What’s new at Animal Control


Good news for chickens: Minneapolis Animal Care and Control has never euthanized one.

Even though a rooster and a chicken were behind bars last week at the city’s animal shelter, just across the Mississippi River from Northeast at 212 17th Ave. N., (waiting, possibly, for their owners to show up), shelter coordinator John Kilner said that a chicken rescue group would likely claim them at the end of the fowls’ mandatory six-day incarceration. A similar positive outcome probably also awaited the Russian tortoise, sitting under a heat lamp in a terrarium. Its rescuer would likely be a Minnesota Herpetological Society member, according to Kilner.

But adult cats and “bully breeds” of dogs, especially American Staffordshire Terriers (pit bulls)–are a different story.

“We can’t keep up with the numbers of cats and bully breeds that we get,” said Dan Niziolek, Minneapolis Animal Care and Control manager, who added that few people come to the shelter wanting to adopt adult cats. “If we are euthanizing any healthy, adoptable animals, it’s cats. That’s the part of this job we don’t like.”

And although someone might come to the shelter seeking a pit bull, they won’t get one. “The only way pit bulls or any bully breed leaves here is with a rescue group,” he said. “They screen the animals and the families. People can adopt through them.”

New initiatives

Animal Care and Control recently launched a pet licensing campaign, he said, which points out that licensed pets are three times more likely to find their way home than unlicensed dogs and pets. Owners of licensed pets can save up to $200 in fees and fines if their pet is found running loose: If animal control officers find a licensed animal, for instance, they will return it to the owner free of charge. If nobody’s home, the animal gets free overnight lodging until it can be reunited with its person. If the animal is unlicensed, however, the owner must pay a fine and shelter fees before reclaiming it. (Licensing can be done on-line, at www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/animal-control.)

Niziolek said that Animal Care and Control staff recently launched another initiative: sheltering domestic abuse victims’ pets. “We have found that sometimes people won’t leave an abusive situation, for fear of what will happen to the pet they left behind,” Niziolek said. “Now they can bring their animals here and know they will be safe.”

Animal Care and Control will soon add something it has never had before: volunteers. Niziolek said they plan to start interviewing for a volunteer coordinator (the job will be open to the public) in March. The coordinator will likely start work by May, and will be seeking prospective volunteers.

Another newcomer to Animal Control is Sergeant Angela Dodge, a Minneapolis Police Officer who joined the unit Jan. 25. Having a police officer on the job will greatly help animal control officers who are not police officers and do not carry weapons, Niziolek said.

“She will support our officers when they are dealing with less cooperative people. We’re serving 60 warrants a year to people who slam doors in our faces. Animals are being used in criminal acts of violence, abuse, and dog fighting. We’ve gotten strong support from the city council and mayor on this.”

The mission

Animal Care and Control often transfers some animals to other shelters—such as the Animal Humane Society (AHS)—for adoption, Niziolek said. But AHS has a different mission from Animal Care. City shelter staff are legally obligated to protect the public by rounding up strays, investigating dog bites and declaring a dog dangerous.

“We get the naughty ones,” said Lori Olson, Deputy Director of Environmental Management and Safety (which oversees Animal Care and Control). “We get the obviously aggressive dogs, as well as the sick and abandoned animals.”

Last year the shelter processed 2,899 animals. According to an “Impound Outcomes” chart, 845 of them were DOA (dead on arrival), meaning that shelter staff went out and picked up their bodies; 978 were euthanized (sick, badly injured, obviously aggressive); 460 were returned to owner; 402 were adopted; 185 were transferred to other agencies; and 29 were “other.”

Also in 2009, the counter service activities (total of 7,169) included 3,990 people who came to the shelter looking for animals, either seeking lost pets or wanting to adopt; 497 adoptions; 291 rescues; 574 enforcement (people coming in to deal with violations); 675 licenses sold; 132 drop off (strays brought in or owner surrendered); 116 off leash (running loose); and 894 “other.”

Dangerous dogs

Animal Care and Control declared 32 animals dangerous and 200 potentially dangerous, and destroyed 20 (who fell into either category) last year. The destruction number is down from 55 in 2008 and 59 in 2007. In the past, Niziolek said, the consequences of having a dangerous dog fell on the animal, not the owner. “Our serious bite numbers started dropping when we started holding people financially accountable,” he said. “The numbers of serious bites have decreased by 100 in the last four years.”

Olson said animal control has gotten more aggressive about declaring dogs dangerous or potentially dangerous.

“We can declare a dog dangerous even before it bites,” Niziolek said.

It’s not always easy to tell which dogs are dangerous, he added, but a dog who bites once is more likely to bite again.

“Pit bulls are strong and loyal; they’re the dog of choice for criminal activities. They were bred to protect their owners against other animals, but now we’re seeing some who are being trained to attack people.”

However, he has seen other aggressive dogs, of breeds that are not generally considered dangerous, such as Dalmatians and Akitas. “We have a poodle on the dangerous dog list,” he added. (Photos of Minneapolis’ dangerous dogs, plus their owners’ names and addresses, are on the city’s website.)

A dog is deemed dangerous if it bites someone, unprovoked; kills another domestic animal, unprovoked, when not on its home territory; or repeatedly attacks or tries to attack a person or domestic animal on private or public property. It might also be labeled dangerous if its owner has dog fighting equipment and the “dog displays evidence that it has been or will be fought,” according to the city’s ordinance on dangerous and potentially dangerous animals.

Owners of dangerous dogs have to register with the city, have the dog microchipped and neutered or spayed, seek training to address the aggression, post “Dangerous Dog” signs on their house, keep the animal current on its rabies shots and muzzle and leash it on a three-foot leash when the dog is outside. They must provide an outdoor covered kennel at least five feet high and 32 square feet per animal that the dog cannot dig under. Owners also must provide proof of a current $300,000 insurance bond to cover any personal injuries the dog might cause. (A full list of the restrictions can be found in the Minneapolis Code of Ordinances, 64.110-64.135.)

Other animals

Animal Care and Control does not handle or shelter wild animals. However, sometimes during police raids, officers will report finding some exotic species of snakes or reptiles (which are illegal to own in Minneapolis) or an animal whose owner has been arrested, leaving nobody to care for it. “We got a 10-foot python in one raid, and there was supposed to be an alligator, too, but we never found it,” Niziolek said.

Kilner, the shelter coordinator, said that Minneapolis residents can drop off dogs at Animal Care and Control (called an “owner release”), and can also have their animals euthanized. “We offer that so an old, sick dog doesn’t suffer,” he said. “There is no charge and no questions asked.”

The shelter posts owners’ lost dog posters and fliers. Three veterinarians work at Animal Care and Control as contract employees, and many of the shelter’s 18 full time staff members, including Kilner, are veterinary technicians.

In addition to dogs and cats, “We take in birds, fish, and pocket pets like hamsters,” he said.

Niziolek said that while the staff sees some difficult and sad cases, there are happy stories, too. “It’s nice to see people getting a new dog, or being reunited with a lost pet. One time we had a man come into the lobby looking for his lost dog and while he was there, somebody brought his dog in. The dog stopped, turned, and literally jumped into the arms of its owner. That made everybody feel good.”

Animal Care and Control can be reached at 311. Kilner’s number is 612-673-6253. A link to its web site is available at nenorthnews.com, Event #5629.