A campaign to fundraise for senior pet adoptions reached the $1 million mark, and organizers celebrated by breaking ground on a new animal shelter.

Dawn Kemper first saw her dream come to life in 2005 when she founded Young at Heart, a rescue dedicated to senior pets, and she expanded on that dream recently in unincorporated Woodstock. Kemper was joined June 22 by board members and volunteers, as well as city officials from Woodstock, to celebrate the start of construction.

Kemper founded the nonprofit, designated as an adoption center and sanctuary for senior dogs and cats, in 2005. Young at Heart takes in pets 7 years and older, as well as pets with terminal illness. 

After being involved in rescue, Kemper noticed that senior pets were often overlooked in the adoption process. Since its inception, the organization has adopted out hundreds of senior pets to loving families. 

“I was always really drawn to the older animals. They’re easy. They’ve been a part of somebody’s family for a long time, and then they end up homeless for one reason or another. A lot of times it is because someone passes away or goes into assisted living. I looked for somewhere to get involved with, and nothing like this existed,” Kemper said.

The Young at Heart property sits on 8 acres on Route 47 a few miles south of Highway 14. Walking trails will surround the roughly 5,000-square-foot adoption center, complete with a separate caretaker apartment and veterinary suite. 

The main building, “Smokey’s Haven,” is named after a black Labrador loved by John and Rita Canning, who gave a generous gift to the organization’s fundraising efforts. The ground level holds multiple cage-free rooms for adoptable animals, complete with covered porches and “catios” — enclosed patios that allow cats to safely take in fresh air and sunshine. There are meet-and-greet rooms for prospective families to spend time socializing with adoptable animals.

The lower level of the main building will hold offices, more meet-and-greet rooms and isolation rooms for incoming pets that may need to be kept separate after being transferred from another shelter or pound.

A full-time caretaker will live on-site in a two-bedroom apartment adjacent to a veterinary suite equipped with X-ray, surgery and eventually water therapy for pets. 

Pets facing a terminal illness or which may be more difficult to adopt live out their lives on the sanctuary or in one of the organization’s many foster homes that are spread throughout the area, providing a loving home environment to pets in the final phase of their lives.

The shelter is presently established in Palatine, but the move to Woodstock will give the organization more space, which in turn will lead to more adoptions. Right now, about 100 pets are adopted annually. Kemper believes with the new facility that number could reach 400 or 500. 

City Manager Roscoe Stelford attended the event and welcomed the group to the area. 

“We could not be more thrilled to have this project located here in the Woodstock area. We appreciate your significant investment. The city and county are completely thrilled with your project, and we wish you the very best of success,” Stelford said.

The adoption center, caretaker apartment and veterinary suite were designed by Matt Jans of Matthias Jans Architects, part of the many volunteers who came together to contribute towards what Kemper called a “dream come true.” 

“We’re here today thanks to the hard work and dedication of more people than I could ever name. It takes a village, and Young at Heart has the absolute best village. Hundreds of wonderful people donated to help us reach our goal of opening the doors to an adoption center and sanctuary just for senior pets, and I am grateful to each and every one of them,” Kemper said.

To contribute to Young at Heart’s mission, view adoptable pets, or for other information, visit adoptaseniorpet.com.

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