Jennifer Brooks
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The yellow dog waited by the shelter door.

Her name is Mamas and for six months, she's been staying with Minneapolis Animal Care and Control (MACC) while her family gets back on their feet.

The door opened and a familiar figure stepped through. Mamas' tail started wagging, faster and faster, until her entire body wiggled. She stretched up on her back legs until she was nose-to-nose with her favorite person in the whole world — Laurena Carrizales Guerrero Celeste.

After six months of heartache, homelessness and hard work, they were going home.

"The people here are really generous. They have really good hearts," said Celeste, a chef who turned to her city's Animal Safety Net program when she and Mamas were facing homelessness.

When humans are going through hard times, Minneapolis extends the safety net. Rather than force people to choose between taking care of their pets and taking care of themselves, Minneapolis Animal Care and Control offers a third option.

MACC will take care of your pet for you. If a pet owner is hospitalized or seeking shelter or undergoing treatment or escaping domestic abuse, a network of volunteers steps up to serve as pet foster families.

"We see so many people living in cars because they can't bring their pets to a shelter," said Madison Weissenborn, volunteer and community partnership coordinator at MACC. Helping their pets, "hopefully, allows them to get help, or treatment, or whatever they need."

Mamas was a tiny yellow puppy when Celeste adopted her seven years ago. Being apart was hard on them both.

"There were a couple of times I wanted to give up, where I thought, 'I'm not going to get her back,'" said Celeste, who at one point decided to put Mamas up for adoption, unsure whether she'd be able to find housing for them both.

Laurena Carrizales Guerrero Celeste with Mamas at her new apartment in Minneapolis.
Laurena Carrizales Guerrero Celeste with Mamas at her new apartment in Minneapolis.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

It was a rough transition for Mamas too. She washed out of a series of foster homes and potential adoptions. Each time, she bounced back to MACC's downtown shelter.

Some dogs find the shelter a noisy, scary place. Mamas loved it there. There were treats, there were enrichment activities, there was a run where she could romp with other dogs and there were a bunch of adoring humans available to scratch her ears.

MACC volunteers worked on training and managing some of the behavior issues that made Mamas hard to place. Then came the call. If no one else had adopted Mamas, Celeste wondered, could she bring her home? For months, Celeste worked and saved and missed her dog. She was about to move into an apartment that allowed pets.

"I was honestly more motivated" to find housing, she said, standing in the lobby at animal control while Mamas bounced up and down, peeking at her through the window of a nearby room. "I really wanted to get her back. Everything worked out."

The volunteers at Friends of Minneapolis Animal Care and Control spent six months hoping for a happy ending to Mamas' tale. They decided to see her off in style.

The volunteers organized a housewarming drive that filled the MACC lobby with donations for Mamas and her family. Lamps, rugs, kitchen utensils. While Celeste was reuniting with her dog, donated beds and couches were heading to her apartment.

"There are days when you think, "Why do I do what I do?" Weissenborn said, smiling as answers to that question filled the lobby at animal control.

Beefaroni, a sunny little pit bull, snuffled by, back from a walk around the neighborhood with a volunteer. A line of potential adopters waited to meet the dogs, cats and small animals that are always available for adoption at MACC.

Minneapolis has permanently waived pet adoption fees for its residents, hoping to make space in a shelter that is groaning at the seams with animals in need of good homes. Conventional wisdom used to be that you had to charge money for a pet if the owner was going to assign any value to its life. But the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals encourages fee-waived adoptions. Their research found that most most owners took the money they would have spent on adoptions and spent it on their pet's care instead.

Even if you aren't looking to adopt, MACC could use more volunteers and donations. Volunteer opportunities range from fostering a dog, pet or small critter in your home to swinging by when you're on a lunchtime jog and taking a high-energy dog out for a run.

Meanwhile, Celeste has a message for anyone else going through hard times out there.

"If anyone else is going through struggles like me," she said. "Don't give up."

Laurena Carrizales Guerrero Celeste with Mamas. Minneapolis has permanently waived pet adoption fees for its residents.
Laurena Carrizales Guerrero Celeste with Mamas. Minneapolis has permanently waived pet adoption fees for its residents.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune