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02/20/2023 08:29 AM

Net Zero Goals and More at Renovated Cosgrove Animal Shelter

While the building is not yet ready to open to the public, Shelter Director Laura Burban walks Sonny, a Boxer and Bulldog mix, out of the dog kennel room at the newly renovated Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter located at 749 East Main St. in Branford on Feb. 16, 2023. The shelter’s goal is to be the first net zero municipal animal shelter in the country. Wesley Bunnell / The Sound
Premier Kia general manager Jeff Irzyk, Cosgrove Shelter Director Laura Burban and president and general manager of Premier Subaru Robert Alvine stand in front of a new electric Kia Niro which was recently acquired by the shelter through donations and a matching grant from Sustainable CT. The vehicle matches the shelter’s goal to be net zero. In addition, Premier is donating a 2023 Subaru Ascent for additional Animal Control transport. Wesley Bunnell / The Sound
A view into the cat room greets visitors inside the lobby entrance. Wesley Bunnell / The Sound
Shelter Director Laura Burban stands next to the shelter’s new dog splash pad dedicated to the memory of North Branford veterinarian Dr. Efren Osorio. Wesley Bunnell / The Sound
Benches at an outdoor viewing place for visitors point toward the splash pad in the new dog exercise yard. Pam Johnson/The Sound
This painting of Branford Police K9 Officer Melissa Carney (with K9 partner Arrow, right) is one of many local pet and people portraits in the works to brighten dog kennels at the new Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter. Just some among others are Branford’s Fire Chief and one of shelter namesake, the late Daniel P. Cosgrove, as a young man feeding his pet squirrel (see more photos). Wesley Bunnell / The Sound
This working portrait of Branford Fire Chief Thomas Mahoney is one among many set to adorn the walls of dog kennels at the new shelter. Wesley Bunnell / The Sound
Another dog kennel portrait in the works shows shelter namesake Daniel P. Cosgrove as a young man, feeding a pet squirrel. Pam Johnson/The Sound
The shelter’s new community room will provide space for volunteer training, education and programs. Pam Johnson/The Sound
The Daniel P. Cosgrove Animal Shelter main entrance to the newly renovated and expanded building at 749 East Main Street. Pam Johnson/The Sound
An outdoor, enclosed cat play area frames a portion of the exterior, located next to the original shelter building’s former entrance. Pam Johnson/The Sound
Shelter Director Laura Burban stands next to solar water heaters during a tour at the newly renovated Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter. The heaters are part of the shelter’s goal to be the first net zero shelter in the country. Wesley Bunnell / The Sound
Shelter staff member Dee Mastracchio hugs Oliver while working in the cat room at the renovated Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter. Wesley Bunnell / The Sound
In September, 2021, supporters broke ground for the renovation and expansion of the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter (l-r): First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove, Animal Shelter Commission chair Marilyn Vailette, Shelter Director Laura Burban, Enterprise Builder's Matt Barone, Branford Finance Director Jim Finch, Cosgrove Capital Campaign cabinet chair Eric Maass and project architect Joseph Sepot. File photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound

At Branford’s newly renovated and expanded Daniel P. Cosgrove Animal Shelter, the goal is to become the country’s first net zero municipal animal shelter. But there is also much more to celebrate about this remarkable facility. The shelter is awaiting delivery and installation of some furnishings and other final elements ahead of a yet-to-be-announced public opening date.

On February 16, Shelter Director Laura Burban shared a tour of the shelter and adoption center, located at 749 East Main St., with Zip06/The Sound. Burban said the much-anticipated opening date, when finalized, will be announced at Cosgrove Animal Shelter’s hugely popular Facebook page, which has over 33,000 followers.

Although it’s not yet open to the public, the shelter is operating with Animal Control Officers, staff and some volunteers at the building, which is also now housing all of the animals in the shelter’s care. The shelter has 3 full-time Animal Control officers, a full-time Program Coordinator and part-time building support staff.

