After nearly a decade of planning and fundraising, Happy Tails No-Kill Animal Shelter will soon break ground on an animal shelter building in North Towanda Township.

Construction on the first stage of the planned 6,000-square-foot building - the exterior of the building and a floor - could begin with excavation on the group's six-acre Route 6 lot as soon as next week, said Karen Friedenberg, president of the Happy Tails board of directors. The shelter will be built by 2014, the group's tenth anniversary.

The first phase of the project is expected to cost around $150,000, raised through the years by fundraisers, donations and grants, Friedenberg said. Work on the interior of the building will continue as funds become available.

The building will provide a comfortable and safe environment for animals in need of permanent homes and allow the group to more aggressively pursue its adoption and other programs, fulfilling one of the major goals board members set forth when Happy Tails formed in 2004, Friedenberg said.

Board members visited several area shelters, taking notes of elements they wanted to incorporate in the design of the proposed building. The shelter, designed with the help of architect George Bizilia, will be home-like and nurturing, Friedenberg said.

"We're going to try to make it a happy place," she said. "The whole idea was to make it very animal-friendly and very people-friendly."

Plans call for a communal cat room, complete with a screened-in outdoor porch, a room to house 20 dogs and an indoor play area, and fenced-in outdoor pens.

Excavating for the project, to be performed by Bishop's Excavating, will begin as soon as next week, and the building will be constructed by CB Structures of New Holland, Pa., Friedenberg said.

In addition to helping animals find homes, Happy Tails also offers educational programs, low-cost rabies clinics and a medical reserve fund to help cover emergency veterinary bills, among other initiatives.

The shelter will offer naming opportunities for the building itself as well as rooms, kennels, cages and other items. To donate to Happy Tails or for more information on its programs, call Friedenberg at (607) 742-8061 or write to P.O. Box 68, Towanda, PA 18848.

Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: arenko@thedailyreview.com.