Gimme more shelter

The city's cramped pet shelter will give way to a big new building -- saving animals' lives

Tucked deep in the bowels of downtown's industrial area is the city's sole animal shelter -- the Animal Care and Control Program. The one-story cinderblock building houses the more than 5,000 lost, stray and recovered animals found in Minneapolis each year.

In addition, the program provides services such as pet licensing, adoption and animal control services -- responding to complaints about barking dogs, intervening in neglect and abuse complaints, or answering calls to capture wild animals, including bobcats and foxes. About a quarter of service calls are from in Southwest.

However, Program Manager Bob Marotto said his ill-equipped building causes challenges for staff, harming the health of animals, which renders many unadoptable and therefore, having to be euthanized.

Cassandra Doyle, one of two-dozen shelter volunteers who plays with and grooms the animals, said her monthly shelter visits have been heartbreaking. "I wasn't a good volunteer. I was crying most of the time," said Doyle, who still goes periodically.

Still, the dreary image is expected to improve.

Soon the small, poorly ventilated facility at 506 11th Ave. N. will be a memory for anxious Animal Control staff, who await completion of their new $4.8 million building.

The building project's evolution The new facility at 1705 N. 2nd St. is slated to be finished in March; it will nearly triple shelter space. Project Manager Paul Miller said city staff has been try to locate a new facility since the current shack was acquired in the 1980s.

"It was just never a priority, and it finally got to the top of the list," said Miller, a city Public Works employee.

In 1998, the city pinned down the 2nd Street site, and in 2001 found the funding and began the design process.

The result, Miller said, is a building that will be vastly healthier for animals and will meet program's needs for years to come.

The current building Anyone who visits the current facility can see it wasn't built as a shelter, but as a mechanical facility. (It is so small that Marotto must hold animal hearings -- where staff discusses the fate of animals, often custody-related -- in a trailer behind the building.)

He said one-third to one-half of the animals the program takes in are euthanized because they are deemed too dangerous or too ill for adoption. (Many are victims of car accidents.)

The building's small capacity is a big reason why.

For example, Marotto said, in the current facility, the ventilation system for animals is not segregated, circulating the air from an ill animal's cage throughout the building. That contaminates healthy animals, the major health problem the shelter perpetuates, he said.

Marotto added that the kennels are separated by chain link, not actual walls, so dogs housed next to each other can have nose-to-nose contact that increases chances of contamination. "If you get a breakout of something, it's very hard to manage," he said.

Such exposure to diseases, such as kennel cough, can mean death for many animals. Animals brought to the shelter are held for five days and then evaluated for adoptability. Animals are deemed unadpotable most frequently because they're sick, injured or dangerous.

Animals classified as unadoptable are held as long as possible, depending on shelter capacity, but many are destroyed, Marotto said. So, for many animals, an improved and more segregated facility could mean a chance at adoption that he believes could save many animals.

"We want them to go to responsible pet owners and get them into homes," Marotto said with frustration. "We have more animals than we can find homes for."

But if there are too few homes now, why expect more animals to survive even if they are healthier? That's where the Minnesota Animal Humane Society comes in.

Society Executive Director Alan Stensrud said his group hasn't been able to offer its adoption services to Minneapolis because the city shelter can't guarantee the health of their animals.

"Years ago, we tried to take animals from the shelter, but many were sick because of the inadequacies of the shelter," he said.

However, Stensrud said he's optimistic the new building will provide a renewed chance to help. "They've needed (a new shelter) for many years," he said. "I'm looking forward to an adopting relationship."

Marotto said the new building has many capabilities that will improve and maintain animal health, such as proper ventilation and animal waste management.

Other new health-related items include specially designed cleaning systems, such

as pressure washers, segregated kennel drainage and a segregated hospital area to reduce the spread of disease and bacteria.

Marotto is looking also looking forward to the changes. "We will be able to work more effectively with community organizations in placing the animals," he said with

a smile.

The public benefit In addition to improving animal health, Marotto said, the new facility would better serve the public.

There are more than 8,000 shelter visitors yearly, and there is only one counter window in the current facility's cramped waiting room; lines often flow out the door and sometimes into the parking lot. But the new facility will have many windows and rooms for various services, which Marotto said would make his staff more able to effectively help the public.

He said the new building also has a large conference room, where animal hearings can be held. There will also be adoption rooms, where new pet owners can get to know their adopted pet.

For more information about the Animal Care and Control Program or to volunteer, call 348-4250.