The $4.895 million shelter expansion and renovation project was funded by the Town of Branford with a big assist from the shelter’s CosgroveSavingLives campaign, which raised approximately $1.6 million to help offset construction costs.

The construction project officially broke ground in September, 2021. Overseen by project construction manager Enterprise Builders (Norwalk) and designed by Branford architect Joseph Sepot, the renovated and expanded facility more than doubles the size of the original shelter to nearly 6,000 square feet. The original, 2,600 square-foot shelter building opened 20 years ago, in April 2003.

In addition to serving Branford, the shelter serves the Town of North Branford through a municipal use agreement which began in 2005.

Burban became the shelter’s director in 2008. Through the years, by developing programs such as veterinarian partnerships for critical medical care and physical therapy; full-range adoption services; comprehensive, education-focused animal control; animal-centric children’s enrichment programs; outreach and awareness; and volunteer-driven fundraising efforts including those to support extreme cases of animals in dire need of medical interventions, the shelter’s reputation has grown. When operable, more than 10,000 people a year visit, a number 5 times greater most municipal shelters. The shelter supports an average of 700 animals annually, with a high rate of speedy adoptions.

Take A Look Around

As supporters of this no-kill municipal animal shelter are fond of saying, this reinvigorated facility is not just state-of-the-art, it’s “state of the animal.”

Inside the main lobby, a large window gives visitors their first view of the new cat adoption room. There, adoptable felines can leave individual cat condos to enjoy carpeted perches, playtime or just a good nap in the room’s central stretch of visiting space. A cat-climbable art display is also being built, and, soon to come, a floor-facing projection assembly that will project things like swimming fish for cats to try to catch. Outside, next to the former main entrance, a fully-screened outdoor cat play area is equipped with lighting for outdoor time day and night.

“We’re trying to do everything we can that will be calming for them, and be fun and keep them entertained,” said Burban.

Also located inside the lobby are the doors to the shelter’s new Community Room, where volunteers will train, and educational and community programs can take place. The shelter has about 200 volunteers, including many from across Connecticut and others from multiple states.

Beyond the lobby’s main desk, the shelter spreads out in several directions. Separate rooms with multi-level kennels provide spaces for quarantined animals and a kitten and maternity room. There’s a separate critter room for guinea pigs, rabbits, etc.

One major upgrade has been replacing the former HVAC system, which used to feed air throughout the entire building, increasing the risk of possibly spreading airborne animal diseases or illness. Now, every animal room now has its own regulated air exchange.

“Now, when things like ringworm and upper respiratory cases come in, they can be in quarantine, and we no longer have to worry about it spreading throughout the building,” said Burban.

All of the animal rooms will be equipped with a television to turn on Animal Planet and other shows. That’s no joke.

“It’s enrichment for the animals, and it keeps them feeling like they’re at home,” Burban said. “Most of these animals came from normal environments, and when they get here, we don’t want them to become stressed out. We want to make them feel comfortable and be adoptable.”

While the shelter’s brightly colored exterior lends a friendly air to the location, Burban notes the interior color scheme is animal-friendly, with a “fear-free” color palette.

“My Master’s thesis was on environmental factors that affect shelter animals, and I wanted to make sure the enrichment part of the shelter was in line with that. So all of the colors inside are fear-free colors - the blues, greens, tans and some of the purples. It’s meant to be calming to the animals.”

Other new elements at the shelter are its glass-doored, individual pet visiting rooms for prospective adoptors to get to know a shelter cat or dog.

“We’ll have them set up with furniture, so people can sit in there and visit with them. We’ve never had that before,” said Burban.

The shelter also now has a dedicated examination room where visiting veterinarians can provide care and vaccinations. In the former shelter, the laundry room doubled as the vaccination area.

One of the spaces Burban is most excited about is the new dog decompression room. It will be outfitted with a medical-grade couch and other medical-grade furniture, and open to an outside run. The room allows a stressed dog to decompress away from the sounds and sights of other dogs at the shelter.

