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Rescuing cats is their business, and business is good: Through diligence, Feline Rescue is Minnesota’s largest animal rescue operation

Cats get comfortable on chairs and tables after dinner at Feline Rescue on Wednesday, Nov. 15. Feline Rescue is the biggest cat-rescue in the state and has doubled the number of cats it handles in five years. (Ginger Pinson / St. Paul Pioneer Press)1 / 2
Adam Bahr, a volunteer at Feline Rescue, the biggest cat-rescue in the state volunteers every Monday night. On Wednesday, Nov. 15, Bahr said he'd had a particularly stressful day at work so he stopped by to pay a visit to Beanie, a 1-year-old male cat. Bahr began working at the rescue center over the summer. "It's the best decision I've made this year," he said. (Ginger Pinson / St. Paul Pioneer Press)2 / 2

ST. PAUL — St. Paul-based Feline Rescue is becoming the best friend a Minnesota cat ever had.

In the past five years, the group has doubled the number of cats it handles. That means fewer euthanasias, more cats in happy homes and a reduction in feral cats — the outdoor cats that live on a diet of birds and rodents.

That's because the group has become serious — and businesslike — about how it rescues cats.

"People look at efficiency as being cold-hearted," said board president Alden Drew. "But to be of service to cats, we need to be better organized."

The group was founded in 1997 and had no paid staff until 2016.

As it grew, the weaknesses of relying solely on volunteers became apparent, Drew said.

He said that pet-rescue groups are populated with kindhearted people who love animals — but don't know how to manage a large group of them.

That passion and a misplaced sense of independence hurts the longevity of the groups.

"If people don't agree with you, they say, 'I will just start my own rescue,' " Drew said.

That's one reason there are more than 300 animal rescue groups in the state, he said. Feline Rescue is the largest.

New leadership

In 2016, Feline Rescue hired its first professional director, Dana Andresen, who worked for Chuck & Don's Pet Food and Supplies for 12 years. Under her leadership, the group changed tactics.

It started rescuing cats directly from other shelters, including the Minneapolis and St. Paul animal control agencies. Today, more than half of Feline Rescue's cats come from municipal shelters.

Andresen also worked to coordinate the efforts of various rescue groups, particularly in fundraising.

With a more businesslike approach, Andresen has seen some friction with volunteers. "People don't always take that well," Drew said. "Some see it as somewhat crass."

But from a cat's perspective, the numbers are impressive.

Feline Rescue went from handling 499 cats in 2012 to 1,189 cats in 2016. "We are aiming for 2,000 a year," Drew said.

Adoptions, too, have doubled, to 1,096.

It also has worked with population-control groups, helping to reduce the state's feral cat population. The Minnesota Spay-Neuter-Release program, for example, has sterilized 100,000 cats since 2010.

Feline Rescue will be hiring an in-house veterinarian soon.

Still, there are gaps to be filled, Andresen said. "We have 400-plus volunteers, and no volunteer coordinator. In our shelter, we have maybe 70 cats at a time, and no shelter coordinator."

To board president Drew, the future is clear: more professionalism, more volunteers, more cats helped.

"Pet lovers are big-hearted," said Drew. "But we can't be a warm-and-fuzzy operation forever."