Molly Lunaris was working as a teacher in Washington, DC when she made a critical career discovery: She felt a greater passion for a summer job in animal control than she did for teaching.
So, when an opportunity arose for the Richfield native to return to Minnesota and a job with St. Paul Animal Control, she took it. That was 13 years ago. Now, Lunaris is in charge of both the department’s Field Services and Shelter programs.
Animal Control provides care for more than 2,000 dogs, cats and other critters at the city’s shelter every year. Lunaris recently sat down with Eye On St. Paul to discuss dogs, cats, maybe a chicken or two — as well as to share a couple things you might not know about owning a pet in St. Paul.
This interview was edited for length.
Q: How many animals do you have in shelter at any one time?
HAS: It’s really hard to say. It fluctuates so much by season. In January when it’s cold, all of the dogs are hiding inside the house and the cats are too. We might have somewhere in the 10-15 range. And then around the summer it’s not unusual for us to have maybe 50 animals here at a time.
Q: What is the primary reason you have animals in the shelter?
HAS: Generally, it’s because an animal is lost and has gotten itself into some trouble. In the city, we don’t have packs of dogs running or anything like that. So, the animals we get in are often separated from their owners through some way, whether it’s accidental or, sometimes, intentional separation. We also get in a fair number of animals where the owner is in some type of a crisis — if they’ve been hospitalized or arrested and can no longer maintain that bond with the animal. Depending on the situation, we are sometimes working on reunification and sometimes working on re-homing that animal.
Q: How long will you hold an animal before you have to euthanize it or send it somewhere else?
HAS: We don’t have any type of a time limit on that. We have kept animals here at the shelter for months. [State law requires holding a lost animal for at least five business days before release. After the holding period is over, animals may be released to animal rescue organizations.]
Q: Are you open seven days a week?
HAS: No. We’re open Monday through Friday. Realistically, it’s seven days. Eight with holidays. We had an animal surrendered three weeks ago and he’s going out to a foster today.
Q: Do you have a relationship with foster organizations?
HAS: When we are not able to reunite an animal with its owner, then we are looking to re-home it in some kind of way. We are a small organization, so rather than try to do adoption, which requires staff and public hours and marketing, we really focus on our relationships with nonprofits. The main ones we work with are the Animal Humane Society [and] small nonprofits that do foster-based rescue. We probably have 25 of those in our network.
We’ve been able to grow our programs to the point that we really only euthanize 5% to 6% of the animals that come in. People talk about no kill versus kill shelters — it’s not language I love but people use those terms — and the target for shelters that call themselves no-kill is 90 percent.
Q: So, you either return to the owner or foster almost all the animals you get?
HAS: Or take them to another shelter.
Q: Why are your numbers are so strong?
HAS: That’s what the rate is for the Twin Cities in general. Minnesota is just a wonderful rescue community that really wants to help animals. That really allows shelters that are small like this or have limited resources to really grow the numbers.
Q: What kinds of animals do you have in shelter right now?
HAS: We’re primarily dogs and cats. In addition to that, we have a domestic bunny who is hanging out outside my office. We also have some roosters here. On most days, I would say we have a handful of roosters in our building.
This year we have had a lamb and a baby goat in. The goat was seized. [The owners] couldn’t care for it. The lamb was found stray. She was pretty sickly [and had to be euthanized]. But she had a great two weeks of lots of pampering by the veterinarian.
Q: How many officers do you have?
HAS: Right now, I have three animal services officers. And we’re staffed for five, so we have a couple of positions open that we’re working to hire. We’re on-call 24 hours a day. If there’s an animal emergency in the middle of the night, we get called out of bed.
Q: If people let their cat go outside the house, are they breaking the law?
HAS: Not in St. Paul. St. Paul does not require that cat owners purchase a license for their cat, although dog owners are required to. We ask people to be respectful and if they choose to have an indoor/outdoor cat, be mindful of neighbors who may not want them to dig in their vegetable garden. We always encourage people to keep their pets inside whenever they can.