The shelter’s main dog kennel area is light and airy and leads to additional kennels for puppies and expectant dogs. One of the welcoming new touches to the kennels are portraits of community members and animals, painted by Michelle Staffa, practice manager at Madison Veterinary Hospital. Just some among them are Branford Police K9 Officer Melissa Carney with K9 partner Arrow, and Branford’s Fire Chief Thomas Mahoney with shelter animals.

Another portrait in the works is that of shelter namesake, the late Daniel P. Cosgrove. Cosgrove is portrayed as a young man feeding his pet squirrel. The portrait gallery is one of many touches that brings the community into the newly renovated building, said Burban.

“All of these people that are painted in this building help us. The animal shelter couldn’t exist without them,” she said. “We feel like the community really supports us, and that we should include them as much as we can throughout the building.”

Also within the new facility are dedicated spaces for the Town’s Animal Control officers, including a staff break room, lockers, a staff bathroom and shower area. A staff office allows for interviews, investigations and other official work to be conducted away from the public.

Another new space is a dedicated pet pantry space which provides food and supplies regularly to shoreline residents in need.

“These are people who have lost jobs or are ill, and can’t afford food. We supply them to make sure they can feed their animals,” said Burban.

On the Outside

A very notable outdoor feature is the new, fenced-in dog exercise yard. A focal point is the doggie Splash Pad, named in memory of North Branford veterinarian Dr. Efren Osorio.

Beside the front entrance, a small seating area will offer the general public, and prospective dog adopters, a great view of dogs and play groups using the splash pad and the yard. Landscaping at the shelter has been provided Van Wilgen’s Garden Center of North Branford.

Just behind the viewing area and next to the main parking lot, the shelter now has a small barn to take in small farm animals.

“Especially with North Branford, we take in sheep, goats, chickens, ducks [so] it’s going to be developed into sections so they can each have their own area,” said Burban.

Other outdoor plans in the works include developing a dog walking path on Town land at the back of the building, on a strip of open space behind neighboring Branford Transfer Station. Town crews will help clear a horseshoe-shaped path of about a mile in length.

Going Net Zero

While results won’t be in until the shelter operates for several cycles over a period of time, the renovated and expanded facility is poised to become the first municipal net zero animal shelter in the country.

New systems allow the shelter to produce its own energy through solar power, and to heat water with solar thermal. In addition, the entire structure was built to high-performance building standards.

The shelter’s also equipped with an automated generator system. In other upgrades, the shelter’s dog kennels are now air conditioned. Radiant heat is also in use throughout the building.

Burban is particularly proud to note that in October of 2021, the shelter successfully campaigned to raise $30,000 ($15,000 from donors, matched 1:1 by Sustainable CT) toward net zero goals. The money helped to fund LED exterior and interior Lighting, installation of two solar thermal hot water 120-gallon systems (donated to the shelter by the Connecticut Green Bank) and installation of a dual Electric Vehicle (EV) charging station.

In fact, the first EV to pull up to the shelter has just arrived, in the form of shiny white, brand-new electric Kia Niro. The EV was recently acquired by the shelter through donations and a matching grant from Sustainable CT, and purchased through Premier Kia of Branford.

In addition, Premier Subaru of Branford is donating a 2023 Subaru Ascent SUV, in matching white, to be used for additional Animal Control transport. The SUV is valued at between $35,000 to $40,000, said Robert Alvine, president and general manager of Premier Subaru.

On February 16, Alvine and Premier Kia general manager Jeff Irzyk visited with Burban at the shelter to help familiarize her with the Kia Niro.

The two new shelter vehicles, which will go out on calls and be at community events, will soon carry identifying exterior wraps. Burban noted these are also the first new vehicles to be operated by the shelter, which also currently utilizes an older police sedan.

Alvine said Premier Subaru was proud to contribute to the shelter’s new fleet. He said Burban’s extraordinary work and thoughtful contributions have motivated many businesses, organizations and individuals to support the shelter.

“She is a driving force,” said Alvine.

“We’re just really grateful,” said Burban. “The whole community, and beyond, came out to support us; and we’re really grateful for it.”