Completely caught off guard.
That’s how Sue Leach described the Watonwan County Humane Society’s reaction to the 90-day eviction notice it received from the City of St. James.
The animal shelter has operated in its current location on the northeast edge of St. James for 24 years, but is now forced to look for new quarters. Leach, who is the treasurer and a volunteer for the organization, said there had been some small issues, but the humane society had made the necessary changes for compliance…or so they thought.
“We haven’t been given a reason,” Leach says of the eviction. “So we’re looking at all of our options, we’re scrambling.” She says the city has promised to be flexible, but finding adequate housing for dogs and cats within St. James is no easy task. Most of the shelter volunteers live in St. James, and the veterinarian is also located there, so operating outside of that city could get complicated.
Leach said the arrangement that’s been in place was been mutually beneficial for the city and the humane society. “We had a place to house our animals; the city paid for our utilities, which we appreciated, and then we did the bulk of the care for impound animals.”
Complicating the issue further is ownership of the property and shelter buildings.
The city owns the land and the dog building. But the structure that houses the cats was built with donations raised by the Watonwan County Humane Society and its supporters. An agreement with the city gave St. James possession of the cat building once it constructed, so when the humane society moves, the shelter building will belong to the city, says Leach.
Building a replacement structure would cost around $75,000 or more, estimates Leach.
Even more confounding about the decision to evict the humane society was the absence of any discussion at city council or government meetings. “As far as we know there was no public discussion about it,” Leach said.
The shelter has about 60 days left to relocate. While they are eyeing two locations that would require extensive remodeling, Leach says they are nowhere close to securing a new spot. So instead of worrying about the future, workers are focusing on what they can do in the present.
Volunteers have started “Save Our Shelter” yard sign campaign, which Leach said has produced an outpouring of support. Until they know where the animals will go, and what the needs of a new location will be, other fundraising efforts are on hold.
There are currently five dogs and about a dozen cats housed at the shelter. If the organization doesn’t secure a location before they have to leave, those animals will have to go into foster care, which Leach says can be a difficult venture.
Still, Leach says she hopes it doesn’t come to that. “We’re so focused on the present that it’s hard to think even 60 days out.”
What the organization really needs now, Leach says, is for city officials to support the humane society and show that they want the shelter to remain in the community, helping animals.
Leach said the outpouring of support from the community has been encouraging. “It makes us feel like we are doing the right thing,” she said. “The community wants us there.”
To obtain a yard sign, or to suggest a new location for the Watonwan County Humane Society, supporters can message the organization on Facebook.
Signs can also be picked up at the shelter between 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., or requested by calling (507) 942-7387.