05/01/14 6:00am
05/01/2014 6:00 AM
Cats of all ages are looking for loving home at the NFAWL animal shelter in Peconic. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Cats of all ages are looking for a loving home at the NFAWL animal shelter in Peconic. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Ever think about adopting a pet, but weren’t sure if you could find the right animal to complete your happy home? Well now is your chance.

North Fork Animal Welfare League is taking part in a nationwide pet adoption event — teaming up with the nonprofit Maddie’s Fund foundation and hundreds of other shelters — to find homes for 10,000 animals.  (more…)

01/05/14 3:30pm
01/05/2014 3:30 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town's animal control building on Youngs Avenue.

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.

12/22/12 8:44am
12/22/2012 8:44 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Reko, a 5-year-old male American Staffordshire Terrier, when he was in the shelter in 2010.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Reko, an American Staffordshire Terrier, at the dog shelter in 2010. He was later sent to the Kent Animal Shelter for adoption.

For years, animal advocates across the East End have pressured Riverhead Town officials to make changes at the municipal dog shelter, which has been criticized for its management and the dogs’ living conditions.

In mid-December, the advocates finally got their wish.

The Riverhead Town Board voted unanimously on Dec. 18 to privatize the shelter starting early next spring, contracting with a long-established North Fork nonprofit group.

The contract between the town and the North Fork Animal Welfare League will authorize the nonprofit group to run, staff and supply the shelter, which was previously overseen by Riverhead Town’s police chief.

Under the three-year contract, the town will pay $223,135 — roughly $5,000 more than the 2012 shelter budget — to the welfare league. The town will cover utilities and maintenance, officials said, and supply a vehicle for animal control activities.

The welfare league has run the Southold Town animal shelter in a similar manner since 1980.

“We could not be more excited,” league president Richard Radoccia said after the contract became official. “We look forward to bringing the same nurturing care to Riverhead that we have extended to the animal community in Southold.”

The Riverhead shelter had been under almost constant fire from critics for years. The most notable of cases came in late 2011, when a dog named Bruno was euthanized. The animal control officer managing the shelter at that time said the dog had bitten a child in the face, but this later proved to be untrue. The ACO later stopped coming into work before resigning.

The shelter also faced a crisis earlier this year when another ACO was mauled by a pit bull and a pair of unexpected resignations left the shelter with just one full-time employee for a short time, alarming critics.

Town officials quickly hired part-time kennel attendants to fill the open positions and care for the dogs.

North Fork Animal Welfare League will take over the shelter beginning March 1.

READ MORE ABOUT THE TOWN ANIMAL SHELTER

12/18/12 1:30pm
12/18/2012 1:30 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Reko, a 5-year-old male American Staffordshire Terrier, when he was in the shelter in 2010.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Reko, an American Staffordshire Terrier, at the dog shelter in 2010. He was later sent to the Kent Animal Shelter for adoption.

After more than a year of on-again, off-again negotiations, Riverhead Town is set to privatize its animal shelter under an agreement with a nonprofit group, officials said.

The shelter on Youngs Avenue, which is run through the Riverhead police chief, will be run by employees with the North Fork Animal Welfare League, a nonprofit group that currently runs the Southold Animal Shelter — if the deal is approved, officials said.

The Town Board will vote on a resolution to accept the contract at Tuesday night’s meeting.

“This is huge news,” said Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter. “The animals are dancing in their kennels.”

The contract will have the town pay $223,000 — $5,000 more than the town had budgeted to run the shelter itself — to NFAWL to run the animal shelter, Mr. Walter said. The group will staff and supply the shelter while the town will cover utilities and maintenence, he said.

“We’re going to pay the heat and the lights, similar to the contract that Southold has,” Mr. Walter said.

The town’s two full-time shelter employees will be encouraged to apply for other possible positions within the town, officials said.

The town will also provide a vehicle to the nonprofit group so they can pick up stray animals, explained Councilman John Dunleavy.

“This is a good deal for the town and a good deal for the dogs,” Mr. Dunleavy said.

NFAWL would take over the shelter starting Feb. 1, Mr. Walter said.

The group will continue to run the Southold shelter in addition to the Riverhead shelter, allowing them to “tap the donor and volunteer base in both towns,” Mr. Walter said.

NFAWL has run the Southold animal shelter since 1980 through a mix of town contract money and private donations.

Mr. Walter said if the deal is approved, it will good news for all North Fork animal lovers.

“It’ll make Southold shelter better and it’ll make our shelter 100 percent better,” he said.

Volunteers at the shelter have long criticized the town about the shelter’s operations, arguing that more employees and better conditions are needed for the more than dozen dogs that are usually there at one time.

Since late 2011, town officials had held several meetings with the group to hammer out a deal, most recently on Friday, officials said.

NFAWL executive director Gillian Wood Pultz was not immediately available for comment.

The board’s resolution to approve the contract was not available.

psquire@timesreview.com

12/07/12 7:30am
12/07/2012 7:30 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Reko, a 5-year-old male American Staffordshire Terrier, when he was in the shelter in 2010.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Reko, an American Staffordshire Terrier, at the dog shelter in 2010. He was later sent to the Kent Animal Shelter for adoption.

