFW, and will provide updates through its Facebook page.

More concrete data and understanding of the data is what Babineau wants for the next meeting, as members work on their homework.

“More information on best practices from other shelters, so that we start out on the best foot we can,” she said.