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Animal shelter continues to serve need

JB was found tied in a bag on a Park Rapids street corner. The bottle fed beauty has claimed hearts at Headwaters - and will soon claim a home. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)1 / 4
Linda Sjodin was mourning the loss of her dog when "good fortune" united her with a new "Buddy." (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)2 / 4
Bailey Boo arrived at the shelter missing her left rear leg. The dog found a new home. (Jean Ruzicka / Enterprise)3 / 4
Mukwaa arrived at the shelter with an injured rear leg, causing extreme pain. A vet recommended amputation. A fundraising initiative was put into high gear and the hound underwent surgery, successfully, and then found a new home.4 / 4

Initially, the idea of an animal shelter opening in Park Rapids was considered a whimsical notion, not grounded in financial reality.

Now, nearly a decade after the Headwaters Animal Shelter opened its doors, it's considered by many cities and counties to be a prototypical model, with countless happy endings.

Just ask the guests.

Since the animal shelter's inception in April 2003, nearly 1,400 dogs have arrived at the shelter, 1,300 cats.

In 2012, 174 cats found shelter at the site, as did 176 dogs. Soon answering to new masters were 146 dogs and 122 cats found homes. Forty-seven animals were returned to owners, according to Rik Meyers, a shelter volunteer. And many more were reunited by connecting the finder with the owner via phone calls, without a trip to the shelter.

Dog adoption has been brisk this year, shelter manager Rochelle Hamp reports. During the height of the recession, "surrenders" were up 20 percent, she said, people citing job loss or moving. But that appears to have stabilized now.

The animals leaving the shelter have had a "four star" experience, receiving a check-up by a veterinarian, immunizations, neuter/ spay, deworming, a microchip and an engraved ID.

During the stay, animals are given daily walks and socialization.

The shelter strives to send healthy animals back to the community, explained Hamp, who's now been at the shelter for eight years, initially as an associate. "It's a wonderful job," she said, "but challenging."

An estimated 20 to 30 percent of the animals arriving at the shelter are owner-surrenders, she said.

The remaining animals are lost or deserted. Microchips are a means to reunite owners and animals, she said.

Animals arriving at the shelter are quarantined for seven days, allowing owners the opportunity to retrieve dogs, or, if they are to stay, to assess their personality.

Then, it's off to the "dogtor" for de-worming and vaccinations. Or, as Meyers refers to the procedure, inspected, injected, checked, chipped and clipped (neutered).

Some dogs are adopted within a couple of days. If an animal's stay is longer than normal, it's put "on sale" at half-price.

"Our goal is for them to move on and be happy," Meyers said. "We want them to have a new family."

"There are new stories every day," Hamp said of animals like JB, a kitten found tied inside a bag on a street corner, weighing just a half-pound. The bottle-fed kitten that naps on a heating pad will soon be ready for adoption.

And the empathetic friendship of a pair of hounds stirred hearts and fundraising.

Bailey Boo arrived at the shelter missing her left rear leg. Mukwaa, who arrived a short time later, had an injured rear leg, causing extreme pain. A vet recommended amputation.

A fundraising initiative was put into high gear and the hound underwent surgery, successfully.

Reunited their friendship was short-lived though, both driving off into the sunset with new owners.

Volunteers are key to the shelter's solvency, Meyers said of year-round fundraising drives.

Income at the shelter is predominantly derived - 76.5 percent - from donations, fundraising and memberships, Meyers reports.

Adoptions amount to 14 percent of revenue, surrender fees 2.5 percent and grants 7 percent. (The grant funds were up from 2 percent this year due to a Northwest Minnesota Foundation legacy grant.)

Thanks to the generosity of the late Al and Theda Slagle, the shelter carries no mortgage.

But fundraising is an ongoing process.

The shelter receives no money from the state, Minnesota Humane Society and only minimal funding from some of the cities it serves, Meyers said.

Shelter board member and treasurer Mary Aho reports the about $32,000 is spent annually in direct animal care - spaying and neutering, medical emergencies, food (with most of it donated), kitty litter, medicine and micro-chipping.

Salaries and expenses, such as insurance, come at a far higher cost. "It's a seven-day-a- week operation," Aho said.

The cadre of volunteers and community support keep the ship afloat, with dinners, garage sales, the auction at Jokela's grounds and the walkathon.

"We depend on the kindness of the general public," Aho said of the sources of revenue.

Grants today are harder to come by than in the past, Meyers said. Many are geared to cities with higher population.

Adopting families receive a bargain, "graced by local vets," Hamp said. Cats can be adopted for $100 (with adult cats "on sale" for $25 through the end of December). This compares with do-it-yourself costs of $231 to $284, depending on the vet.

An adult dog bids farewell to the shelter for $135, puppies $150. This compares with $307 to $357 for the traditional vet process, not to mention purchase costs of a breeder.

"We screen to match the right home to animal," she said, "with an option to refuse."

Adopting families have a two-week trial period, also with an option to refuse.

But that's a rarity.

Linda Sjodin was grieving the loss of her beloved Annie this summer, a dog she'd found as an abandoned puppy that subsequently spent the next 14 years by her side.

When Annie died, having earned a page in the Headwaters pet calendar, Sjodin was "devastated. But I didn't want another dog."

That would change when she met Buddy, at Rik and Lyn Meyers' urging. Buddy, 9, had been adopted as a pup but his human family was growing, and moving on. He needed a new home.

Meanwhile, Sjodin's husband had threatened he was "either getting a psychiatrist or another dog" for his despondent wife.

Sitting in a Chinese restaurant, she read her fortune: "When one door closes, another one opens."

"It was love at first sight," Sjodin recalls of their September introduction. Initially, Sjodin was a "foster" parent. But on Election Day, she cast her ballot for Buddy.

"We are having a great time," she said. "He's added such joy to our house." Buddy is by her side for daily walks.

And this Christmas, Annie's stocking has a new name on it, but with the "Annie" letters carefully tucked inside.

"I still carry that fortune in my wallet - behind Annie's picture."

When adoption is being considered, families and individuals are gently reminded, "I'm a forever dog, not an until dog...

"I'm not an until-you- get-bored dog, until-you- find-a-girlfriend dog, until-you-have-a-baby dog, until-you-move dog, until- you-have-no-time dog or until I get old.

"I'm a forever dog. If you can't give me forever, then I'm not your dog."