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Superior might go without animal shelter

When the Humane Society of Douglas County decided it couldn’t take on Superior’s animal sheltering and adoption needs, a small group of city residents gathered to discuss ways they could help out.

Animal Allies is pulling out of Superior, and someone has to care for the city’s stray and surrendered pets.

Among the ideas lofted was resurrecting the former Animal Rescue Federation, which operated the city’s animal shelter for nearly a decade, or starting a new organization.

The group, calling themselves Superior Animals’ Voices, has been meeting ever since to develop a plan to provide care for the animals. The group meets again at 7 p.m. today at the Superior Public Library, and they’re looking for support before the City Council meets Tuesday night to consider the future of a proposed shelter — one they worry may never come to be.

“I am livid,” said Deanna Fetters, who hosted the initial meeting around her kitchen table. She said shelter staff who met with Mayor Bruce Hagen told her that Superior wouldn’t have a shelter at all. Shelter staff were involved in planning for animal care in Superior after Animal Allies’ contract ends April 30.

The revelation on Facebook set off a firestorm of comments, everything from suggestions on how to address the potential problem to contacting Superior city councilors before they consider the future of the shelter.

“I encourage everyone who cares about the animals in our city to call your city councilors, the mayor, and any person you can think of to influence these decisions,” Misty Dalton posted with a link to the councilors’ contact page on the city’s website.

Superior officials have talked about replacing the city shelter for almost six years. A study in 2010 by the Humane Society of the United States suggested the city’s best option would be to work with the humane societies in Duluth and Douglas County to address the city’s needs. A year later, the city contracted with Animal Allies Humane Society in Duluth to take over operation of the Superior shelter, which had been run by the Animal Rescue Federation since 2001.

Hagen is seeking authorization from the Council to negotiate with the city of Duluth to handle care for Superior’s stray cats and dogs.

“What started as a joint venture among the city of Superior, Humane Society of Douglas County, Animal Rescue Federation, and Animal Allies Humane Society has changed substantially,” Hagen stated in a memo to council members. He said with Animal Allies pulling out of the project, the city has few options to continue operating a shelter.

Hagen said in addition to negotiating an agreement with the city of Duluth, the city would pursue agreements with Animal Allies or the county humane society to accept surrendered pets from the city.

The Animal Rescue Foundation dissolved despite urging from board members Dan and Christine O’Neill to wait until the new shelter was built.

Dan O’Neill said this week that there is no point in resurrecting ARF if the council goes along with the mayor’s plan of no longer operating a shelter; however, he hasn’t given up either. Last week, he urged citizens to be at the City Council meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Room 201 of the Government Center, where the mayor’s proposal would be introduced and considered.

While the city council had given tentative approval to build a 6,300-square-foot city-only facility at an estimated cost of $2.3 million during a closed session meeting in September 2012, the project was sent back to the drawing board for construction of a shelter that would also accommodate all of Douglas County.

In December, the council suspended design services for the larger shelter, and in January, Animal Allies announced it would cease operating the city’s shelter.

In November 2011, the City Council approved bonding $2.6 million for a new animal shelter. After a transfer to the city’s Capital Improvement Program and expenses related to planning the shelter, just less than $2.2 million remains of that bond.

“That’s a loan,” Fetters said. “We (taxpayers) have to pay it back.”

Superior Finance Director Jean Vito said the money remains designated for an animal shelter. However, the council has options. She said the council could leave the money designated for a animal shelter or could redesignate it to pay for other projects in the city.