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Animal Shelter Plans To Close, Building Conditions Blamed

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By James Schugel, WCCO-TV

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. (WCCO)
— A Minnesota animal shelter — currently the only animal shelter in Itasca County — is making plans to close because its ventilation is making workers and pets sick.

“The thought of having to lock the door and close this place for good is really hard to try to swallow,” said Kim Olson, a board member with Star of the North Humane Society in Coleraine, Minn. “We all have a responsibility in our area, and the animals are part of that responsibility.”

The building’s ventilation system is failing, and mold and bacteria are becoming overwhelming. There are several parts of the shelter where metal is so old, it’s rusted out, and these spots are in the dog kennels.

But shelter director’s say there isn’t enough money to fix the numerous problems.

It’s the latest case of hardship for the shelter, which has helped thousands of pets throughout the years. The shelter has been a bright spot for the close to 700 who get help here annually, including dogs and cats that are malnourished, sick and abused.

“The animals deserve a safe place to do when they haven’t been treated properly,” said Olson. “With the way the building is now, no, we cannot ethically continue in this building.”

In a letter to Itasca County Commissioners a month ago, shelter directors said, “We are not living up to the responsibilities of the humane society we formed.”

The president and vice-president of the board of directors went on about the conditions.

“The largest drain of the society over the last several years has been the uninhabitable conditions of the facility. Because of the run-down conditions, the deterioration of the infrastructure, and the inability to keep the building hygienically clean, we have spent thousands of dollars treating illnesses in the animals.”

Fixing numerous problems is too expensive at a time when donations are down and funding is being cut.

“We really basically rely on donations to keep the doors open,” said Olson. “And unfortunately, with the economy and where it’s at right now, our donations are down so much. They’re down so much that we’re hoping we can make it through the end of the week.”

Itasca County used to grant the shelter $20,000 dollars a year. The grant is less than half that now, and money comes in on a per-dog or per-cat basis.

“This wasn’t about not wanting to give them less. Everybody’s getting less,” said County Commissioner Rusty Eichorn.

He says the county just can’t afford what is used to pay. With state cuts in funding to the county, leaders have made tough choices about where to allocate money.

“We are providing the necessary service at this level, and it’s been working,” said Eichorn. “So it’s not just because of cuts Itasca County has made over the years that is causing the predicament the shelter is in.”

The county could be without a shelter in days, which doesn’t sit well with Coleraine’s mayor Mike Antonovich.

“I think it’s a responsibility of all of us to maintain the building, because we all bring animals there,” he said.

A task force made up of other shelter managers and city leaders in Northern Minnesota wants to find a solution, but Star of the North’s future is looking dimmer, and so is the future for animals that depend on it.

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