Activists call on DA Spota to probe dog shelter operation

04/25/2011 4:20 PM |

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Former Riverhead councilwoman Rose Sanders addresses the media and others Monday outside the town shelter.

A cadre of animal lovers and civic activists is turning up the heat on Riverhead Town officials who have been dealing with mounting pressure to expel head animal control officer Lou Coronesi from the municipal dog shelter, where he oversees day-to-day operations.

At a press conference that drew several members of local and regional media to the Youngs Avenue shelter Monday, Calverton resident and civic leader Rex Farr announced he would be sending a letter to Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota demanding an investigation “into the operations and management of the Riverhead Animal Shelter, and in particular, head Animal Control Officer Lou Coronesi, a man who has consistently broken the law.”

The letter complains of Mr. Coronesi’s illegally transporting endangered species in Arizona, driving with a suspended license in that same state while still being employed by Riverhead Town, lying to Supervisor Sean Walter by telling the supervisor a dog bit a child in the face, having more than 260 days away from the job in 2009 and 2010 and banning volunteers from the town shelter.

“Why is this man being protected?” Mr. Farr asked those in attendance Monday.

He said if the town simply moved Mr. Coronesi into another position outside the shelter, he would be happy.

Supervisor Sean Walter indicated at last Wednesday’s Town Board meeting that he is working on a plan to transfer Mr. Coronesi to another department, at Mr. Coronesi’s request, but he said certain procedures must be followed in order to do so.

Animal groups, particularly RSVP (Riverhead Shelter Volunteer Program) have been at odds with Mr. Coronesi for years.

Their anger came to a head in December when a dog named Bruno was euthanized early in the morning on Dec. 21, despite a request the night before by Councilman Jim Wooten, the shelter liaison on the Town Board, to hold off the euthanization until he more fully researched the matter.

Mr. Walter stated at a Town Board meeting that night that Bruno had bitten a child in the face as an explanation for why the dog had to be killed. But the county health department bite report of the incident states that Bruno bit his 22-year-old owner in the finger while he was trying to break up a fight between two dogs, and that the wound was superficial.

Mr. Walter later said he got his information from Mr. Coronesi.

“We in Riverhead want only to have a shelter that is run humanely and one that we can be proud of,” Mr. Farr said. “Not much to ask, but impossible under present circumstances.”

Mr. Coronesi did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

In August 2003, when Mr. Coronesi was arrested in Bagdad, Ariz., after he was seen illegally capturing a gila monster and a snake, he was charged with hunting without a license, possessing wildlife unlawfully and possession of restricted wildlife, according to Arizona police reports, which state that he later pleaded “no contest” to the charges, all misdemeanors. Mr. Coronesi was also charged with two counts of driving with a suspended license in that same incident.

There currently are two shelter volunteers who have been suspended, Pat Lynch and Linda Mosca. Ms. Lynch — a Southampton and New York City resident who successfully sued Southampton Town after she was banned from its shelter — said three Town Board members have now agreed to let her go back to volunteering, although she has received no official notice that she can do so.

Former Riverhead councilwoman Rose Sanders, who volunteers at the shelter and also spoke at the press conference, said her main concern is financial, as there have been bills showing the town paid veterinary fees for cats,  and in one case, a goat, when the shelter is supposed to be a dog-only shelter.

The bills, which Glen Cove resident Gail Waller obtained, in one instance show the town was billed by two different veterinarians for a dog that, according to those records, was in both vet offices simultaneously.

Ms. Waller has told the News-Review she spends thousands of dollars of her own money to help dogs from the Riverhead shelter.

Mr. Farr said the animal shelter issue has been politicized as well since Mr. Wooten announced his intention to challenge Mr. Walter for the Republican supervisor nomination. He theorized no action would be taken until the Republican Party sorted out its internal strife.

“This is why this is going to Spota,” he said. “I have no alternative.”

