As Christmas approaches and shoppers rush out to get those last-minute gifts, three lakes area nonprofits have some advice on what not to buy to stick under the tree: pets.

Heartland Animal Rescue Team in Brainerd, the Babinski Foundation in Pequot Lakes, and Paws and Claws Rescue and Resort in Hackensack do not recommend surprising family and friends with a dog or cat this holiday season. In fact, HART and Paws and Claws will not adopt an animal out unless the person caring for it is present.

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"We practice where anybody who is adopting, is adopting for themselves," Coretta Czycalla, executive director of Paws and Claws, said. "You could have outcomes that you don't want in that situation if you're going to surprise somebody with a pet."

Donna Wambeke, executive director of HART, said a better gift idea for someone who wants a pet is a gift certificate loaded up with the price of an adoption fee. She recommends wrapping the gift card up with a blanket or pet toy and then letting the recipient come pick out their own animal.

"Nobody should be picking out somebody else's animal," Wambeke said. "You may think you know that person and you may think you know what they want, but maybe they want a cat and you think they want a dog."

The Babinski Foundation shelter does not advertise buying pets as Christmas presents either.

"An animal isn't just disposable," marketing manager Lisa Wood said. "This is a long-term commitment to take care of them and to watch out for their life, and it's not just for Christmas."

Czycalla said her shelter often sees families coming in to add a pet to their family around the holidays. If shelter employees deem the pet a good fit for the family present, then the adoption can proceed.

"You want to be sure it's the right fit for the person, and most importantly, it's the right fit for the family," Czycalla said.

"Any live animal for Christmas is not a good idea," Wambeke insisted.

Babinski Foundation

A year and a half after the grand opening, and roughly two years after opening its doors to strays, the Babinski Foundation low-kill shelter in rural Pequot Lakes is booming with business. With room to house 100 dogs and 100 cats, the shelter typically sees about 30 of each animal at a time and usually adopts them out in about two to three weeks.

"It's very good," Wood said of the shelter's adoption rate.

Benefactor Donald Babinski, whose longtime dream was to open an animal shelter, left enough funds to build and maintain the shelter when he died in 2014. Because of the money he left, the Babinski Foundation did not charge for adoptions when it opened.

Fast forward to today, and the animals do have a price tag, but it's not for want of money. It's to weed out those who might want a pet for the wrong reason.

"Some people might see a dog, and they might see it as a price tag for them and then maybe just a way for them to make money, too, if they just want to sell it right after," Wood said. "We've run into that a few times."

And the shelter plans on making another change in the near future.

"We are hoping in the next two years to bring on horses," Wood said.

With 365 acres of land available for expansion around the shelter, horses would have plenty of room to roam.

Cat adoptions at the Babinski Foundation are $50, while dogs over a year old are $200 and dogs under a year are $250. Tax is added to all costs.

For those who aren't sure about making a long-term commitment to a pet, the shelter offers a fostering program. Wood said they usually look for foster homes for pregnant cats, so they can be as comfortable as possible during their pregnancy and so they can have someone to care for the kittens right after they're born.

Animals with special medical needs may also be put into foster homes so they can get more individualized and specialized care.

Paws and Claws

July 2017 saw the opening of Paws and Claws Rescue and Resort off Highway 371 in Hackensack.

"It's been beyond anybody's expectations," Czycalla said of businesses at the no-kill shelter so far.

Thirty cats and 26 dogs can find refuge at Paws and Claws at any given time, but that's not all the business offers.

"Not only are we an animal shelter, but we also provide boarding and grooming to pets in the community," Czycalla said.

Thirty-one kennels are available to board dogs-though Czycalla said more than that can stay if an owner with more than one dog wants them in same kennel-and four to eight cats can board at a time.

Like the Babinski Foundation, Paws and Claws offers a foster program, often catering to pregnant felines but also animals that have been at the shelter for long periods of time and Czycalla said may thrive better in a home setting and increase their odds of finding a permanent home.

Adult cats are $60 to adopt at Paws and Claws, while kittens under a year are $80. Adult dogs are $225, and puppies under a year old are $250.

None of the shelters have a maximum amount of time an animal can stay. They will be cared for as long as needed, and both Wood and Czycalla said an animal would only be put down under extreme circumstances. Untreatable health concerns or severe irreversible aggression are the two factors that would lead to euthanization at the Babinski Foundation, which Wood said generally operates as a no-kill shelter but can't quite be called that because no-kill shelters must reach a certain percentage of animals that come in and are adopted out versus euthanized.

Paws and Claws has a similar policy.

"If an injured pet were to come into us, say as a stray, you're going to do what's humane if the animal is suffering and beyond saving," Czycalla said. "Just as you would with your own pets, you don't want it to suffer."

According to HART's website, they operate as a low-kill shelter and would also likely put an animal with severe aggression or an untreatable ailment down. The website says euthanization may also be chosen if the medical treatment cost outweighs the likelihood of adoption or if an animal is unadoptable due to severe kennel stress.

Donations

With Christmastime often dubbed "the season of giving," animal shelters are good donation options, as the nonprofits are always in need.

Wood said the biggest need at the Babinski Foundation right now is beds for big dogs. They'll also take dog and cat treats and toys-like rubber KONGs-to keep the animals occupied. Donations of fleece are also needed, as staff members make fleece blankets for their animals.

"Basically just things to keep them busy, keep them occupied," Wood said.

At HART, Wambeke said one of the most-used items they'll always take as donations is scoopable Tidy Cats brand cat litter.

Bleach, postage stamps, paper towels and toilet paper are also welcome donations, as are gift cards from Holiday Stationstore gas station, as the shelter does a lot of transferring of pets to spay and neuter them.

Wambeke said HART is good on dog and cat food right now.

Everyday items like paper products and office supplies are always needed at Paws and Claws, along with dog and cat food (both wet and dry), cleaning supplies and any enrichment toys for the animals.

All three shelters always take monetary donations.