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Animal Allies pulls out of Superior

The Animal Allies sign at the Superior Animal Shelter will be coming down at the end of April after the organization’s board of directors decided last week to end its management agreement with the city of Superior. (Jed Carlson/

Animal Allies board of directors is ending its management agreement for the animal shelter in Superior effective April 30.

And city administration is offended by wording of the letter ending a two-plus year agreement.

The decision comes less than a month after the Superior City Council decided to suspend a design contract for a new 8,600-square-foot animal shelter.

“It was a very difficult decision for the board to make,” said Animal Allies Director Rick Sailstad. Animal Allies took over the shelter operation at the start of 2012 at its Hill Avenue location. The organization was asked to help the city plan its new animal shelter and manage it once built based on a recommendation from the Humane Society of the United States after an evaluation of animal protective services in Duluth, Superior and Douglas County.

“The Animal Allies Board of Directors met yesterday to review our involvement with the City of Superior’s new and current shelters. “The shelter’s reduced function as a ‘stray hold’ only differs greatly from the facility design we agreed to in the Memorandum of Common Understanding,” Board President Tim Riley wrote in a letter delivered Jan. 10 to Mayor Bruce Hagen.

“Based on the City of Superior’s change in direction, our board has instructed that we withdraw from further involvement,” Riley stated in the letter.

Animal Allies runs no kill shelters, exceeding the criteria necessary to make that claim. About 97 percent of healthy animals brought to its shelters found new homes.

Stray hold gives pet owners an opportunity to reclaim a lost animal within a set time before being adopted or euthanized.

“Please, please, please dispel this crap that’s out there that we’re going to inject animals on day seven,” Hagen said during a hastily planned press conference Thursday.

Hagen said Wednesday the city’s direction hasn’t changed, and he believes the city can still provide shelter and adoption services as a no kill operation.

 “I am very insulted, as are my colleagues, with the terminology of a stray hold facility,” Hagen said. The terminology, he said implies that the city would operate a “kill shelter.”

“That has never, will never, be the position of the city of Superior,” Hagen said.

Council President Warren Bender agrees the city’s plan hasn’t changed.

“We shouldn’t be putting animals down,” Bender said.

“We are going to serve and care for the animals in this community,” Hagen said.

“I just don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Dr. Bob McClellan of Superior Animal Hospital. Late last week, he attended a meeting with city officials and others planning the new shelter. During that meeting, the possibility of the Humane Society of Douglas County taking over operation of the city’s shelter was discussed.

McClellan said the humane society is a smaller organization than Animal Allies and run largely by volunteers. It planned to close its shelter near County Highway Z and focus on fundraising when the new shelter was built, he said.

Marcy Barby of the humane society said the issue will be discussed by the board during a special meeting at the end of the month. She said at this point, the full board hasn’t had an opportunity to discuss the city’s proposal.

The council voted Dec. 17 to suspend a $126,710 design contract with Animal Arts for an 8,600-square-foot facility after spending about $70,000 to design a 6,300-square-foot facility.

For six years, the city has been planning to build a new shelter. However, the cost of constructing that shelter has been a roadblock to the project. Undetermined operating and maintenance costs have also been a barrier. Current estimates put the construction cost at about $3.1 million while the city only has about $2.2 million for construction.

“The decision by Animals Allies is difficult but it’s likely to force the city to do something,” Hagen said. He said Animal Allies decision will have the city re-evaluating its needs and options.

Dr. Amanda Bruce of PetCare of Duluth said that could be a good thing because the number of surrendered and stray animals is declining in the Twin Ports.

Animal Allies is bringing in more than 300 dogs a year to meet the demand for adoptions, she said. While cats are more abundant and more work to find homes for, Bruce said between 2011 and 2013 the intake of cats is down 25 percent in Superior and 40 percent in Duluth.

She said programs like PetSmart grant funding to promote spaying and neutering of animals is starting to have a positive impact on the stray population in both cities.

“We’re working on interim management of the shelter right now,” Hagen said.

Bender and Hagen drove out to the humane society facility to take a look at the operation there this week.

If the humane society and the city reach an agreement, Hagen said the city would likely keep the Superior animal shelter open until the Humane Society of Douglas County shelter is renovated.

The 5,000-square-foot building on 2½ acres of land is about two miles south of the site where the city planned to build a new shelter.

While the building needs work, Bender said it was a very clean, well-operated facility.

Animal Rescue Federation, which operated the Superior Animal Shelter for more than a decade before Animal Allies took over in 2012, has been  dissolved, said Dan O’Neill, an ARF board member who fought unsuccessfully to keep the organization together until Superior’s new animal shelter was built.

He said he believes the organization probably could be put back together if it proves necessary.

Bender said whatever the humane society decides when it meets at the end of the month, he doesn’t believe the City Council would be ready to make decisions at its only meeting next month, Feb. 11. It’s likely to be March before the Council has an opportunity to address the issue, he said.

“There will be positive developments soon,” Bender said. “Stay tuned.”

In the meantime, it will be business as usual at the Superior shelter and the Animal Allies plans to work with the city to ensure a smooth transition, Sailstad said.

Hagen said he is optimistic the city will find resolution soon.