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Green initiatives benefit pet shelters, but are costly

Guy, The Anti-Cruelty Society’s cat ambassador, hangs out in a desktop recycling bin. Photo courtesy of Tatiana Garrett, community outreach director.

By Victoria Arruda

Many Chicago animal shelters are taking steps towards becoming more eco-friendly, despite the obstacles the spaces face, such as finding sometimes costly lighting and laundry solutions that work for both animals and people.

Because of the large numbers of animals taken into shelters annually, the demand for resources is high, and most shelters’ facilities heavily rely on oil and electricity for heat and power, according to the Humane Society of the United States, an animal protection organization.

The Animal Welfare League, which has a shelter in Chicago Ridge and an intake facility in Englewood, took in nearly 15,000 animals between both locations in 2012. Utility costs for the same year were just under $100,000, according to a report on its website.

Reconfiguring a building’s energy system can lower utility costs by up to half a million dollars, depending on the building’s size, according to Energy Impact Illinois. Not only are these green initiatives beneficial to the shelter’s wallets, but they better the greater community by improving air and water quality and reducing the strain on local electric companies.

“That’s something that’s one in the same,” said Tatiana Garrett, director of communications for The Anti-Cruelty Society, located in River North. “It’s really all connected. Anything that’s better for the environment as a whole is better for the animals.”

Money that is saved on energy costs, she said, is money that can be spent to improve the animals’ lives.

In mid-September, The Anti-Cruelty Society opened a new clinic with an oxygen generator. In the shelter space, it installed a more efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

The systems can cost up to $10,000. Despite the price, “it will pay for itself in the long run,” Garrett said. Depending on a building’s size, upgrades can save up to $300,000 per year.

Other Chicago shelters are taking similar steps.  Harmony House for Cats, located on Elston Avenue, built new facilities with the help of an anonymous donor who wanted a more sustainable building with special LEED certification.

LEED-certified buildings are designed to reduce waste, conserve water and energy and reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, according to Harmony House’s website.

But Dieter said the energy cost is similar to Harmony House’s old system, and the building requires quarterly maintenance. For non-profit shelters that are strapped for cash, the cost of LEED certification and HVAC systems of may be too daunting.

As part of The Anti-Cruelty Society’s effort to go green, the organization joined the Green Office Challenge, a competition to encourage Chicago businesses to improve sustainability at home and at the office. The Anti-Cruelty Society has been participating for about three years, Garrett said. They created “Bike to Work Week” and a “Drive Less” campaign, urging employees to find alternative methods of transportation.

Because the buildings are both office and shelter space that house thousands of animals, some measures, like keeping lights turned off at night, were not appropriate.

Concern for the animals’ safety must also be considered. The use of less harmful cleaning supplies is acceptable in office spaces, but only veterinarian-recommended products should be used shelters to avoid harming animals, Garrett said. Other initiatives, like washing laundry in cold water, are okay for humans, but facilitate the spread of germs and disease for animals, she said.

To fit the unique needs of a shelter, The Anti-Cruelty Society created a monthly team that creates initiatives to make their buildings more sustainable, Garrett said.

Smaller, less expensive improvements also can be made. The Anti-Cruelty Society switched from garbage bags to reusable sacks for laundry, removed one bulb from fluorescent lighting tracks and installed Energy Star appliances, Garrett said. Employees were given reusable mugs and individual recycling bins to place on their desks.

Dieter recommended using as much natural light as possible or installing solar panels to supplement systems that are already in place. Better ventilation systems, she said, reduce the risk of germs spreading from room to room.

Recycling also makes a difference, both Dieter and Garrett said. The Anti-Cruelty Society participates in a program that recycles steel from medical devices to make pet bowls.

For people looking for a new pet, adopting from a shelter is already a more environmentally friendly option than breeding or buying from a local pet store. According to Dieter, 25 percent of shelter animals are purebreds originally purchased from a breeder or pet store. Adopting reduces strains on the shelter, provides an animal with a new home  and eliminates the risk of adopting an animal raised in unsafe mill conditions.

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.