The gray kitten flattened himself against the floor of his crate at Minneapolis Animal Care and Control and hissed at anyone who came near.
Meet Grinch. Nothing in his short life leads him to expect anything good from any of us. But with a little extra time and care, that could change.
This Christmas, Minneapolis is going to save the Grinch.
"Our goal is to get everybody into a home," said shelter director Caroline Hairfield. Over the past few years, city, staff and hundreds of volunteers joined forces to turn a high-kill shelter into a no-kill refuge for hard cases like Grinch.
In the shelter's feral cat room, Hairfield nudged aside the soft blanket draped over Grinch's pen and gently scooped the hissing kitten into her arms. Once scooped, Grinch stopped hissing and braced for a cuddling.
Mad at everybody, scared of everything, Grinch isn't ready for the adoption floor. Not yet. But a few thoughtful changes in the way the city shelter operates has freed up resources and space to give to cats like Grinch. And dogs like Johnny B. Good.
"Years ago, this dog would not have walked out of this building," Hairfield said, watching a bouncy young shepherd mix ricochet around the shelter's outdoor play area. "Our staff really advocated for him and that's changed his whole life."
Johnny zoomed around the yard, chasing and chased by a few other shelter dogs, under the watchful eye of bundled-up volunteers. If you're in need of a little holiday cheer, watch some of the videos posted on the MACC Playgroups site on YouTube.
Dogs at the shelter get at least three trips outside a day. That's not counting the times volunteers show up to take them for walks, or a runner borrows an extra-energetic dog as an afternoon running buddy.
About a quarter of the animals in the city's care aren't even under its roof. A network of fosters care for strays in their homes — for a weekend, a week, or until they're adopted, sparing them the stress of a shelter stay.
Volunteer-run play groups at the shelter give dogs like Johnny a chance to run, wrestle and romp. While they play, the volunteers learn more about each dog's personality — shy or outgoing, active or couch potato.
The more they know about an animal, the easier it will be to find a home that's just right.
The dogs — the friendly strays, the hurt but hopeful castaways, the overlooked mutts waiting for love — brought play group volunteer Meagan Maue to the shelter. What keeps her coming back are success stories like Taz, a skeletal 10-month-old who arrived at the shelter after spending his entire life on a backyard chain.
"Terrified of everything, snarling at everyone … You could see every rib in his body," Maue said. He spent his first trips to the play yard snapping at any dog that came near him.
Taz was at animal control for months, slowly transforming into a confident, healthy, happy pup who served as a play group helper dog — entrusted with teaching the pups some manners — until he was adopted.
"He could get any dog to play," Maue said. "I truly think that learning from other dogs and seeing other dogs interact with us and seeing we're not scary" is key to turning scared, abused animals into happy, loving pets.
At Minneapolis Animal Care and Control, there are toys, enrichment activities, an indoor treadmill, a doting staff and more than 250 volunteers. The shelter has resources to help the Grinches and Tazzes because it's located in a city with a $3.6 million budget for animal care and control in 2023.
A budget big enough not just for food and veterinary care, but support services for foster families, enrichment activities for restless dogs and training for volunteers. Enough to pay the staff veterinarians trying to save the strays who get hit by cars. The animal welfare officers out answering a call about a kitten frozen into the sidewalk ice. The vet techs gently cleaning off the cats rescued from a hoarder's house.
In the new year, the shelter is hoping for even more volunteers, more fosters, more downtown office workers willing to cuddle cats on their lunch break. More photos on the breakroom fridge of adopted pets and their beaming owners.
Some days, the shelter is sheltering a six-foot alligator, coiled in the reptile room. Or rows of chickens, waiting for someone to realize you can adopt chickens from animal control. Some days, macaw cages dangle from shower rods. Or the staff scrambles to save tanks full of neglected Mangshan pit vipers.
"None of us got into the world of animal control to euthanize pets," Hairfield said. "We all wanted to save the world."
If they can't save the entire world today, maybe they can save one Grinch.