In August 2011, Denise Lucas took her 13-year-old neighbor to the Riverhead Animal Shelter to look at the dogs. The girl wanted to be a veterinarian but was terrified by the barking dogs and the sight of the shelter.
Animal advocates had long protested conditions at the town’s shelter, saying that better facilities were needed to care for the dogs. After her August visit, Ms. Lucas saw the same need.
Instead of protesting, she took action.
The longtime Riverhead resident and dog lover, who had never organized a single fundraiser before, soon began going door to door, business to business across the East End to raise money to build Riverhead Town a new animal shelter.
More than a year later, Move the Animal Shelter — the organization she founded — has raised thousands to put toward building a new town facility. She’s also spearheaded the town’s first public dog park, with a second park expected to open in the spring.
Ms. Lucas has kept up an impressive pace, holding dozens of fundraisers — from dinners to dog grooming events — and obtaining nonprofit status for her organization while still working her regular job.
It’s that dedication and drive that several town officials and residents have praised, and why Ms. Lucas is the News-Review’s 2012 Person of the Year.
“Denise Lucas came to me about a year ago, and she was on a mission,” said Councilman James Wooten, the Town Board’s liaison to Ms. Lucas’ group. “She was like a spitfire … for me personally, I think she’s just a breath of fresh air.”
Ms. Lucas began raising funds in September 2011; two months later, she had raised $12,000 for the new shelter. The money originally went into a special town fund, but it was later returned to the group once it received 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit.
The new shelter as designed should cost roughly $300,000, Ms. Lucas has said in previous interviews.
While raising funds for the new shelter, Ms. Lucas learned of the town’s efforts to get a dog park built. She immediately opened up another fundraising effort and raised $14,000 to help the town build its first public dog park: Issac Park at the Enterprise Park at Calverton. Ms. Lucas also enticed businesses to donate supplies or pay for various items needed for the park, like fencing and picnic tables.
The dog park in Calverton opened in July; Ms. Lucas is currently raising funds to have another, smaller dog park built at Stotzky Park near the soccer fields.
“This one person has accomplished so much for the town in just one year,” wrote Riverhead resident Jim Seuling, in nominating Ms. Lucas for Person of the Year honors.
On Dec. 18, the Riverhead Town Board voted to privatize the town shelter, putting it under the control of the North Fork Animal Welfare League, a nonprofit group that currently runs the Southold Town shelter.
But Ms. Lucas is not going to give up on her mission; in fact, the move may help her raise even more money to help Riverhead’s pets, officials said.
“This [privatization of the shelter] is probably better for her organization, because she’s going to be working with the North Fork Animal Welfare League,” Mr. Wooten said. “She’s reenergized by it.”