BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town’s animal control building on Youngs Avenue.
As the old saying goes, no news is good news.
And while we in the news industry might not agree with that statement as often as others might — try telling that to the people of the year, for example — staying under the radar can often be a pretty good thing.
Case in point, the Riverhead Town animal shelter.
Just over a year ago, the Riverhead Town Board contracted with the nonprofit North Fork Animal Welfare League, which has long run Southold Town’s facility, to take over operation of the Riverhead shelter March 1, 2013.
The decision came after years of controversy at the shelter, which had earned a reputation among animal advocates as an unhealthy, unfriendly environment. Critics chastised police chief David Hegermiller, who somehow ended up in charge of rounding up stray animals. Stronger criticism was focused on the head animal control officer, especially following the late 2011 killing of a shelter dog named Bruno, which most agreed was unnecessary. After months of avoiding the public spotlight, the officer eventually resigned.
Frustrated with the way things were being handled at the shelter, Denise Lucas launched a campaign all on her own to raise funds to ‘Move the Animal Shelter’ (the name of the nonprofit she formed for the cause). Ms. Lucas — the News-Review’s Person of the Year for 2012 — has since succeeded in establishing public dog parks in Calverton and at Stotzky Park, and continues to raise funds for the eventual relocation of the shelter. And on Tuesday, Ms. Lucas was over at the shelter adopting a German shepherd of her own from the facility.
But in the months since NFAWL took over, the shelter has rarely, if at all, found itself in the headlines. No controversial personnel; no news of unwarranted euthanasia on the front page of the paper; no protests outside the facility.
Staff at the NFAWL-run shelter has increased from two full-timers and two part-timers before March, to a current staff of four full-timers and two part-timers. Meanwhile, the number of regular volunteers has tripled and NFAWL has received 600 hours of community service through the courts and the county. The shelter has even spayed more than 150 pit bulls for free, a service NFAWL offers to help reduce future populations at both shelters, where 75 percent of the dogs are pit bull mixes.
So, hard as it is to admit, no news has pretty much been good news at the Youngs Avenue shelter itself.
Perhaps that was most recently evident in the week leading up to Christmas. A shivering, emaciated 10-year-old border collie was found on the side of the road in mid-December, its back legs paralyzed. And while we here at the News-Review documented the shelter’s efforts online at bringing the dog back up to speed, we didn’t learn about Chipper until two weeks after he’d been found, when we came across his story on Facebook. (When the town ran the shelter, it didn’t even have Facebook page. In fact, picture-taking had been banned at the shelter.) Volunteers at the NFAWL-run shelter had been quietly rehabbing Chipper, trying to get him adopted. One generous volunteer even took the time to modify a wheelchair-like cart at the shelter to help him roll around, as opposed to dragging the lower half of his body.
It’s hard to say how Chipper’s story would have ended had the town still been in control. But it’s hard to argue that the town could offer the same services NFAWL has; in fact, those previously tasked with running the shelter will probably tell you the same thing.
In a political environment here in town that can get pretty hostile at times, the nonprofit’s takeover of the Calverton shelter seems to have been a quiet no-brainer.
An entity running smoothly isn’t typically the type to make headlines.
Joseph Pinciaro is the managing editor at the News-Review. He can be reached at jpinciaro@ timesreview.com , or directly at 631-354-8024.