BY BERNARD HARRIS, Staff Writer
When Susan Martin volunteered to help East Hempfield find homes for the stray dogs in the township, she did so because she saw a need.
Many of the 28 dogs that township police caught running loose last year were returned to their owners. Martin found homes for the others when no owners came forward.
Her success caught the attention of other municipalities, which were looking for a way to deal with the dogs caught within their jurisdictions. Officials from three or four municipalities contacted her last year.
Now that the Humane League of Lancaster County has announced it soon will no longer be accepting strays, Martin has contacted those municipalities and others.
Martin sees a bigger need that encompasses the entire county.
With the founding of the Lancaster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Martin is establishing an animal shelter in Lancaster city that she hopes will serve all county municipalities and the public.
"Our mission is different," she said of the new shelter. "We stepped up to fill a need that had been created in the county."
The shelter is due to open to municipalities Friday. It will open to the public Feb. 4, she said.
Martin said 21 municipalities have requested contracts to participate in the shelter, and several have been approved. She anticipates as many as 25 may participate the first year.
Under state law, all municipalities are required to care for the stray dogs caught in their areas.
Dogs without identification must be held for at least 48 hours to give owners the opportunity to claim them. Dogs with identification or licenses must be held for as long as two months.
During that period, the animals must be fed, walked twice daily and receive any needed veterinary care.
There are no state requirements governing the care of stray cats.
Martin said the Lancaster SPCA shelter will take all small animals. There will be kennels for 50 dogs and for 50 cats or other animals, she said.
The initial shelter, at 599 Chesapeake St., will be in an existing building in the former Pennsylvania National Guard Armory complex.
The Lancaster city-owned building is at the rear of the site, Martin said. It is not visible from the street. A temporary sign will be erected on the outside fence to direct people to the shelter.
The shelter likely will be there for only a few months.
The city will soon begin planning for a shelter facility. It will be constructed on city-owned property on Grofftown Road, in an isolated area on the edge of the city, officials have said.
Martin said she expects to move to the permanent location in June, or July 1 at the latest.
The kennels at the temporary facility will be moved to the permanent location, she said. Additional kennels will not be added, so the maximum number of animals sheltered will remain the same.
In addition to the facility, the city is providing a $60,000 loan to the new organization to cover start-up costs. City Council members approved the loan last week.
The Lancaster SPCA was formed specifically for the purpose of operating the shelter.
Martin said the Lancaster organization will not be affiliated with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The national group does not operate as an umbrella group with local chapters, she said.
But the Lancaster group will operate under the ASPCA guidelines, she said.
Martin plans to soon hire three people to work at the shelter in addition to herself.
It will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., six days per week. Which day the shelter will be closed has not been decided, she said.
Employees will be at the facility from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Staff members will be there daily to feed and walk dogs and care for the other animals, but there will be limited hours on the one day per week the shelter will be closed, she said.
Municipalities will have access to the shelter at all times to bring dogs, she said.
Members of the public also can bring animals to the shelter. She will be asking for a donation of $35 per animal for each animal surrendered.
She hopes people will come to the shelter to adopt animals. Martin said adoption fees will vary based on the age of the animal. The fees for dogs will be between $100 and $175, and fees for cats will be between $60 and $85, she said.
A website is being developed for the Lancaster SPCA that will allow people to look at photos and review information about the animals before coming to the shelter, she said.
"We will make every effort to find them a good, adoptable home," she said of animals brought to the shelter.
That may include looking outside the state for homes, she said.
She acknowledged that euthanasia will be considered for aggressive animals that cannot be offered for adoption.
In addition to her experience with East Hempfield, Martin also has been involved with Southern State Mastiff Rescue and with horse programs of the county 4-H and Columbia Riding Club, she said.
A tax supervisor for a public accounting firm, Martin said she was familiar with business planning. She put together a business plan for a shelter a few years ago. She hoped to open a shelter in 2015.
While she wasn't ready to open this quickly, she said the Humane League decision to stop accepting strays accelerated her timetable.
"I felt there was a better answer than what was out there in Lancaster County," she said of her motivation.
Municipal officials told her they wanted a per-dog price rather than a per capita fee based on overall population.
"There needed to be another organization with a different price structure," she said.
Martin said it was only last month that she presented her business plan to city officials. It was only within the past few weeks that it was accepted.
And now other municipalities are signing on.
"I'm getting overwhelming, positive response from the municipalities," she said.
That's a good thing. Having the county's municipalities working together will benefit everyone, including the animals, she said.
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