Animal Allies shelters itself from the winter

Shy shelter resident, Betelgeuse, spends most of his time sleeping in his room. While cats don’t need to get outside, they do interact with volunteers on a daily basis and other cats if they are social. The 2014 winter in Duluth has been an especially rough one, and with more than 60 subzero days, it has definitely been a challenging year for businesses in the Northland. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Animal Allies animal shelter out on Airport Road. As an organization that sees most of its support coming from volunteers and the community, it has seen its share of difficulties from the snow and extreme cold.

“We joke here saying: 'How can things be so hard, it’s just puppies and kittens?'” said John Gustafson, the director of development and communications at Animal Allies. “But our job is not just to provide a place for these animals but to educate and motivate the community to support us and adopt.” The center relies primarily on support from the community and volunteers for their funding and workers. Currently, Animal Allies receives help from enough volunteers equating to a staff 17 full-time employees.

“Our snow removal is provided to us, free-of-charge, by Billmans Home Center.” said Gustafson. The home center plows their road and parking lots, allowing them and their patrons access on the worst of the snowy days. A snow blower was also donated to the shelter last year, providing Animal Allies with an easier way to clear their walks and dog trails behind the building.

“January was particularly tough as most of our student volunteers left over the break.” said Amy Miller, the marketing and communications director for Animal Allies. “Other volunteers couldn’t make it in because of the snow or cold. We’re primarily here for the animals.” She recalled how on the particularly brutal winter days, staff would drop what they were doing in order to walk and feed the animals.

Animal Allies lies under a layer of snow and ice, but that can’t shut them down. Located out on Airport Road in Duluth, the shelter operates off of volunteer support and donations like free plowing and a snowblower.


“On the upside, we’ve got a relatively new facility,” said Gustafson. “Some parts of the building are definitely colder than others. For the smaller dogs, we make them sweaters. We have the staff wear sweaters too and tell them to suck it up."

The building, built in 2009, is energy efficient and retains its heat better than older buildings. A tint was recently put on the building’s windows, intended to limit the heat that got into the building during the summer, but also has worked to stop heat loss during the winter.

Winter is generally a slower period for Animal Allies anyway. Fewer strays are brought in and fewer people make the trip out to adopt.

“Our rates of intake and adoption haven’t really changed this winter either, but we have seen an increase in frostbitten animals being brought in.” said Gustafson.

A volunteer prepares to take a shelter dog out for a walk in the snow. Dogs are only walked for as long as they feel comfortable, sometimes even less on the subzero days. They do, however, get enrichment and behavioral training with volunteers and medical treatment to prepare them for adoption.


He shared a story about a cat who was found trying to cross the Blatnik Bridge from Superior with frostbitten feet. After finding out where he was picked up, the shelter named him Blatnik in recognition of his bold endeavor. He had bandages on a front paw and a back legs for weeks. Luckily, Blatnik found a home after the Animal Allies shared his story on their website.

“Animal Allies has a ‘zero-euthanasia’ policy.” said Miller, “Medical treatment is expensive, that is one of our biggest challenges. But we think of it as a worth-while investment to make these pets presentable to the community.” All animals receive medical treatment to ensure that they are well and free of burden for when someone decides to adopt them. Animal Allies has maintained that policy since 2010 and through continued support, hopes to keep it going strong despite the frigid temperatures.

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