Last year, 936 runaways and strays passed through the doors of PUPS, the government animal impound facility serving seven northern suburbs.

A trip to the pound doesn’t always have a happy ending: State law allows an unclaimed or stray animal to be euthanized after five business days.

But few of the animals at PUPS met that fate. In 2013, 98 percent were reunited with their owners or placed with rescue groups for future adoption or foster care.

Working with nearly 75 groups and the seven communities it serves, PUPS has steadily improved on its save rate, says animal containment coordinator Danielle Cheney.

That rate was 86 percent in 2007, her first year on the job.

Rescue groups say PUPS — short for Pets Under Police Security — has one of the highest save rates in the Twin Cities.

Staff members use social media to get the word out to rescue groups about unclaimed animals in need of new homes. PUPS then works to accommodate groups that save animals, allowing them to evaluate temperament and health while the animals are still in the impound facility.

“I do not want to euthanize any animal I don’t have to. If they are healthy and friendly, I want to get them adopted,” said Cheney, who works out of PUPS’ Maple Grove headquarters.

PUPS does not adopt out animals directly. Instead, it works with the rescue groups and humane societies.

Hard-luck cases

“There are a few animal control agencies that go above and beyond. PUPS is definitely one of them,” said Rachel Mairose, founder of the Twin Cities-based animal rescue group Secondhand Hounds.

PUPS staff has created a network of rescue groups and vets that can save some of the most hard-luck cases, including kittens and puppies that still need to be bottle fed, feral cats, pit bulls and animals in need of urgent medical care.

“They are amazing. I can’t speak more highly about them,” Mairose said. “If they have medical cases, they are great at reaching out to rescue groups like ours that have the capacity to help dogs like that.

“They don’t automatically assume a dog should be euthanized if they have medical problems. They will bring it to the vet right away as opposed to euthanizing it or letting them suffer.”

Mairose said Cheney’s commitment to improving the save rate is critical to PUPS’ success. “Danielle at PUPS is so passionate about animals, and it shows,” Mairose said. “She cares. She wants to make a difference. This is not just a job to her. She feels like she is doing good.”

Paths and procedures

An animal’s journey sometimes starts with an unlocked gate, a strange smell or the thrill of a chase.

“They see a squirrel or a bird and they’re gone. A lot of them are fence jumpers,” Cheney said.

Some animals are dumped or abandoned by their owners.

Every effort is made to contact the owner. If there are no tags or microchips, the animal is impounded at PUPS. In 2013, the total consisted of 580 dogs, 354 cats, one rooster and one parrot.

Some years, there have been pigs, rabbits and a variety of pet birds.

About 60 percent of dogs and 10 percent of cats are claimed by their owners within the five-day period.

Cheney said staff sees a lot of terriers and beagles — known to be runners.

“I always laugh when people pick up their dog without a leash and say, ‘He will stay with me.’ I say, ‘Well then, why is he here?’ ” Cheney said.

If animals go unclaimed after the five-day holding period, PUPS staff members spring into action, evaluating their health and disposition.

They post photos and descriptions of the animals on social media and connect with rescue groups and humane societies, who find the animals new homes.

“They deserve all the credit,” Cheney said of other nonprofit rescue groups.

Small dogs are usually adopted out quickly.

Larger breeds, including pit bulls, take more work.

In 2013, PUPS had to euthanize only 10 animals; they either displayed dangerous behavior or were too ill to be adopted out.

Longer stays

PUPS often holds animals for a week to 10 days — far past the statutory requirement.

For that, Cheney credits leaders in the seven cities PUPS serve: Maple Grove, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Champlin, Crystal, New Hope and Plymouth.

“We’ve always had an excellent working relationship with PUPS,” said Brooklyn Park Police Lt. Eric Nelson. “They’ve done an outstanding job taking care of the animals and getting them reunited with their owners or a new family.”

The cities fund PUPS through a joint operating agreement. Cheney said city councils are always excited and happy to see rising save rates and to pay for the extended stays that make that possible.

“Cities have felt it is a worthwhile expenditure of resources to give them time to attempt to locate owners or to find a new family for the animal,” Lt. Nelson said.

A rescue organization called Angel of Hope specializes in caring for babies that still need bottle feeding. PUPS often calls them when young puppies or kittens come in.

Angel of Hope President Laura Uecker said PUPS’ social media savvy helps them save more animals.

“By posting the animals available, including descriptions of their personalities, it really helps us know what’s there,” Uecker said.

“They do a good job of evaluating animals and disclosing if they have issues.”