City and Humane Society honored

Published 10:00 am Friday, April 16, 2010

The city of Albert Lea and the Freeborn County Humane Society were honored last week by the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs with an award for their work on collaborating on the city’s animal shelter. 

The Local Government Innovation Award is given annually for collaboration between public, nonprofit or private organizations to reduce costs and improve services. 

Karen Meyerson, volunteer with the Humane Society, said during the awards banquet on April 7, four counties, four cities and three schools were recognized. 

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“We were very excited,” Meyerson said. “We were probably the smallest program there in terms of monies. Most of those were multi-million projects.” 

Despite this, she said, many people came up to the local group after the banquet and told them how impressed they were with Albert Lea’s project. 

“We were proud to be part of Albert Lea,” Meyerson added. 

In December, the Albert Lea City Council unanimously approved a 30-year lease for the Humane Society at the city’s existing shelter. 

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

It came about after talks about a collaborative effort off and on for a number of years. 

But it wasn’t until a year and a half 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.

The organization plans 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 Police Chief Dwaine Winkels said though it took over 10 years to get to the point of an agreement, he thinks the collaboration is a natural fit for both the city and the Humane Society — and for the community. 

When the city’s animal control officer left last 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 in December, 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.

Now that the agreement is in place, he said it is a matter of getting the community support behind the Humane Society that will make this project a further success. 

Meyerson agreed. 

“We need the support of the community to make this successful,” she said. 

She noted that the organization is going to work diligently on planning quarterly  fundraising events to help, as well. 

Local Humane Society Director Christa Stieler said the organization has met its requirements to receive the funds from the anonymous donor, and she hopes construction of the addition will begin in the spring or summer. 

Through December 2009, 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.

The shelter can be reached at 377-8501.