SMITHFIELD TOWNSHIP — There were plenty of smiles Tuesday as members of the Animal Care Sanctuary and its canine care staff, as well as state Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23) and Pennsylvania Dog Warden Jim Johnson, stuck shovels into the ground and flung a little celebratory dirt, marking the groundbreaking for long-awaited renovations to the shelter’s dog kennel.

During her opening remarks, Animal Care Sanctuary Executive Director Joan Smith-Reese said updating the dog kennel has been a priority ever since she took the job in 2010.

“I noticed that in all of my interviews, everybody took me through the cattery, but not the kennel,” Smith-Reese remembered. “That first day I did two things: I saw a resume for Rachel Rossiter (community liaison), called her and said, ‘I need all the help that I can get up here; and secondly, walked into the kennel and said, ‘Oh my goodness we have a lot of work to do.’”

By 2015, she, Rossiter and the board felt that Animal Care Sanctuary was on solid footing operationally except for the kennel. Then-board Chairman Mac MacIntire joined Rossiter and Smith-Reese as they went through the kennel. The team then consulted Shelter Planners of America to advise with their next steps.

“The rest is history. We’ve been out begging for money and having very gracious donors and grants and organizations to help us get to where we are today,” said Smith-Reese. “We need a lot more, but it was a wonderful start.”

The cost is currently projected at $1.5 million, with work to be completed by Yoder Construction from Lycoming County and Schoonover Plumbing and Heating of Canton. In addition to the updates, officials will be moving the shelter’s clinic from the mobile home its currently housed in and expanding it in the dog kennel.

“It’s going to be all natural light and the walls will be solid, and people will be able to go through where they can’t now,” Smith-Reese explained. “The dogs will have indoor-outdoor runs, but we won’t need as many as we have in the past because we’re moving them so fast.”

Although some plans are still being worked out, and some of the cost could change, she said part of the indoor space might end up being used for obedience classes during the colder months.

Among those speaking during Tuesday’s ceremony was Yaw, who was also recognized for his support of legislation protecting animals in Harrisburg.

Yaw applauded what has taken place over the years at the Animal Care Sanctuary.

“I think a congratulations is in order for everyone here. It’s not only the board, it’s all of the supporters, the staff – you guys are what makes this work.”

The ceremony also included a recognition of the shelter’s canine care staff, which have helped keep the kennel going through maintenance, work with the animals, ordering food and supplies, and monitoring the animals’ health.

Smith-Reese said they are hoping to be able to hold a dedication for the updated kennel on May 1.

She said those wishing to donate to the project can visit www.animalcaresanctuary.org or call the office at (570) 596-2200 for more information, including naming opportunities.

“We do this all for the animals,” said board Chairwoman Ellen Feldman as she thanked those who have supported the project so far. “We couldn’t do it without all of you.”

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I am the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily and Sunday Review.