Life is about to get better for thousands of dogs, cats and other animals who will pass through Woodbridge Regional Animal Control, thanks to a $100,000 donation from the estate of Janice Wright, whose late veterinarian husband, Luibinco Toscici, founded Animal Clinic of Milford.

Wright, an animal lover — especially of cats — who formed a tight bond with animal control officer Karen Lombardi, left at least $100,000 to the “One Big Dog Animal Rescue Fund,” named for late Register reporter Bridget Albert, who loved big dogs and worked tirelessly on behalf of animals. Two other animal organizations received funds, but the most went to big dog, Lombardi said.

“She was intelligent, very well-read, and loved her cats. She really wanted the money to make,” an impact for the greatest number of animals.

Lombardi, cofounder of the fund, along with Laura Torrence, has since donated the $100,000 to the town to use in phase one of restoring the tiny, dilapidated, overcrowded shelter.

The big dog fund’s overall mission is to “prevent and alleviate animal suffering, by providing medical care, spay/neuter services, food and placement assistance for strays, abandoned and shelter animals…” There may be more funds from Wright’s estate forthcoming.

The estate gift was just what was needed to move phase one into reality. A bid has been awarded and construction is expected to begin soon.

Lombardi said she thought donating to the shelter fund would have the greatest impact on animals and fulfill Wright’s wishes in the biggest way.

First Selectwoman Beth Heller, an animal lover, said the donation is “wonderful” and made phase one possible.

They are also creating a “serenity garden” on a piece of open land behind the shelter, where people can get to know prospective adoptees or just sit and relax. The garden will have benches and a flowers by the garden clubs of Bethany and Orange.

Torrence said the Woodbridge shelter is a special place because it has Lombardi and a “no kill” policy, meaning animals are not euthanized unless they are sick or a danger. Lombardi has also been known to pick up and adoptable dog whose time was up at a kill shelter, she said.

“That’s something (no kill shelter) that takes a lot more effort,” Torrence said. (Lombardi) finds as good a match as able for those adopting, she said.

Lombardi said she got to know Wright through Tosici, known “Dr. Lubi” who was her animals’ veterinarian for years. He died some six years ago.

Lombardi said “Dr. Lubi” grew up poor in Romania following veterinarians from village to village before recognizing his own dream.

Lombardi said the veterinarian couple who bought Animal Clinic of Milford and run it today, are also good to the shelter.

The tiny building constructed in 1969 continues to far outgrow its space, officials said. The shelter serves Woodbridge, Bethany and Seymour.

Lombardi said the original building was “no-frills” but sufficient at the time, when the town was less developed and the policy was to euthanize dogs not claimed or adopted after seven days or more.

Just this week, for the first time since she arrived in 2010, the shelter was at full capacity with dogs, Lombardi said.

The shelter is clean and the animals look happy, but space is tight inside the 1,462-square-foot building, where there is not even privacy to work on cases and meet with people. At every turn in the facility, including in the laundry room, there are supplies that workers must negotiate around.

Phase one will represent the main building and phases two and three — when funding is obtained — will include additional runs, office space, a cat room, a place for mechanicals.

Heller said the existing exercise areas are insufficient and the facility also needs new doors, updated lighting and fencing for the security and safety of staff and animals.

The shelter’s shortcomings create a lot of work for shelter personnel who are already stretched to the limit.

The construction project designed by architects Silver/Petrucelli + Associates, calls for work to be done in phases and the shelter to be 3,342 square feet once completed.

All three phases are expected to cost about $1.4 million. Heller is adamant that “no funds from the town of Woodbridge will be used for the shelter project.”

The town was awarded a $400,000 STEAP grant to improve the interior and exterior of the building; there have been various smaller donations and about $5,000 from a fundraiser.

And then Wright’s money arrived to make all the difference.

“I was thrilled,” to do what Janice wanted and make the biggest impact on the animals, Lombardi said.

Anyone interested in donating to One Big Dog Animal Respite Fund can mail donations to the shelter, 135 Bradley Road, Woodbridge, 06525. Email Lombardi at or call the shelter at 203-389-5991.