City OKs 30-year lease for animal shelter

Published 9:35 am Friday, December 18, 2009

After months of being in limbo, the Humane Society of Freeborn County can finally move ahead, said Director Christa Stieler.

Humane Society members shed tears of joy at Monday night’s City Council meeting as the council unanimously approved a 30-year lease for the Humane Society at the city’s existing shelter.

“I’m very relieved and very excited,” Stieler said. “We can finally move ahead.”

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Under the agreement, the Humane Society will run the shelter and the city will provide $400 per month to help care for the animals. The agreement also allows for the Humane Society to build onto the shelter.

The plans are to build onto the existing Albert Lea Animal Shelter in Frank Hall Park. The shelter has mostly dog kennels. The addition will include a space for cats and a quarantine area for incoming pets. There will be a lobby area, dog runs and an outside area for cats.

Albert Lea City Attorney Lee Bjorndal said the agreement is a nice public-private partnership.

“It’s a clear benefit to the city and to stray pets and animals,” he said. “I think other communities would be ecstatic about having such an agreement.”

Police Chief Dwaine Winkels agreed. He said the agreement comes at a very good time. When the city’s animal control officer left earlier this year, she was not replaced due to a hiring freeze. Thus, the city was unable to devote the kind of time it needed to animal issues.

“Neither one of us could do this on our own,” Winkels said of the city’s need to take care of stray animals and the Humane Society’s desire to have a shelter. Previously, all animals picked up outside the city limits had to be in foster homes.

The city and Humane Society have talked about a collaborative effort off and on for a number of years, Winkels said. But it wasn’t until 15 months ago — when an anonymous donor stepped up and offered the Humane Society $150,000 for a shelter, provided the organization could raise the rest of the money needed to finish the facility — that talks really began in earnest.

“We knew neither one of us could do this on our own,” Winkels said.

He said the idea had the support of City Council and staff all along, with the mayor and a councilor sitting in on meetings.

Bjorndal said this is exactly the kind of project the community likes to get behind. “I think it’s going to be a great facility. I think people are going to be very pleased with it.”

The Humane Society has raised nearly $100,000 for the shelter addition through fundraisers and donations, Stieler said. People can still send tax-deductible donations to P.O. Box 423, Albert Lea. With the $150,000 from the anonymous donor and the rest that has been raised, the shell of the addition can be constructed.

“We will still need ‘innards,’” she added.

Some outside dog kennels have already been constructed, and Stieler said she hopes construction on the addition can begin in the spring.