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The Greening of Animal Shelters
Green Shelter Sketch

Animal shelters save homeless dogs and cats, fight cruelty, and educate the public about pet overpopulation. But shelters themselves are rarely eco-friendly. When many of them were built, energy efficiency wasn’t a priority, air circulation systems were poor and there was a reliance on toxic materials, especially for cleaning. The good news is that this trend is beginning to take a green turn, one shelter at a time.

Among the early adopters is the Tompkins County SPCA, which opened its new upstate New York facility in 2004. Certified as the first green shelter in the country, Tompkins received a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver rating from the U.S.Green Building Council. Since then, other shelters have followed its lead— take the Potter League for Animals in Middleton, R.I., for example.

According to Pat Heller, director of development, the league plans to open its approximately 19,500-square-foot green shelter in November. Since they take in nearly 2,000 animals every year, and also receive dogs from several animal control agencies, they can definitely use the space.

“Our building has many green features that will not only benefit the animals but the local environment as well,” says Heller. Because the area receives ample precipitation, the design firm, ARQ Architects of Kittery, Maine, incorporated an innovative water reuse system, a 15,000-gallon cistern to capture runoff that can be recycled for cleaning. Considering that shelters use thousands of gallons of water every month for this purpose, that’s a significant step forward. Further, the parking lot is covered with a permeable surface to prevent runoff into nearby wetlands. “Rainwater gets polluted with gasoline and oil from the parking lot, then it drains into the wetlands. This will cut down on contamination,” Heller observes.

Other eco-friendly aspects include sensors that control the heating and ventilation systems, toxin-free paints and dual-paned windows for insulation. Heller adds that the shelter will also recycle or reuse as much of the construction waste as possible, which will help reduce the landfill burden.

In California, the Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) has a green facility— an innovative Animal Community Center—scheduled to open in early 2009. Laura Fulda, vice president for marketing and communications, says their plans include an efficient water-cleansing system, which will reduce water consumption and ensure appropriate cleaning and disinfecting of kennels. HSSV also set its sights on reducing energy consumption. “We’ll install a photovoltaic system on the roof, over part of the dog park and in our parking areas,” says Fulda. “That will generate up to 40 percent of our energy needs.”

Additional green features designed into the new community center by Moraga, Calif., architects George Miers & Associates include drought-resistant plants, dual-flush toilets, synthetic turf in the dog park and play areas, and passive heating/cooling. Earth-friendly practices currently in place, such as the use of biodegradable cat litter and eco-sensitive janitorial products and the recycling of office products, will, of course, continue.

Though LEED certification is a good thing to have, shelters don’t need it to go green. Maricopa County Animal Care and Control in Phoenix replaced one of its two aging facilities in May 2008. Though the municipal shelter lacked the criteria for LEED certification, Linda Soto, shelter division manager, says they still incorporated energy-efficient features. “The outer walls are constructed using a foam and concrete [material] that’s super-insulated. The roof is also coated for additional heat reduction.” That’s crucial in Phoenix, where daytime temperatures rise above 100 degrees for at least four months each year.The building is climate-controlled for maximum energy savings, and lighting in offices and restrooms is sensor-equipped.

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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