It has been almost six months since Friends of Animals (FOA) surprised residents and closed its doors. Local city officials and law enforcement representatives once again found themselves at the table in Cloquet City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 29, to discuss how to manage stray animals.

Cloquet City Administrator Aaron Reeves updated everyone with the animal shelter research he has been working on since last year.

"We did have the Douglas County shelter people tour the FOA building and they estimate it would be around $1.2 million to bring that building up to standards for a shelter," Reeves explained. "The HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning)/air exchange updates alone are over $500,000."

The prices don't include equipment. He said a new building would cost taxpayers around $2 million.

Carlton County Commissioner Dick Brenner said the FOA building has a sale pending.

After discussing options with the Humane Society of Douglas County and Animal Allies in Duluth and meeting with Carlton County officials, they decided to start with baby steps.

Reeves explained they are looking into implementing some type of spay and neuter program to help slow the number of unwanted litters of puppies and kittens.

Each spring, animal shelters are flooded with unwanted litters. Last spring, FOA reportedly had 150 cats and kittens in the facility. Reeves plans to contact veterinary clinics as well as mobile spay and neuter clinics to see what type of options are available.

"Our job is the stray side and prevention," Reeves said. He clarified that Friends of Animals was a Humane Society first and took in area strays as a secondary priority.

The microchip clinic last fall was well-received, according to Cloquet Police Chief Jeff Palmer. About 100 people attended the microchipping clinic at Veterans Park in Cloquet. Many more have stopped by the Cloquet Police Department to receive free vouchers to get their pets chipped at Animal Allies.

Palmer said he has even had to call officers when animals wandered onto his deck at home.

The various representatives sitting at the City Hall table said they haven't had a problem with strays since the FOA closed.

Thompson Township representatives said they have only received five calls for strays since Aug. 1; a Carlton representative said the city has received two calls; and Reeves said Cloquet has had only had two litters of kittens.

Several residents in the audience of 15 people spoke up. Carolyn Gilbertson said she's been involved behind the scenes of FOA almost from the beginning and is dismayed to find the hard work and efforts of the founders has come full circle.

"I am concerned that there is no place in town to bring a dog in an emergency situation," Gilbertson said.

Jody Carlson, a veterinary technician from Cloquet and one of the administrators of the "Missing Pets in the Northland" Facebook page, said she has seen many animals from Carlton County posted on the Facebook page since FOA closed.

As of Tuesday, there were 14 posts on the page of pets lost, found and reunited with their owners from Carlton, Esko and Moose Lake; the majority are from Cloquet.

One of them was almost hit by a train on Dunlap Island in Cloquet before being rescued. The dog was not wearing a collar or microchipped. Within five minutes of being posted, the owner responded and said the little dog had escaped from their fenced in yard.

Carlson said she has a microchip reader and is willing to help as much as possible.

"They are contacting us first and we take care of it so you guys don't need to," Carlson said. She said the page receives an average of eight posts concerning Carlton County pets each month. She also houses strays at her home, as does the veterinarian she works for in Duluth.

While Gilbertson said she would be willing to help fund a new building through taxes, Carlton County Coordinator Dennis Genereau was less optimistic that the general public would feel the same way.

Generau said during the last Truth in Taxation hearing, residents overwhelmingly said they want to see taxes decrease.

"The public has now stepped up," Reeves acknowledged.

"I would go down on bended knee to ask for a new shelter," longtime FOA volunteer Jim Nelson said.

Genereau said the audience's opinions are "reasonable."

"You do have to understand that not everyone feels the same about animal care as you do," he said, noting that the building would be a multi-million-dollar investment and would continue to need money annually after it's built.

"We are coming up against a lot of things - a water line that has arsenic involved," Genereau said. "A jail facility, mental health issues and opioid issues that cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to deal with it because people are dying. I love the passion and I appreciate it, but think about that when you say it's stupid that we are going back to this."

Palmer and Reeves urge residents to keep calling 911 if they find a stray animal. They said residents should also keep posting lost or found pets to "Missing Pets in the Northland" Facebook page.