“Green” Animal Shelters See Improvements in Animal Welfare Mission

By Courtney Kistler

On opposite sides of the U.S., two animal welfare and shelter organizations have sought and surpassed a goal that brings together the importance of sustainability to the quality of animal care.  The Potter League for Animals in Middletown, R.I., and the Humane Society of Silicon Valley in Milpitas, Calif., have both invested millions in new animal care buildings, which have achieved high standards in the realm of “green” building and architecture.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system measures environmentally friendly new construction building strategies in six key areas:

  1. Sustainable sites
  2. Water efficiency
  3. Energy and atmosphere
  4. Materials and resources
  5. Indoor environmental quality
  6. Innovation and design process

The Potter League’s facility was just awarded Gold LEED certification, while the Humane Society of Silicon Valley awaits its official certification, though it has exceeded the number of points needed for Gold status and has developed its new complex on a Brownfield site, which earns extra LEED points by the USGBC.  Both organizations attest they have happier animals and are much happier about their energy bills. Though both buildings are equally impressive models for homeless animal care facilities and animal welfare organizations, in general, the individual buildings and their environments are very different.

The Potter League’s 19,500 square-foot building located at 87 Oliphant Lane in Middletown, R.I., is situated close to protected wetlands on an island containing the six towns of Newport County for which the League serves. The $8 million project boasts an expensive storm water management system that captures 90 percent of storm water through a 15,000 gallon cistern, vegetated roof and permeable parking lot. The Animal Care and Education Center is twice the size of the old facility but uses almost all its water from this cistern and in turn, has reduced potable water use by 82 percent.

On the West Coast, the Humane Society of Silicon Valley’s 48,000 square-foot Animal Community Center is situated on nearly five acres of land, surrounded by low mountains in a town that is only 0.44 percent water, according to information from the U.S. Census Bureau. The $25 million Animal Community Center, which opened in April 2009 and is located at 901 Ames Avenue in Milpitas, uses 75 percent less water per year due to drought tolerant landscaping. The HSSV facility is also a Brownfield site, meaning it was built on a former industrial site. Lead paint, Freon and mercury in lighting were removed and safely disposed before the old building was demolished. Both projects recycled materials from their old facilities to build the new ones.

Like the Potter League for Animals, the HSSV is an “open door” shelter, meaning it does not choose which animals to take in, should they come through the door or arrive from area municipal shelters. In fact, both the Potter League and the HSSV share similar perspectives when it comes to dealing with the overpopulation of unwanted animals in the U.S. Like most shelters that receive animals, these organizations must sometimes make the difficult decision of euthanasia for animals for untreatable illnesses or severe behavior. Therefore, one of the main missions of these  projects was to increase adoptions by improving the experience for both the animals in the organizations’ care and for the humans that pass through. *See below for  green features and stats.

One of the biggest challenges for any animal shelter is keeping the animals healthy in overcrowded situations, and that usually means preventing upper respiratory infections (also known as “kennel cough” in dogs). 

“What you don’t realize when you don’t have URI is how much happier the animals are.  You don’t have to give them antibiotics, delay spay/neuter if they are to leave, and have to house them six to 10 days longer,” says Pat Heller, director of development and outreach at the Potter League.  “The centerpiece of the building is the HVAC—you walk in, you don’t smell anything, and we are very crowded right now.”

Heller adds that the HVAC system in the old building was so old – built in 1978 when the building first opened – that it was not at all effective even though management had it checked out several times.

In the new building, the 850 square foot Cat Adoption Center can house about 40 adult cats, multiple small animals, and many litters of kittens.  Broken down, there are 11 rooms for adoptions; each of the eight colony rooms (for cats that can live together) and three condo rooms (each has six units for cats that must be by themselves) have individual ventilation systems, floor drain, radiant heated floor, and windows for natural light.  The individual units in the three-condo rooms also have a ventilation system.  Six rooms for intake can accommodate about 40 cats.  There are two rooms in medical, called the Animal Wellness Center, that each accommodate up to 10 cats.  The Dog Wellness Center has four rooms.  There are 16 adoptions rooms for dogs, which can hold one dog in each room or two small dogs or puppies; four rooms can house two to three adult dogs.  The nine dog intake rooms have the same accommodations as the cat intake area.  All of these areas also have soundproofing with Pyrok (an acoustical plaster) to reduce barking noise and thus stress levels, as often dogs will bark if they hear others in the kennel doing the same.

Like the Potter League for Animals, HSSV has seen only a few cases of URI – three cats and no dogs in the last six months – in the new building as they use a state-of-the-art HVAC system with individual air intake and exhaust vents in every room that provide 100 percent air exchange.  It also provides spay/neuter and some other vet services right on premises, which makes air quality and cleanliness an especially important aspect of the project. HSSV Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Laura Fulda, notes, “In our old building, we had dozens of cats with URI every month so it’s a dramatic difference.”

One of the reasons the organization’s board decided to go with this “green” alternative in a new shelter was to save money in the long-term and to be good stewards of the environment. The project cost a total of $25 million. HSSV has raised all but $5.5 million and hopes to raise the remainder by June 2010.  HSSV has had donations from about 5,000 individuals, ranging from $25 to $2 million. Three individual donors made gifts of $1 million or more. The city of Sunnyvale, which contracts with HSSV for shelter services for its stray animals, made a $1 million investment in the building.

HSSV will ultimately use 75 percent less water per year.  The landscaping plants are drought tolerant and require minimal irrigation; using artificial turf in the dog park instead of actual grass lowers irrigation needs significantly.  Inside the building, all of the fixtures such as toilets, sinks, and showers are “low flow,” and the SMT system used to clean the kennels uses significantly less water than the typical garden hose solution kennel workers used at the old facility.  Per year, HSSV hopes to see a 50 percent decrease in energy bills, about $250,000 in savings per year on energy alone.  Laura Fulda explains that HSSV is yet awaiting its Gold LEED certification and should have it within three months.

