Animal rescue group grows
County families take in dogs, cats in need of homes
October 13, 2023
Five dogs and nine house cats roam through Taylor and Shannon Hansberry's Barnum home, napping in sunbeams, nuzzling the couple or their son Ruxin for attention, and gently but firmly approaching newcomers to see if they'll offer the same. Nearby, a pair of camera-shy feral cats live in a small enclosure the family maintains in their garage.
The Hansberrys are one of a handful of families in the recently formed Carlton County Animal Rescue, members of which began fostering lost and stray animals in June.
"They don't have a choice, they're just here, and they're here because of us, and so it's our responsibility to take care of them. Make sure they're not suffering," Taylor Hansberry said.
The couple started fostering animals after they took in Hope, a Staffordshire terrier that had been abandoned alongside its siblings in a church parking lot in Alabama in 2016.
Now, of the 16 animals at the Hansberrys' house, eight are fosters for the new Carlton County rescue and one, a black cat named Allen, is a rescue from Ruff Start Rescue in Princeton, Minnesota. The remainder are cats or dogs, like Hope, that the couple has adopted themselves.
Arranged in a hallway in their house are portraits of the Hansberrys' own pets alongside animals they've cared for who have since been adopted. The 11 fosters on the wall represent about half of the animals they've temporarily taken in this year, Taylor Hansberry said.
"Once we started interacting with the community of fostering, it was very evident that ... the volume of animals in need is greater than we knew," Shannon Hansberry said.
'So many requests'
The new Carlton County rescue aims to care for pets that need new homes, and ultimately pair them with adoptive families. Some are strays, others are surrendered, and still others need a new place to live after their owners die or are incarcerated.
Rescue members also plan to host educational seminars, such as a training for prospective volunteers and foster families scheduled for 3:30-7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 15, at New Life Community Church in Carlton.
The new rescue is a replacement of sorts for the Friends of Animals Humane Society, a longtime nonprofit shelter and Cloquet institution that began to struggle financially and ultimately closed its doors in the fall of 2018.
The closure was followed by the inevitable problem of having no place for strays to go.
"Things just went like they would without an animal rescue," said Cloquet resident Cory Martinson, the president of the new rescue's board of directors. "There was a problem that started to happen with stray dogs, cats, nobody that could round up animals if they were lost ... no place to put them if they were surrendered."
While there was no longer a physical shelter, an online group has played a vital role in local animal welfare in the years since the humane society shut down.
Missing Pets in the Northland is a volunteer group that spreads the word on Facebook about lost and found pets. The Facebook page and its small group of volunteers posts about pets and strays across northeastern Minnesota and nearby Wisconsin, and utilizes some foster homes. Together with its more than 20,000 followers, they often solve the riddle of a missing pet in a matter of hours, although that doesn't always happen.
Cloquet resident Jodi Carlson is the face of the Missing Pets in the Northland group in Carlton County and a veterinary technician. In the years since the Cloquet shelter closed down, Carlson has been carrying much of the burden of Carlton County's animal control on her own volunteer shoulders.
Members of the new Carlton County Rescue are trying to relieve some of that burden. The new Carlton County rescue began informally in 2021, was incorporated in June 2022, and received its nonprofit designation in February.
"The needs just kind of kept piling up," said Erin Thompson, the new rescue's treasurer and a member of its board. "We've got so many requests."
For the moment, the rescue is an organization of animal enthusiasts working from their homes across Carlton County. Rescue members - all volunteers - coordinate among themselves to locate, pick up, and take in loose animals.
The animals stay with fosters like the Hansberrys while they await adoption. In the meantime, rescue members coordinate veterinary care, which includes spaying and neutering animals in their care, as well as getting them microchipped and immunized.
In September, Thompson and another volunteer drove a vanload of 16 rescued cats to a veterinarian in Baldwin, Wisconsin - a two-and-a-half hour drive each way - who specializes in spaying and neutering cats.
"It was kind of a fun adrenaline rush just to know that, 'Hey, this is happening,'" Thompson said of the trip. "We're getting to the stage that we've been waiting for and working for for the last year, year-and-a-half."
Thompson said rescue members hope to take a trip like that once a month, ferrying 12-25 cats at a time to get fixed. She drove another 21 cats to the same Baldwin vet on Oct. 3. Dogs in the rescue's care will generally get the same surgeries in the Twin Ports area, Thompson explained.
"You can't transport quite as many of those in one vehicle," she said with a laugh.
The rescue has similar arrangements with veterinarians in Cloquet and Duluth.
A 10-acre dream
The rescue's leaders have a longer-term plan to establish a dedicated brick-and-mortar shelter.
The dream, Martinson said, is a building on 10 or so acres of land with a walking path, a large fenced-in area for dogs to play, and enough distance from neighbors to avoid noise complaints.
Martinson said the new rescue is not meant to be a "rebirth" of the old Friends of Animals Humane Society that closed in August 2018.
"The only connection to Friends of Animals is that they are gone and now we are here," Martinson said. "There's no carryover."
When FOA closed and disbanded, the longtime nonprofit was facing financial difficulties and a building in downtown Cloquet which had become a money pit, with renovations needed for prior renovations to stop the spread of disease. There wasn't enough money, and when FOA reached out to the city of Cloquet, Carlton County and other cities and townships that contracted with the humane society for animal control, they didn't get any additional funds and had to shut down.
When asked how the new rescue planned to avoid a similar fate, Martinson said that Carlton County Animal Rescue has been studying sustainable businesses in the region. Staff at the new organization have spoken to their counterparts at shelters in St. Louis County and Douglas County, as well as Marathon County, Wisconsin, and Golden Valley, Minnesota, Martinson said.
"We cheat off their notes," he said. "Those are our model organizations. Ones that have weathered things like Covid ... where things got difficult on a lot of animal shelters."
The rescue has hosted a series of fundraisers since its inception and recently began taking in adoption fees. The broad plan, financially, is to rely on fees for adoption and other services, as well as grants, donations, and contracts with cities and townships in Carlton County for animal control services, Martinson said.
The proportion of each of those revenue streams is still developing, Martinson said, but he said he expects Carlton County Animal Rescue to eventually have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of annual operating expenses - a mortgage for a shelter, salaries for a director and staff, and so on - with income to match.
A brand-new shelter building would be costly. Friends of Animals estimated in 2018 that they would have needed about $750,000 to build a new facility, according to Martinson. A year later, the city of Cloquet estimated a new shelter could cost as much as $2 million.
"Even if somebody wrote us a check for the whole thing right now, we couldn't do it today," Martinson said. "We'd have to locate it and get the expertise together to do it right. We certainly also do not have the money today. We would love a large endowment or something from the rich guy that passes away or something like that, but we're not holding our breath. We're going to do things one step at a time until we get the money."