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A refuge for homeless pets

Cottage Grove resident Maggie Larson's black Labrador-Newfoundland mix was in bad shape when he arrived at Animal Ark No-Kill Shelter in Hastings.

"He was 3 or 4 years old and had belonged to a family in northern Minnesota who didn't want him. They barely fed him and never gave him any water," she said. "He had mange, he was heartworm positive, his front teeth were broken and he was starving."

At 104 pounds, he's now thriving and, "is a great dog even though you might think he would be mean from the mistreatment," she said.

He's one of three rescue dogs Larson has adopted from the shelter, where she volunteers at the reception desk two days a week.

The Hastings shelter, which opened its doors in the early 1970s, accepts dogs and cats of any age and condition, and litters of puppies and kittens. It has kennel space for 18 large or 22 small dogs downstairs. Upstairs it has two wings of cat condos, which can accommodate as many as 90 cats "depending on how well they all get along together," Larson said.

On Saturday, April 10, there were puppies in the reception area.

"We bring them to the shelter to socialize them," said Linda Ratay, a Newport resident who started volunteering at the shelter as a dog walker eight years ago and now fosters litters of pups at her home.

Puppies and small dogs usually stay a very brief time at the shelter before being adopted, Ratay said. "We take animals that other humane societies would kill when they walk through the door because of age, condition or behavior problems."

She said animals accepted at the shelter are spayed or neutered and their immunizations are brought up to date. If they have behavior problems, there is a trainer who works with them.

Ratay said staff members at the shelter try to guide people to the right animal for them. "We want to make an adoption a win-win situation; we want it to work for the family or individual and the animal."

Basically, all animals are adoptable, Ratay said, "but we do have to face reality. Some are too inbred or have been abused too much."

The trainer and the shelter's corps of volunteers work with the animals constantly, Larson said. "The dogs are walked or played with three to four times a day. Each dog has a raised bed with a blanket and toys. Cats live in condos with windows and scratch poles."

The shelter has socializing rooms, where individuals or families that are considering adopting are encouraged to visit with the animal multiple times before taking it home.

"The fee for puppies is $250 and the fee for other animals depends on their age," Larson said. The fee also includes one free visit to a veterinarian.

Animals at the shelter live there until they are adopted or die, Ratay said. "They all take a little piece of my heart, but I know I'm saving animals and giving them a good home."

Animal Ark No-Kill Shelter is supported solely by donations and the profits of its thrift store, at 809 East Seventh Street in St. Paul. The shelter is constantly recruiting volunteer walkers and foster homes. For details about all the shelter programs and a look at animals up for adoption, go to its Web site at