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The Greening of Animal Shelters
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When it comes to reducing our environmental footprint, every little bit helps. Even if a shelter has no immediate plans for a green building, they can still recycle, for example; shelters generate large amounts of recyclable material, including cans, newspaper and cardboard. The North County Humane Society and SPCA in Oceanside, Calif., has an informal program. As Julie Bank, executive director, explains it,“We put recyclables into a bin and a volunteer collects it and takes it up the road to the recycling center.” That small program ultimately keeps hundreds of pounds of material out of the county landfill.

The Michigan Humane Society runs a more sophisticated program called the Green Sweep.Among the items recycled are office paper, cardboard, plastics, glass, metal and newspaper. The organization also recently started to recycle cell phones and cell phone accessories. One program helps the environment while the other raises money for the animals.

A sample of other green shelters either open or in the works includes Canada’s Winnipeg Humane Society and Bow Valley SPCA,Michigan’s Humane Society of Huron Valley,California’s Sacramento County Animal Care and Texas’s Dallas Animal Services. More shelters will no doubt be added to the list as cities begin to require that new private buildings meet environmentally appropriate standards.

When it comes to planning, going green requires a commitment not only of time and money but also dedication to eco-friendly principles. James F.Owens, project manager with Boston’s Rauhaus Freedenfeld and Associates, says it’s more economical to start with something new rather than try to retrofit a project that’s already under way.

For example, water reuse and/or reduction projects are good for the environment and can slice utility bills, but they have to be carefully planned. As Owens notes, “Water must be properly filtered and cleaned in the animal areas, where infection can be a concern.” (For shelters that opt not to recycle water, Owens recommends high-pressure washers because they use fewer gallons per minute than traditional hoses.)

Air filtration designed to prevent the spread of disease, particularly upper respiratory varieties, is also crucial. According to Lucinda Schlaffer of ARQ Architects, the system should use 100 percent outside air and circulate 10 to 12 air changes per hour. It’s also true that such a system is costly to run, and most shelters operate on slim budgets.

Dr. Wendy Swift, veterinary medical director at the Kent County Humane Society in Grand Rapids, Mich., adds a caveat, noting that unless shelters also employ a disease prevention protocol, an air filtration system—no matter how advanced or eco-friendly—will be worthless. “Disease is spread from animal to animal and from human contact.An air filtration system alone will not save lives.”

Switchboards are busy at architecture firms like ARQ, George Miers and Rauhaus Freedenfeld. Going green isn’t a fad—it’s a necessity, the only way to reverse climate change, reduce pressure on overflowing landfills and combat pollution. By doing as much as they can given their individual circumstances, shelters are helping animals and befriending the environment at the same time. “Constructing a building with a social conscience fit into our mission of making a difference and enriching lives for both people and animals,” says Heller of the Potter League for Animals—an admirable mission indeed.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 51: Nov/Dec 2008
Debra J. White is an award winning freelance writer in Tempe. She serves on the board of the Phoenix Animal Care Coalition, volunteers with the Arizona Animal Welfare League and the Sierra Club and at Sky Harbor Airport. She lives with two rescued dogs.

Illustration by George Miers & Associates

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