By Maya Rao

A woman in tears this week dropped off a muzzled basset hound that she cannot afford to keep. One family gave up its two feisty pit bulls to prepare for the arrival of a baby. Someone who found a stray Chihuahua on a barking rampage turned the animal in.

They were among about 6,000 people a year who pass through 212 17th Avenue North,  where the city of Minneapolis takes in strays, dead animals, and pets that owners can no longer care for.It's also the headquarters for the officers who deal with dangerous or disruptive animals.

But customers now have fewer hours to visit Animal Care and Control under a controversial proposal approved 4-1 Wednesday afternoon by the city’s public safety panel.

Want to go to the animal shelter? It will now close Mondays and open one hour later – from 2 to 3 – between Tuesdays and Fridays.

Need an animal control officer in the field? They’ll be available from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, instead of 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. They’ll start 2 ½ hours later on the weekends, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

And during non-peak hours, they’ll respond only to animal holds that involve dogs – not cats.

The council’s regulatory committee last week forwarded the plan – which drew pointed criticism from Councilman Gary Schiff - to the public safety panel and directed the department to present a Plan B.

So department leaders Wednesday made more suggestions. Use rollover money – funds left over at the end of the year in the department’s budget – to hire a temporary employee at Animal Care and Control. Have the city police department serve as the dispatcher for animal control calls, instead of the animal control division.

But the public safety committee voted to accept the original plan despite voicing reluctance. Councilwoman Meg Tuhill cast the only vote against the proposal.

“I appreciate that this is difficult to take and it’s a loss of service, but that’s what happens when you cut budgets,” said Councilman Cam Gordon.

Regulatory officials said they will continue to examine the possibility of consolidating dispatch services to save money.

Still, that won’t restore Animal Care and Control’s availability anytime soon. The cutback in hours takes effect immediately.

Also Wednesday, the public safety panel approved Mayor R. T. Rybak's nomination of John Fruetel as fire chief beginning March 1. "I know that the task is going to be huge here," Fruetel told council members during the brief hearing.