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Superior City Councilor Dan Olson (left) talks with protesters as he enters the Government Center in Superior on Tuesday. Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com

Superior mayor reverses animal shelter decision

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More than 60 people turned out at the Superior Public Library to express concerns about a proposal to send the city’s strays to a shelter in Duluth.

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Before an overflowing crowd in the Board Room of the Government Center, Mayor Bruce Hagen capitulated to a “bad business decision” made in the face of public pressure to reconsider how to handle the city’s animal population in the future.

Hagen had originally proposed negotiating with Duluth to take stray cats and dogs from Superior, and work with either Animal Allies or the Humane Society of Douglas County to provide animal surrender services for Superior residents.

However, Hagen reversed course Tuesday night, recommending that the council negotiate with the Humane Society of Douglas County for interim management of the Superior Animal Shelter when Animal Allies’ contract ends April 30, and to move ahead with design of a new shelter in Superior.

Animal Allies board President Tim Riley told councilors that the board pulled out of Superior because the original design changed so drastically, and Animal Allies decided to pull out, in part, to protect its own interests.

Hagen said he is presenting a plan with clear timelines. If those timelines aren’t met, he said he is washing his hands of the animal shelter. After all, he said, the city has spent considerable time on the issue over the past six years — three of which since Hagen took office — and it is interfering with other city business.

Dr. Amanda Bruce of Superior, owner of Duluth Pet Care, agreed it is not a good business decision. The number of animals taken in through shelters in the Twin Ports has fallen to the number of animals Duluth took by itself in 2009, she said. However, she said she would support the community’s desire to build the shelter.  

While the council had approved a city-only shelter in 2011, that was sent back to the drawing board in favor of a countywide shelter. Considerable time was spent negotiating with other government entities to fill funding gaps for construction of a larger facility and greater operating expenses, Hagen said. Rural towns and villages declined to participate, and promised contributions for 10 years from Douglas County fell far short of filling the gap. The County Board committed $410,000 over 10 years to operate the shelter, leaving the city to pick up the tab for most of the cost to operate a countywide shelter. No county money has been committed to building a larger facility to accommodate a greater number of animals.

Hagen said he simply doesn’t believe city taxpayers alone should bear the burden for a countywide shelter.

The council amended the mayor’s original recommendation to negotiate with the rural humane society to manage the Superior shelter on an interim basis. The council also approved moving ahead with design of a new shelter. Further recommendations to seek bids by July and find a permanent management solution will be considered in the future.

“Right off the bat, I want to say we want to work with our mayor,” said Deanna Fetters of Superior. Fetters hosted the first meeting of Superior Animal Voices, a group working to create an organization or resurrect the Animal Rescue Federation to manage the city’s sheltering services.  

On Tuesday, the group staged a protest inside the atrium of the Government Center, urging councilors to vote against a proposal that would send Superior’s animals to Duluth.

Bonnie Wolden and Rita Keiffer of Superior stepped forward to offer their time to help get the new shelter built.

Christine O’Neill, a member of the former Animal Rescue Federation board, said the plan is to re-create the nonprofit that operated the shelter between 2001 and 2011.

Operating a shelter is about more than just having a place to take strays or to surrender pets people can no longer care for, O’Neill said. She said when ARF operated the city shelter, they were involved in taking animals in hoarding cases and other incidents where animal care services were needed. In 2010, the organization joined the city in a legal battle to remove three Rottweiler-mix dogs from their owner for negligent care of the animals. ARF won the right to place the animals for adoption in a Douglas County Circuit Court case.

Pat McKone of Superior said she didn’t appreciate being lectured when the mayor laid out the facts of the long process, but she thanked the mayor and the council for their decision.

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