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Is Cloquet going to the dogs?

Several dogs are in various stages of being available to be adopted at Friends of Animals. These two are ready to go and get excited when anyone gives them attention. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 5
Duke, a 10-month-old boxer/beagle mix, is one of the adoptable animals at Friends of Animals. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal2 / 5
A couple of young cats look up from a wrestling match. The cats are among about 50 lodged at Friends of Animals in Cloquet. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal3 / 5
Thumper, a young American bulldog transferred from Texas, is one of several dogs at Friends of Animals awaiting adoption. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal4 / 5
Marbles is an older cat available for adoption at Friends of Animals in Cloquet. He has been at the shelter for several months. Most people looking to adopt a cat want a kitten and do not consider a mature cat. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal5 / 5

The city of Cloquet is considering changing part of the city ordinance dealing with strays and animals running at-large so it is no longer prohibited.

The reason for this possibility is due to a recent letter from Friends of Animals stating it will no longer employ an animal control officer. FOA gave 30 days notice to cancel the animal control officer contracts with 15 communities and sent a proposal for new contracts with several possible options. FOA renegotiations of the contracts between the shelter and towns typically occur every two years. The last contract was signed March 2015.

In the roughly 10 years that FOA has had impound contracts, the animal control officer has not been an easy position to fill.

"It is difficult to keep a person in the position," Interim Director and Board President Mary Nelson acknowledged. She cited the challenges of dealing with unhappy animals and people as well as the low pay as part of the problem.

Nelson also noted that it is the exception, not the rule, for the local shelter to employ an animal control employee. Duluth and Superior each have the animal control position employed under law enforcement.

FOA is divided into two entities. One is impound; its costs are covered entirely by communities. The other is the FOA organization, which takes in strays and relies on donations, grants, fundraising and adoption fees to make ends meet.

FOA presented several variations of the contracts to give cities the ability to customize what works for them. Nelson said the board understood that communities set their 2018 budgets at the end of 2017.

Cloquet to consider options

Cloquet City Administrator Aaron Reeves said City Council members are frustrated by the sudden changes, including a large increase in the cost per stray at the shelter.

"We first noticed issues with the mastiff incident," Reeves said, referring to a dog attack in March of a Cloquet boy. When officers contacted FOA to quarantine the dog per the contract, FOA refused.

Reeves said he was shocked to discover the price quoted in the new contract from FOA almost doubled. The 2017 contract was $31,000, which included animal control officer services as well as the cost for the required five-day hold on strays. The new contract for the same number of animals is $56,000, and that doesn't include the animal control officer.

While the cost of each animal per day did increase for many cities, some did not.

The city of Cloquet had been paying daily boarding fees of about $25 per dog and $20 per cat. The cost jumped to $53 a day per animal.

Nelson explained the board took into consideration the number of animals from each city and used a formula that included the cost of utilities, cost of insurance, building maintenance, taxes and care of each animal.

FOA takes in an average of 900 animals a year — 56 percent of the animals were impounded and 200 were from Cloquet.

FOA employs 17 people; most are part time. They also rely on the 20 or so consistent volunteers to help meet the needs of the animals.

The hard costs of caring for each animal for Cloquet was $53. The $23 shortage in the cost was transferred from the shelter side of FOA to the impound side.

Nelson stressed the $725,000 for the new building was not included in the impound costs.

"We are working hard to be fiscally responsible," Nelson said.

Cloquet's first contract option includes a contract fee of $31,000 annually to be assessed for the impound and boarding service for a total of 120 animals. It would be paid in quarterly installments.

If the city goes over the limit of 120 animals in a year, FOA will charge $265 a week per animal. The breakdown is $53 per day for Cloquet. According to the contract, that amount will cover the cost to take care of the animal for the minimum five-day hold as required by law.

Also included in the contract are medical treatments by a veterinarian would be paid by the city. For example, if an animal is hit by a car and has a good chance of survival with prompt medical attention; an animal has been caught in a trap; or an animal has porcupine quills embedded in its skin that need to be pulled.

"One town called and asked to be notified before FOA decides to bring an injured animal in for veterinary services," Nelson said. The board agreed to the compromise.

Cloquet's second contract option includes a $62,965 annual fee to be assessed for the impound and boarding service for a total of 245 animals. It would be paid in quarterly installments.

Cloquet's third contract option that allows for the city to be billed for each instance instead of a total dollar amount per animal.

Town of Thompson Board President Ruth Janke said they are looking at their options and declined further comment.

Moose Lake City Administrator Tim Peterson said they have been contracting with FOA, but is not concerned about no longer having an animal control officer available.

"It was a nice service to have," Peterson said. He added that Moose Lake does not have many strays. Residents can call Moose Lake Police Department if they have problems with a nuisance pet wandering.

Cloquet City Council is also looking at options. It discussed the subject at length during the work session before the April 17 regular meeting.

City Administrator Aaron Reeves requested to see a breakdown of the information provided by FOA and is waiting to hear back.

The city has stopped payments to FOA due to the cancellation of the contract.

The City Council members discussed other options, such as contracting with Animal Allies in Hermantown or changing the city ordinance pertaining to roaming animals. Animal Allies is taking the proposal to their board Thursday, April 26, and will let Reeves know the decision. Then Council members will make their decision based on the results.

Animal Allies has already agreed to impound any dangerous dogs from Cloquet that may need to be quarantined.

While options are being researched, the Cloquet Police Department will assume the animal control officer duties.

The last option the city will look at is rescinding the portion of the city code that deals with animals running at-large or nuisance animals. If there is not a proper impound facility, the code is unenforceable and should be rescinded, but only if an agreement with Animal Allies does not come to fruition.

"If we change the ordinance, we will see if there really is a problem," Reeves said.

Meanwhile, FOA is continuing to update its budget and looking for ways to cut costs. It is also focusing on starting new programs and partnering with the Salvation Army to donate pet food.

Another new program is Broken Bags. FOA has contacted local stores and asked if they would be willing to donate bags of open pet food and cat litter. Super One has already agreed.

FOA is still accepting animals surrendered by their owners and continuing to adopt out animals. FOA is continuing in negotiations with the majority of towns and are accepting strays from those areas while the contracts are in the works.


Adoption fees at area shelters

Fees at all shelters depend on the animals age, breed and health issues.

Friends of Animals, Cloquet

Cats and kittens range from $100 to $150, while senior cats and cats with health issues may begin at $25. Dogs and puppies start at $250.

The average stay at FOA is 57 days. The animals are spayed/neutered, microchipped, lab tested and cared for. FOA also takes in unusual pets such as snakes, hamsters, rats, rabbits — it even accepted a tarantula once.

Animal Allies, Hermantown

Cats and kittens range from $25 to $175. Dogs and puppies range from $75 to $600.

Fees include microchipping and registration, health exam, age appropriate vaccinations, spay/neuter, fecal exam, flea/tick treatments and heartworm testing for dogs. Cats are FeLV/FIV tested.

Douglas County Humane Society, Duluth

Cats and kittens range from $25 to $175. Senior dogs start at $80; adult dogs range from $175 to $250; and puppies are $350.

They are also vet-checked, microchipped, spayed/neutered, dewormed and updated on vaccinations before they are adopted.