Little Guild breaks ground for future animal shelter

Architect Christopher Nardi and his son Everett break ground for the new home of The Little Guild in West Cornwall.

Jennifer Almquist

Little Guild breaks ground for future animal shelter

CORNWALL — The Little Guild of Saint Francis for the Welfare of Animals held a groundbreaking ceremony Saturday, May 11, to celebrate the beginning of construction of its 8,000 square foot facility at 285 Sharon-Goshen Turnpike in West Cornwall.

The mission of the Little Guild is to rescue, love, and heal homeless cats and dogs and help them find homes. Friends from surrounding communities, board members of the Little Guild, staff members, donors, and animal lovers gathered on the site of the future shelter.

Board President Karen Doeblin greeted everyone and thanked the many donors who raised $3.5 million for this project. Cornwall First Selectman Gordon Ridgway extended a welcome from the Town of Cornwall.

The morning sunshine streamed through the surrounding pine trees as the designated team donned their green construction helmets, bearing the Little Guild logo, picked up their nine gold shovels, and together dug their spades into the rocky soil.

Executive Director Jenny Langendoerfer, from Norfolk, expressed joy at the realization of this longtime dream: “We are so incredibly fortunate for all of the fantastic community support that allowed a new animal shelter for the Little Guild to happen. It is going to make a tremendous difference to the animals we care for and the community we serve. It’s really going to be something very special.”

Alexander Echevarria, canine behaviorist at The Little Guild, holding Cookie who would love a home.Jennifer Almquist

For three decades the Little Guild has been functioning in a residential house not designed to handle the normal wear and tear of an animal shelter, which made maintenance and repair difficult.

In 2023, 6.5 million companion animals entered U.S. animal shelters. According to the ASPCA, each year approximately 920,000 sheltered animals are euthanized, and 4.8 million shelter animals are adopted. There are 14,429 animal shelters in America. During Covid, 23 million Americans adopted a pet and over 90% of dogs adopted during the pandemic remain with their families.

The Little Guild, founded in 1957 by Muriel Alvord Ward and Eleanora Kleinschmidt, is now the largest no-kill animal shelter in Northwest Connecticut. The 501(c) 3 organization boasts a 99% save rate, one of the highest in the nation. They provide programs that “strengthen the bonds between pets and people, and partner with local organizations to support pet owners in the community.”

Christopher Nardi, from Hamden-based design firm Silver, Petrucelli & Associates is the chief architect for the project. He attended the ceremony with his young family. Their boy Everett eagerly participated in the digging. Architect Nardi said that designing animal shelters is his specialty, so the plans are well-researched and incorporate important considerations such as quarantine and noise reduction, strategic placement of animals, with designated areas for adoption meet and greets, and animal socializing. Everyone at the event was invited to view renderings of the proposed building and ask the architect questions.

After the symbolic breaking of ground, the speeches and applause, everyone was offered refreshments supplied by the staff, including cat and dog shaped cookies baked by Susan Boucher of Norfolk, who is also the assistant manager of the Little Guild.

This entire project has been funded by the generous donations of dedicated Little Guild supporters, as well as many community foundations including the Robert R. Rosenheim Foundation, the John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation, the William and Mary Greve Foundation, the Draper Foundation, the Kathleen Bradford Foundation, the Seherr-Thoss Foundation, the Torrington Savings Bank Foundation, and the Town of Cornwall.

The Little Guild’s new building will be named in honor of Robert R. Rosenheim. “The Robert R. Rosenheim Foundation has been our partner in building this much needed new animal shelter from day one, we could not have gotten here without their abundant support every step of the way over the last three and a half years. We are honored to be a part of Mr. Rosenheim’s legacy of love and dedication to animals, said Little Guild’s Langendoerfer.

Tiffany Lemelin of Winsted is Little Guild kennel manager and gave a tour of the temporary facility in Foote Field on Furnace Brook Road in Cornwall Bridge, which opened two weeks ago and will serve as headquarters during construction. There are two large trailers, one housing cats, another their offices. They also purchased a large dog kennel. The dogs and cats currently sheltered at the Little Guild seem perfectly comfortable in their new digs. The staff said they have what they need to get through the next year. They were putting up a large tent to give shade to the dog run and situating a blue wading pool for the dogs to stay cool.

The new temporary home of the Little Guild at Foote Field on Furnace Brook Road in Cornwall.Jennifer Almquist

Alex Echevarria, from Torrington, is a canine behaviorist who trains dogs and teaches humans how to communicate with their dogs. He introduced each dog currently sheltering in the temporary housing and expressed optimism that a small wiry mutt named Cherry might find her forever home that day.

Director Langendoerfer explained, “The support of the Little Guild Board of Directors through this time of transition has been incredible. In keeping our operations running while the new facility is being built, they have enabled our dedicated staff to continue rescuing, loving and healing homeless cats and dogs, and to continue to serve the community.”

The Guild runs the Pet Pantry which supplies pet food and supplies to families in need through area food pantries, Animal Welfare Education taught by Echevarria, the annual No Cost Vaccination, neutering and spaying program in Coe Park in Torrington. The Guild also supports the Susan B. Anthony Foundation in Torrington and Project Sage in Lakeville by offering care for the pets of women suffering relationship violence.

This summer don’t miss the Great Country Mutt Show at Lime Rock Park on Sunday, June 9. It’s free and your dogs are welcome to register to compete in categories such as “Best Lap Dog Over 40 Pounds” or “Looks Most Like Owner.”

Langendoerfer, who has galvanized the Little Guild with her leadership for the past four years summed it up, “The capabilities of the new facility will have far reaching results, allowing us to aid more animals and pet owners in the community in the best of all possible ways. The calm and healing environment, quarantine capabilities and designated areas for adopters and volunteers to meet and socialize with the animals is going to have a major impact, decreasing the length of stay and increasing the number of animals we can help.”

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