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Communities meet to solve stray animal problem

The new pound area is under construction by the city shed. The kennels are being built in response to the animal shelter no longer employing an animal control officer to pick up area strays. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 2
The three run kennel for Cloquet strays is underway. The small building is located near the city shed where brush is dropped off. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal2 / 2

A kennel building is being built by the city of Cloquet in response to the Friends of Animals Humane Society ending the Animal Control position earlier this year. The building is in the Cloquet Public Works area near the brush drop off area and should be completed the first week of July.

"Right now, our two kennel set up with three runs is about $8,000," Cloquet City Administrator Aaron Reeves said. He said that to add on up to 10 runs will be about $35,000 more.

That was the newest update Reeves shared with other city representatives at a meeting June 21.

The meeting was a continuation from a meeting in May when representatives of Cloquet, Scanlon, Moose Lake, Carlton, Wrenshall and Esko met to collectively figure out a solution for strays.

Several of the representatives said they have not had any problems with strays in the last month.

Reeves said there were a few issues in Cloquet, but they worked themselves out.

The two Carlton County commissioners weren't present at the latest meeting. Marv Bodie said he was out of town and unable to attend.

New to this meeting was a representative from the Fond du Lac Police Department, Mike Diver. He said he was frustrated with what he felt was "double dipping" by the animal shelter. He said he was told FOA was charging FDL for taking in strays, then also charging the owners a fee when they claimed their pet. Others at the table nodded in agreement and said they heard similar stories.

Diver said they paid about $15,000-$18,000 a year in the past and have been working on a new contract with FOA for $23,000. Diver said they are willing to collaborate with the other cities for the new pound.

Reeves stressed the ideas are just a concept at this point, except the kennel.

He said he is taking into consideration the extra costs of housing stray dogs, such as utilities and food.

"We need to have someone to kind of watch them, we don't know how many we will have at a given time. If we can find someone to work part time or on call basis then we can pay them for the couple of hours they come in and feed them and stuff like that," Reeves said. "After the five days, we are not going to kennel the animals and find them adoptions. We will hold them the mandatory hold time and if Animal Allies is not willing to take them we will have to euthanize."

He explained that AA takes the pound animals in Duluth for free if their owners don't claim them and Reeves is hoping Cloquet can enter into a similar agreement. He also noted that personnel was the largest cost for AA.

Reeves addressed everyone at the table and said FOA had not reached out to him since the last meeting. FOA wasn't 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."

"They did away with the ACO and jacked up their prices," Moose Lake City Administrator Tim Peterson said. "I just don't think they wanted to do this portion of their business any more."

Reeves asked the county commissioners at the previous meeting if the county would be willing to contribute the $50,000 they gave FOA in 2017. The commissioners were noncommittal, saying they had not discussed it with other board members yet.

Reeves stressed again that they needed the money from the county in order to afford to run the pound.

"We are not excited to do this," Reeves said.

He said with just Cloquet's $31,000 and FDL's $20,000, they are halfway to meeting their goal. The target goal of $100,000 would be met with the $50,000 the county paid FOA last year. That does not include what the other five towns at the table have been paying.

A few people questioned if FOA actually spent the $50,000 on spaying and neutering the animals.

"We assume that if we get everyone to pay what they have been paying FOA we can do it for the same amount or less," Reeves said. "After the first year we will use our actual costs we can adjust the cost down to what it really is." He said they are not looking to make money, only cover their costs.

Without the money, Reeves said the other option is to rescind the stray ordinance in town.

Cloquet officers are currently being trained how to handle strays when they answer a call.

Reeves said the officers would also serve the neighboring communities.

He stressed the mini pound would only take dogs — no cats, rabbits or other animals usually taken in by FOA.

The pet license could also be a thing of the past. Instead, either a dog tag or a chip will be required, along with the rabies shot.

Reeves said the department purchased a chip reader several weeks ago. The theory is, once a dog is picked up, the animal control person will look for identification on the animal. If they find the owners name and number, they will call and notify them that they have their dog.

The current contract with Animal Allies ends in September. Reeves is hoping if there is not a contract worked out with FOA by that time that AA will take the Cloquet strays free of charge as they do for the Duluth pound. Reeves said AA will probably be willing to extend the contract if necessary, but he doesn't think they are interested in continuing indefinitely. He said he also inquired if AA would be interested in opening a satellite office in Carlton County but they declined.

"We are willing to present it to the city council at the July 17 meeting to see if they support it, which I think they will," Reeves said. "As long as we get everyone to provide a commitment that will pay to the city to cover our cost. We will continue to pay what we thought we were paying."

He said he will contact county commissioners to find out if they are willing to give the $50,000 to Cloquet instead of the FOA and encouraged the other representatives to also contact them.

Reeves said he will send an email to the other towns to let them know where the Cloquet City Council stands after their meeting and move forward from there.

Editor's note: Read more coverage of this story in next week's Pine Journal when Friends of Animals responds to issues raised during the stray animal meetings.