Mr. Farr had threatened to send a slightly different version of that letter to Mr. Spota at last Wednesday’s Town Board meeting unless he got assurance that Mr. Coronesi would be moved out of the ACO position and either fired or moved to a different department.

“I’m trying to work this out with you,” Mr. Walter said, while not vowing to do so. “I’m trying to work within the constraints of personnel issues, within the restraints of the retirements that are happening. Rex, I think what you’re asking is doable, but I can’t ramrod it through. I have to have respect for the personnel.”

He said certain employees have asked for transfers and he is trying to work that through the constraints of the system.

Mr. Walter said he wouldn’t speak any further on the matter because of personnel issues that can’t be discussed publicly.

tgannon@timesreview.com

Editor’s note: A direct quote alleging fraud at the Riverhead Animal Shelter was incorrectly attributed to former councilwoman Rose Sanders in the April 28 print edition of this story. The quote had been removed from the web version. The News-Review regrets the error.

7 Comment

  • WOOF, WOOF, you, useless town administrators. Signed by Bruno’s shelter friends.

  • How does a Southampton/New York City resident have anything to do with a Riverhead Town shelter?

  • First of all..it is completly impractical for a town owned shelter to be an exclusive “no kill” shelter. Special intrest activists have put pressure on that shelter in recent years and forced on it a policy of strict no kill. The is not only practical, but dangerous to society. I have visited that shelter, many times, and there are dogs there that have been in reisdence for many years and will live their life in a cage. They are not suitable for most home sutiations, and outright dangerous in the wrong hands.

    I am very experienced working with canines for 25 plus years. I would not be in this profession if I did not have a love for dogs. That being said, people first, then dogs. I would never recommend a family or individual keep a dog that is dangerous(ie a biter) and always recommend the dog be humanely euthanized, when there is a history of serious bites. Those are perhaps my worst clients to bare news to, but its always the right choice, hard as it may be. I have even had dog owners who after paying me for my professional advice agrue with me that they will not put their dog to sleep, despite the fact that their pet had sent several family members to the hospital on numerous occassions. This is unaccpetable, and irresponsible.

    Riverhead town shelter has very limited space. Judgement calls need to be made, as dozens of dogs are brought in daily. As town tax payers, we expect a town shelter to come and pick up a stray dog, but now there is no place to keep them., wasting spacing on dogs that are in reality “unadoptable”.

    I have spoken with the individual in the article in the past on this exact subject. Its a shame really. At the time I was looking for a personal dog after my dog had passed, and after a lenghtly conversation we both realised none he currently had in possesion were adoptable, even for an experienced owner such as myself. He explained how new dogs come in every day, some very good dogs in fact, but there are no places for them, so Long Island dogs are constantly shuffled around. In fact most other town shelters have been forced to adopt the same “no kill” policy. He did offer to take my number and give me a call, when something suitable comes in, which he did.

    Its a fact of life, like it or not, I dont like to see any dog put down, but you can not adopt out a danger to society. Kids always get bit in the face, and worse yet, killed. We have a responsibility in all aspects of canine ownership to do the right thing.

  • It is not too much to ask that a shelter treat pets in their care humanely and with the goal of adopting them to good homes. It is cruel to keep pets confined in cages for days, months, and years. Never providing them with exercise, stimulation, and training. It is a small shelter which gives them the perfect opportunity to work with each pet on a regular basis. Volunteers increase these opportunities providing extra helping hands at no cost to the shelter. This year there has been one pet adopted from this shelter. Why? Recently I had a family go to the shelter to meet a pet they were interested in and the shelter was closed. Closed during hours they were supposed to be open.

  • I’m going to demand the DA investigate why cats are being discriminated against at the shelter! And goats!

  • Rex Farr has some nerve harping about Lou Coronesi’s legal past….need he be reminded that he himself was a convicted felon…jailed in Attica Prison for acts far more unspeakable than Lou Coronesi’s traffic tickets???
    Someone once said..if you live in glass houses…..you know the rest!

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