In addition to the medical expense decreases as a result of keeping more animals healthier, the Potter League has also seen the real money-saving results of its green investment.   Annually, it will realize an 82 percent reduction in potable water use, 43 percent decrease in natural gas use, and 30 percent less electrical energy consumption.  The permeable parking lot, called Gravelpave2, is layered and topped with pebbles so that rain water gets filtered and decontaminated before it sinks into the ground.  This aids in the Potter League’s obligation to preserve the area wetlands surrounding the building.

Around the U.S., other shelters and animal care organizations are looking to “go green.” Safe Haven Animal Sanctuary in Nashua, Del., is set to open in 2010 and is seeking to take over the county’s animal control services starting in 2011.  Just this September, the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Penn., broke ground for its new shelter and is scheduled to be fully relocated by September 2010.  The Animal House Fund in St. Louis, Mo., is a public private partnership whose mission is to replace St. Louis City’s Animal Care and Control facility.  Still in the process of raising funds, the facility will be built by HOK Architects and then handed over to the city, with the overall goal of gaining LEED Platinum status.

The architectural firm that designed the new Animal Care and Education Center for the Potter League for Animals has an impressive resume when it comes to “greening” animal care and sheltering around the U.S. Sustainable design architecture firm ARQ Architects designed a new adoption center for the San Francisco SPCA in 1998 (LEED was not formed at the time of completion but ARQ reports that the energy usage far exceeded Title 24 energy standards at the time), a LEED Silver shelter for the Tompkins County SPCA in Ithaca, N.Y., in 2003, a cat adoption space at the ASPCA’s New York City shelter in 2006, and is currently working on a project with LEED standard elements for Pets In Need in Redwood City, Calif.  The Potter League for Animals is its first Gold LEED certified animal care project.  ARQ also designed the ASPCA’s new Eighth Avenue headquarters which just this August received LEED CI (Commercial Interiors) Gold certification from the USGBC.

Below are the general stats on the Potter League for Animals and the Human Society of Silicon Valley: 

Potter League Animal Care and Education Center

  • Opened: November 2008
  • Cost: $8 million
  • Size: 19,500 square feet
  • Programs: animal control for Newport County, adoption center, animal surrender, cremation services, dog obedience classes, abuse and neglect animal services, humane education, volunteer program, pet supplies shop, Potter Pet University, pet loss support, animal house calls, pet visitation program, financial assistance
  • People: 13 full-time and 10 part-time; 400 volunteers
  • Adoptions: approx. 2,000 per year
  • Funding:  501(c)(3) nonprofit funded by donations from individuals and charitable foundations, by animal housing contracts, by income from an endowment, and by funds from special events
  • Funding for new facility: individual contributions and grants from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation, Alletta  Morris McBean Charitable Trust, Champlin Foundation, Rhode Island Foundation, and Prince Charitable Trusts

Potter League Green Features and Stats:

  • Plastic wainscoting made from soda and milk bottles
  • Advanced sanitation systems for maximum disease control
  • A floor made from recycled tires
  • Use of highly renewable radiata pine and bamboo
  • A storm water management system that captures 90 percent of storm water through a 15,000 gallon cistern, vegetated roof and permeable paved parking lot
  • Landscaping with native plant species
  • Low-flow toilets and faucets
  • High-tech HVAC system provides multiple air exchanges per hour in each room
  • Project was also recognized for recycling more than 75 percent of construction materials and demolition waste

Humane Society of Silicon Valley Animal Community Center

  • Opened: March 2009
  • Cost: $25 million
  • Funding for new facility:  donations from 5,000 individuals, ranging from $25 to $2 million; three individual donors made gifts of $1 million or more; City of Sunnyvale, which contracts with HSSV for shelter services for its stray animals made a $1 million investment; still need to raise $5.5 million
  • Size: 48,000 square feet
  • Programs: adoption center, animal care, spay/neuter services, vaccinations, microchipping and health testing, training and nutrition, lost and found, humane education, volunteer program, animal behavior helpline, pet loss resources, pet supplies store, pet-friendly café, doggie daycare, boarding, grooming
  • People: 80 full or part-time employees, 650 volunteers
  • Adoptions: approx. 10,000 animal adoptions a year
  • Funding: 501(c)(3) non-profit supported by individual donations, program fees, foundation and corporate grants, and special events.
  • Annual budget: approximately $5.8 million

HSSV Green Features and Stats:

  • An extensive onsite solar system expected to generate 40 percent of the center’s energy needs from renewable sources
  • A highly efficient kennel cleansing system to ensure proper disinfecting while reducing water use
  • A reflective “cool” roof to reduce solar heating of the building in the summer and lower A/C bills
  • Heat recovery wheels in all HVAC systems to capture and reuse heating and cooling during the frequent air ventilation cycles required to prevent the spread of illness
  • Stained concrete flooring to reduce the amount of chemicals and water needed for cleaning as well as lower power bills by retaining heating and cooling
  • Onsite bioswales to capture and naturally cleanse rainwater run-off before it enters the water treatment system, thus reducing the energy needed to clean water supplies
  • Artificial turf and native plants in the dog park areas to lower the demand for irrigation water
    • Occupancy sensors manage indoor lights.
    • Load sensors in printers, computers and desk lights provide energy use feedback.
    • Efficient computers and software to run Web site and business with less equipment and power.
    • Energy Star rated appliances (washers and dryers) to use less energy.
    • Low flow toilets, sinks, and washing machines.
    • Landscaping with native plants that grow well in California’s low rain climate and require less water.