Creatures’ Comfort

W hat could be cuter than a pile of puppies? Just two weeks old, this litter of eight—mostly black with little brown snouts and paws—are trying to sleep. Only a couple are awake, their eyes big and attentive, their pudgy bodies uncooperative. They stumble and flop. Their barks are mere squeaks.

Their home, for now, is the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter in Branford. Serving the towns of Branford, North Branford and Northford, the shelter does things all municipal shelters do. Along with housing and placing animals, it issues infractions, checks licensing and handles cruelty cases. But it also goes above and beyond, offering educational programs for schools and organizations; a summer animal camp for kids; a pet food pantry for people in financial hardship; therapy dogs for hospice, assisted living and special needs groups; and “safe-keep” pet care for residents going into the hospital. Volunteers even read to the animals.

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“We offer more services because our communities support us to offer more services,” director Laura Selvaggio Burban says. The towns provide the staffing, but fundraising provides nearly everything else, including medical care and supplies.

The original push for a shelter that would do more than just animal control came from a group of children at Branford’s John B. Sliney Elementary School, who raised $100 and brought it to then-first selectman Anthony “Unk” DaRos. The Branford Compassion Club, a feline rescue organization, joined in and offered to help raise the money. The resulting building opened in 2003 and was named for Branford resident and dog rescuer Dan Cosgrove.

Located off Route 1, the shelter isn’t too hard to find. Just follow the giant spray painted paw prints to a modest building with separate areas for dogs and cats. On the day of my visit, there were also several guinea pigs, a mouse, some rats and a rabbit. After Easter last year, Burban says, the shelter rescued 57 ducks. People bought Pekin ducklings as Easter gifts, then abandoned them at nearby ponds. “And then we get the calls of which duck is bleeding because a snapping turtle got it,” Burban says. The shelter has also cared for hamsters, chickens, turkeys, a fawn, a skunk, a fox and a raccoon, to name a few. DaRos “felt like if we’re going to be helping animals, we should be helping all domestic animals,” Burban says.

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Between 500 and 600 animals are adopted through the shelter every year. Animals come for many reasons. Parents buy a small pet and expect their children to care for it, but they don’t. Adults take on more pets than they can manage. A family’s situation changes with a divorce or birth or death.

Potential adoptive families fill out an application indicating their experience with pets, the setup at their home and other factors. Often, more than one application is submitted for an animal. Then, Burban says, “We will base [adoption choice] on how the animal seems to be bonding with the different people that come in.”

By 11 a.m. on the morning of my visit, all of the shelter’s dogs have been outdoors at least twice, according to Burban. They can play with each other in a run if they’re social, or a volunteer will take them for a walk. In the kennel, Burban and I set off a barking frenzy when we open the door. Two pit bulls, a chocolate lab, a husky-shepherd mix, a miniature pinscher-Jack Russell mix, a cairn terrier, a cocker spaniel, a boxer mix and two Chihuahua mixes yip and woof and pummel their cage doors as we pass. In a quieter back room, we find the puppies bedded down in an open cage with a shearling blanket. Their mother, an affectionate black lab mix, takes a break from her demanding brood to snuggle with Burban.

There’s an unusual variety of breeds today, Burban says. “A lot of times we might have eight pit bull mixes and then just a couple random mixes,” she says. “It really just depends on what people are calling us about that they need help with, and we will take them in.”

Across the shelter in the cat room, many of the cage doors are open, and cats have taken up residence in one another’s spaces. One curious black and white cat with gray whiskers hams it up, posing for the camera on top of his cage. All of the cats will get a chance to roam several times during the day, and in better weather, they’ll be able to play outside in a fenced area right next to the dogs’ run. “They all kind of just get along,” Burban says.

The Dan Cosgrove Shelter depends on 250 volunteers to keep things running smoothly. They come from all along the shoreline and other towns as well. So do hundreds of visitors each month. It’s a popular shelter in part, Burban says, because it’s open all weekend. More traffic means more adoptions, and often she is able to turn around and help other local shelters as well. If an animal has been waiting awhile for a home and Burban has an empty cage, she’ll take it in.

Because it’s municipal, the shelter can’t call itself “no kill.” Trainers will come in to work with difficult dogs and train new volunteers how to handle them. “People who know us know we’re going to go above and beyond to make sure that we get that dog into a place where it can be safe and happy if that’s a possibility,” Burban says. But sometimes, she adds, it’s not. “If a dog came in that we felt was going to be extremely dangerous, if we couldn’t find a sanctuary for it… where we felt it would be safe, then we would have to euthanize it because we don’t want people to get hurt.”

No animal at the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter is euthanized just because it can’t find a home in a given period of time. “We have [some] dogs here forever,” Burban says. “There’s a lot that goes on to make sure that we’re keeping them mentally healthy and physically healthy.”

As we speak, a mother Pekingese-Pomeranian-Chihuahua and her puppies are tussling behind the reception desk. Next to it, a bevy of brightly colored harnesses and leashes hangs off a sign that seems to sum up the spirit of the shelter: “The best things in life are furry.”

Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter
749 E Main St, Branford (map)
Mon 9am-3pm, Tues-Wed 9am-5pm, Thurs 9am-7pm, Fri-Sun 9am-5pm
(203) 315-4125
Website | Facebook Page

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 2 depicts Laura Selvaggio Burban.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is a writer and communications pro whose perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the Green and a coffee milkshake. She posts twice-weekly content for book clubs in her Substack newsletter, Better Book Clubs.

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