Skip to main content

Chester County Press

A happy home

11/01/2016 12:28PM ● By J. Chambless

Jack Merritt and Julia Altman make the Greenmore Farm Animal Rescue run, with the help of many volunteers and supporters.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

Sometimes, as he's picking up dogs from shelters where they have been just hours away from death, Jack Merritt will get a lick on the hand and a joyful tail wag.

“I think it's their way of saying, 'Thanks,'” Merritt said. “I think they know they're being rescued.”

Merritt, along with his partner, Julia Altman, run the Greenmore Farm Animal Rescue in West Marlborough Township. The six-acre property is surrounded by open fields and just big enough for a small home and plenty of room for the animals that are getting a second chance.

During a recent tour of the farm, Merritt stopped frequently to point out animals – small donkeys, peacocks, a pot-bellied pig, an emu, a miniature horse – that have joined the dozens of dogs that Greenmore specializes in. He and Altman find it hard to say no when someone calls about an animal that, through no fault of its own, is facing death unless someone steps in.

The official greeter, Lilly, strolls up to meet a visitor.

 For instance, there's Lilly, a thick-coated Great Pyrenees dog that strolls over to greet every visitor. She was surrendered to a shelter in West Virginia when her owners deemed her too large to take care of. That kind of attitude gnaws at Merritt. “What kind of person would pay four figures for a dog and not know how big it was going to get?” he said.

Some of the dogs that end up at Greenmore are purebreds, given to shelters because they don't fit whatever expectations someone had. “I would say, 'Never buy from a pet store, because every time you do that, you're killing another dog somewhere,'” Merritt said.

Many of the dogs that end up at Greenmore start out at overcrowded shelters in the Appalachian region, where there is no widespread spaying and neutering program. There are, however, networks of concerned people nationwide who work on the ground with the shelters. When an adoptable dog is due for euthanasia, the call goes out. One organization picks up the dog, another may arrange transportation to another site, or sometimes to Merritt, who owns a plane and can take perhaps a dozen dogs for a flight to Pennsylvania. Most of the dogs are brought in by ground transport, but for long distances, being able to fly them to New Garden Flying Field means many little lives can be saved. “It really takes a village,” he said. “It's like a big bucket brigade among these various organizations.”

The dogs, Merritt said, don't realize they're flying, and take to the trip very well. One dog, he said, stood up in its cage and intently gazed at the ground, 9,000 feet below. “I wonder what she was thinking,” Merritt said, laughing. “Any dog that likes going somewhere likes flying.”

There are two elderly dachsunds up for adoption at Greenmore.

 Greenmore specializes in small to medium-size dogs, and can take about 50 at maximum capacity, with the help of nearby foster families, Merritt said. Last week, there were a couple of dozen dogs in kennels, all of whom barked and wagged enthusiastically for visitors. There's a separate room for puppies while they are given their inoculations, and evaluated for any diseases before being put up for adoption. Other dogs are given a pen to bounce around in, and they are all walked twice a day by a rotating staff of volunteers.

“We have four paid part-time employees,” Merritt said. “Two people take care of the grounds and stables, and two work in the kennel. And we have a core of eight or 10 volunteers who are here every week.”

Greenmore works with a local vet for all inoculations and medical evaluations. In six years, every animal has been placed with a happy home, Merritt said, except eight “house dogs” who live there full-time. Lilly has taken to her role as the farm's greeter and protector. She will stand on her hind legs and hug visitors around the neck with gentle affection. “Most of our personal dogs have had special needs, and they've just crawled their way into our hearts,” he said.

Merritt said his parents and Julie's parents were “corporate gypsies,” and Julie went to school for nursing in Allentown. As a lifetime equestrian, she had always been eager to find a property large enough for her horses and to take in animals who needed a second chance. In 2010, she found the Greenmore property – which is modest compared to the surrounding farms – and started her dream job there. She still works as a nurse during the days, but every off hour is devoted to getting animals rescued. She and Jack have been partners for two years.

For Merritt, who still works as a management consultant, living in the midst of so much animal affection since he met Julia is endlessly rewarding. “It's always fresh,” he said, smiling. “I'm a little bit like a dog in that respect. I live in the now.”

There's no time limit on how long a dog can stay at Greenmore, although Merritt said sometimes they will swap a dog with another no-kill shelter where, for some reason, the new arrival is usually adopted right away.


A dog awaiting adoption at Greenmore.

 At Greenmore, visitors can't just drop in. Families are required to go online first to see photos of the dogs up for adoption, and fill out a request to visit. The visit is part of a thorough evaluation process to confirm that the dogs are going to good homes. There's a fee required at the time of adoption that partially covers the costs of caring for the animals up to that point. There are two elderly dachsunds at Greenmore who were surrendered to a shelter when their owner died. Toothless but still lively, they are eligible for adoption, free of charge, to the right person. “Julie says there's a lid for every pot, and we work hard to find the perfect match for each dog,” Merritt said. But the dogs can also live out their days at Greenmore if necessary.

“At this point, we're sort of breaking even,” Merritt said, smiling. “We have the dogs that are six months or older spayed and neutered at the Chester County SPCA. Last year, we spent about $80,000 on vet bills. We rely on the fees and the kindness of our donors. But the goal is finding good homes for good dogs. We socialize the dogs. We train them to walk on a leash, that sort of thing.”

Merritt is proud of Greenmore's record of success. “Last June, we had a celebration when we had adopted out 1,000 dogs,” he said. “We're humming along. We get seven to 10 dogs a week coming in and going out. And in six years, we've managed to adopt out nearly every dog.”

Greenmore Farm Animal Rescue is a 501c3 charity. Financial donations and adult volunteers are needed. For more information, visit www.greenmorerescue.org.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.


Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Chester County's free newsletter to catch every headline