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Southern MN animal shelter scrambling to find home after city issues eviction notice

The city has been the Watonwan County Humane Society's landlord for 24 years, but now it is evicting the shelter.

The Watonwan County Humane Society is scrambling to find a new space after being asked to move out of its longtime home. 

The private, nonprofit humane society has operated in a rent-free, City of St. James-owned building on Weston Avenue within the water treatment facility for 24 years, the shelter says

But in early March, the city issued an eviction notice, giving it 90 days to vacate without being given a reason why, Sue Leach of the Watonwan County Humane Society told Bring Me The News. The city has since said it will be "flexible" with the date they have to move out, "but we haven't been told anything more than that."

The humane society, which formed in 1997, takes in and rehomes 200-250 dogs and cats every year and helps owners with low-cost care for their animal, it says. In 2020, the shelter saw its busiest year yet, with nearly 300 animals adopted from the shelter, the Mankato Free Press reports.

"Another issue with this eviction is that the cat building —which is quite nice and fairly new, was paid for by the WCHS donor money — will remain on the property and the city will keep it. We will lose a building we built and paid for," Leach told BMTN via email on Monday. 

Since news spread that the humane society needed to find a new home, "Save our Shelter" signs have been popping up in the area, FOX 9 reports. And they've gotten almost 100% support from the community, Leach told St. James News.

"We are dedicated to continuing our mission of helping animals in need," a March 28 post on the Watonwan County Humane Society's Facebook page states. "While we make our way through this time of uncertainty, we are in need of your support more than ever."

The shelter is asking people to contact them with any potential properties that would work for them, consider making a donation to "help defray our anticipated increase in monthly operating costs," the post says, and contact city officials to voice their support for the shelter, Leach notes.

"We have nowhere to go at this point. We do not know what will happen to us," Leach told BMTN.

The humane society is looking for a building that is affordable, can house dogs and cats, is zoned for animals, and isn't in a residential area, Leach said. 

They'd also like to stay in the St. James area as it's near the shelter's partner veterinarian and many of its volunteers, the Mankato Free Press says. 

“We’re scrambling now. Almost all of our time and energy is going into looking for a new location, which is not easy to find in St. James,” Leach told KEYC

If the shelter can't find a new location in time, they may have to change to foster-only, which would limit how many animals the shelter can take in, reports note. 

"If we didn’t have a shelter there’s a lot of people would be dumping animals on the side of the road, or out in the country, and there would be a lot of animals roaming around with no care or homes," Watonwan County Humane Society volunteer Terry Aspelund told FOX 9. 

In statements to KEYC and the Mankato Free Press, the City of St. James said: 

"We have been working with Watonwan County Humane Society about relocating their operations for about a year. The City is very flexible with the timeline and has offered to assist in any way possible. The City appreciates and applauds the work of the humane society and looks forward to continue a working relationship with the organization. Based on legal advice, the City has no further comment at this time.”

In a statement to FOX 9, the City noted it is working with the shelter's board of directors to reach an "amicable solution" on a proposal the humane society brought forward, adding "we want a solution that will benefit all parties involved" but it is "no longer appropriate for the City to serve as their landlord."

Bring Me The News has reached out to the City of St. James for comment. 

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