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Animal lover plans $3M dog adoption center in Lancaster County

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A rendering by Schillaci Architects Ltd. shows plans for the lobby of a $3 million dog adoption center in Lancaster County. Organizers hope to open the center in late 2018.
A rendering by Schillaci Architects Ltd. shows plans for the lobby of a $3 million dog adoption center in Lancaster County. Organizers hope to open the center in late 2018. - (Photo / )

Eileen Mack's $3 million plan started, in some ways, with an old German shepherd named Nala.

Nala arrived at the Humane League of Lancaster County with plenty of problems that could dissuade potential adopters, including hip dysplasia, a joint ailment common in large, older dogs. Mack, then a Humane League employee, felt a pull to help the aging dog find a home where she could live out the rest of her years.

When someone eventually adopted Nala, Mack realized she had found her calling.

"It was probably one of my best moments in my time there," Mack said. "She was the first one that (made me think), 'I got to do this. I got to do this.'"

That experience and others Mack gathered in her six years working for the Humane League are fueling her hopes of opening Almost Home Dog Adoption Center in Conoy Township, Lancaster County.

The proposed 19,000-square-foot facility is set to go before township supervisors Dec. 14. The yet-to-be-built center, planned for a 17-acre property at 2037 River Road, would eventually have the capacity to house 56 dogs. The organization has had federal nonprofit status since March 2016, and Mack hopes to start accepting animals around late 2018.

Almost Home would accept only owner-surrendered dogs that pass certain health and behavior tests, Mack said. The center would not take contracts to accept strays from local municipalities, nor would it euthanize dogs for reasons other than health or extreme behavioral issues.

Mack expects that building and launching the center will cost about $3 million. Ken Rice, a Lebanon County businessman and chairman of Almost Home's board of directors, is funding the purchase of the field where the facility will eventually stand. The center's leaders plan to seek funding for ongoing operations from private donors, including businesses. 

Mack envisions the finished center as a kind of retreat for homeless dogs, with animals living in divided 60-square-foot enclosures attached to individual dog runs. Dogs could play in a larger enclosed area under the supervision of staff members and volunteers.

She also hopes to see the center become an educational resource for the community, helping to connect families with resources that might let them keep their dogs instead of surrendering them for adoption, as well as a driver of economic development. Almost Home expects to have 10 full-time employees, 22 part-time employees and a bevy of volunteers.

For Mack, opening the center would be a natural extension of a lifelong love of animals. She has several rescue pets at her home in the East Lampeter area: Bailey, an American pitbull terrier; Koda, a lab-terrier mix; Hannah, a feral-turned-friendly cat; and Lily, a dove.

If Almost Home meets its goal of opening by the end of 2018, it will be at least the second brick-and-mortar rescue to open in Lancaster County over the course of less than two years. The Pennsylvania SPCA opened this past summer in Lancaster City, taking over a space left by the Lancaster SPCA after funding issues forced it to close in August.

A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the party purchasing the property where the adoption center is expected to be built. Almost Home Dog Adoption Center will own the property, and the purchase is being funded by a donation from Almost Home board chairman Ken Rice.

A rendering by Schillaci Architects Ltd. shows plans for the exterior of a $3 million dog adoption center in Conoy Township, Lancaster County. Organizers hope to open the center in late 2018.
A rendering by Schillaci Architects Ltd. shows plans for the exterior of a $3 million dog adoption center in Conoy Township, Lancaster County. Organizers hope to open the center in late 2018. - (Photo / )
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Jennifer Wentz

Jennifer Wentz

Jennifer Wentz covers Lancaster County, York County, financial services, taxation and legal services. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at jwentz@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @jenni_wentz.

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