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Town Dedicates Animal Shelter as Long-Time ACO Eyes Retirement

January 29, 2024
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Town Dedicates Animal Shelter as Long-Time ACO Eyes Retirement
Celebrating the dedication of the Karen Lombardi Animal Shelter are (from left) State Rep. Mary Welander, Animal Control Officer Karen Lombardi, First Selectman Beth Heller, State Rep. Nicole Klarides Dita and long-time donor and volunteer Laura Torrence

There was no sneaking in unnoticed to join local officials for the dedication of the Karen A. Lombardi Woodbridge Regional Animal Shelter recently, as the dogs in their runs excitedly announced each new arrival.  But First Selectman Beth Heller, undeterred by the interruptions, welcomed all those in the audience, many of whom had helped make this celebration possible in ways small and large.

The event on a sunny Friday, October 13, marked the dedication of the facility to its long-time Animal Control Officer, Karen Lombardi.  At the same time, it was an occasion to introduce the new memorial garden in the front of the building, with benches that invite humans to rest in a quiet spot.  And the event was also the long-delayed celebration of the renovations that made the building healthier for all.

The improvements, undertaken in several phases since 2018-19, also marked the bookends to Beth Heller’s administration, as she is not running for re-election this November.  It was Heller who suggested to the Board of Selectmen earlier this year to name the facility after its long-time Animal Control Officer, Karen Lombardi.

“None of us would be [at the ribbon cutting] today if it wasn’t for the contributions of Chief Animal Control Officer Karen Lombardi,” she said in her speech.  “It is my honor and my privilege to name this building after her, as a forever testament to her unwavering love and support for creatures great and small.”

Lombardi, who was first hired in 1975, when the facility was still under the auspices of the state, also is considering retirement in the not-too-distant future.  By the end of the year she will reduce her hours and take on primarily administrative functions, she said.  A recent Academy graduate has been identified to work with ACO Jessica Moffo.  A half-dozen or so volunteers come in to help with the care of the animals.

The recent renovations included largely mechanicals, such as new air handlers and heaters, which required a new enclosure.  One major improvement in recent years was for the water company to extend the water line to the end of Bradley Road, where the facility is located.  It allows them to use city water, whereas before, bottled water needed to be provided.  Another new feature is a spacious handicap accessible bathroom, to bring the public facility up to code.  The reception area, where the public first interacts with the staff, got a fresh coat of paint, new desks for the ACOs and a new countertop.  But the footprint of the facility has not changed, said architect David Stein.

The renovations were paid for in part by a state grant, and both state Reps Nicole Klarides Dita and Mary Welander were on hand to celebrate the ribbon cutting.  Klarides Dita praised Lombardi for the care she provides day in and day out.  Animal control must be available “365 days a year, 24 hours a day,” she said, “we can’t thank her enough.”  During times when the shelter is closed or the ACOs are on the road, the public can call the police department for help.  Welander talked about her cat who had become a part of her family.  “A pet makes a home,” she said, thanking Lombardi for her work.

The facility shelters not just dogs and cats, but many other animals as well.  On the day of the dedication, they were almost full, with 11 dogs waiting for adoption in a facility that has capacity for 14.  There were also cats, bunnies, two goats and peacocks.  Two horses that had been boarded in the back of the building had been adopted out to Goshen just the week prior.  A chicken coop is also on the property.  The chickens help with tick control, according to ACO Jessica Moffo.

Lombardi took the opportunity to thank the staff, and the veterinarians who support the shelter; and last, but not least, the town’s Finance Director and Administrative Officer Anthony Genovese.

Long-time volunteer Laura Torrence spoke, representing the One Big Dog Respite Fund, a non-profit run jointly by Lombardi and Torrence.  The fund contributed $100,000 to the renovations.  Torrence also sponsored a memorial bench in memory of her son Edward.  The other benches also have commemorative plaques for people who have given generously, namely the late Bridget Albert, Dr. Liubi Tosici of the Animal Clinic of Milford and the late Janice Wright, whose generous donation to “One Big Dog” helped trigger the state grant.

Lombardi said the public is invited to contribute and commemorate the animals in their lives or the animal lovers.  A large plaque will be installed inside the facility in the future to allow for more names to go up.

The facility, which is now known as the Karen A. Lombardi Woodbridge Regional Animal Shelter, is located at 135 Bradley Road and can be reached at (203) 389-5991.  The facility is shared by the towns of Seymour, Bethany and Woodbridge.

This is an opinion not necessarily endorsed by the Woodbridge Town News.

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