Animal lovers. Animal activists. Cat ladies. Dog zealots. Nut-jobs.

Michael White

Call them what you want, but the people who have been condemning the town’s animal shelter are not going anywhere. This is a virtual sit-in, being waged with constant phone calls, letters and emails to the town’s elected and appointed leaders, as well as to the media.

You can also call these people bullies and ask why they’ve set up shop in Riverhead Town while demanding its taxpayers give up more of their hard-earned money to care for animals when other troubles warrant more attention. But dismissing the animal advocates won’t do any good. They’re activists, and this is their cause. Whether you deem it worthy or not.

And they can bring the heat. Just look what happened to the previous animal control officer/shelter head. He’s gone now, having resigned because he couldn’t take the constant criticism, second-guessing, name-calling and public humiliation.

But it wasn’t his fault. The town’s antiquated system of having dog catchers run the pound and answer to a police chief is what set him up to fail. It’s not the 1950s anymore and this dog pound needs to become an actual shelter — that’s basically the zealots’ demand — complete with properly trained and experienced management, an organized adoption mechanism and a community outreach program to help educate the next generation to properly care for pets, and thus prevent more abused dogs from ending up in shelters. Only then will the activists leave us all alone.

In a system of government controlled in large part by special interests, there are plenty of less worthy causes to cave to.

The pet industry is constantly evolving. (Remember when you could buy a puppy in the mall?) And today’s model shelter operation, described above, is just the latest piece of the puzzle, so to speak, as we strive as a country to treat animals more humanely. Simply put, how we treat animals is a reflection of our overall “goodness” as a society.

The philosopher might say positive treatment of animals is a good in and of itself, and thus begets more goodness, which benefits everyone.

Some have argued, through letters to the editor and our online comments section, that spending so much time and money on animal welfare is a waste because so many human beings are going hungry and homeless. Stop. Certainly a town and its people can strive to help human beings and animals alike. Some advocates prefer to help people, others are more suited to helping animals. In the end, that’s their call.

To me, the argument that we should forgo helping animals because some people are in need holds as much water as saying it’s wrong to build parks, or for someone to buy a Rolex or go skiing, when so many people are starving in this world. Many people value and care for animals.

The town should strive to do the same to the best of its ability, as other towns have done. But doing so takes money, and it all boils down to priorities. Simply put — judging by the dollar figures alone — Riverhead’s dog shelter is not a priority.

A News-Review special report in 2010, found that neighboring Southampton Town spends about $500,000 a year in taxpayer money to fund its shelter operations. Southold Town spends about $360,000, not including debt service on a fairly new building, and Riverhead spends about $200,000.

The inadequate funding here means problems keep arising, like a mauling and a sudden staff exodus that leaves the entire shelter to one part-time worker. That’s why the zealots are constantly up in arms.

Both Southold and Southampton have enlisted nonprofit groups to run their shelters. Riverhead could do the same, but town Councilman James Wooten has said it will take about $300,000 to get a group like the North Fork Animal Welfare League, which runs Southold’s shelter, to take over Riverhead’s operation. The challenge is to come up with that extra cash, and during tough times.

Here’s my idea. As was mentioned in a recent News-Review editorial, the town has been swatting down proposals from hobbyist groups looking to use some space at town land in Calverton to do things like hold autocross competitions, fly model airplanes and operate a paragliding school — to name a few.

We’ve all seen with the car-storage operation at the former Grumman property that things can happen there, and quickly, without state interference. So let’s let some of these smaller groups rent space in Calverton, then earmark the proceeds for the shelter; $20,000 here and there can add up quickly.

One way or another, there’s no doubt the town must act to get its dog shelter problems under control.

If not for the activists, then because it’s simply the right and decent thing to do.

Michael White is the News-Review editor. He can be reached at (631) 298-3200, ext. 152 or at mwhite@timesreview.com.

10/04/12 5:20pm
10/04/2012 5:20 PM

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Held here by aquarist Julian Ansell, “Golf Course” became the first alligator found in the wild in Riverhead when he was found in Wading River Monday. Officials believe he was an illegal pet that was released into the wild.

Riverhead Town animal control officer Jessica Eibs-Stankaitis got the call Monday from police about a wild animal lurking in a pond at a Wading River golf course.

But when she arrived at the scene, Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis was surprised by what she was going have to catch.

“I was a little shocked to see it was an alligator,” she joked. “It was actually kind of a cute alligator.”

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Though only 30 inches long and three years old, a gator of Golf Course’s size could still bite off a person’s finger in the right circumstances.

The 24- to 30-inch-long reptile was found in a foot-deep shallow runoff pond at the Great Rock Golf Club.

The animal, later determined to be a young American alligator about three years old, was the first of three gators found on Long Island in three days, with the other two being found Tuesday and Wednesday in Nassau County.

It’s illegal for residents to own an alligator in New York State.

Both Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis and Long Island Aquarium officials warned that owning exotics pets like an alligator poses dangers not just to the owners and their families, but also the community.

“It’s a wild animal, it cannot be domesticated,” Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis said. “It’s an animal of opportunity when it needs to eat.”

Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis said it was the first time she’d ever seen a gator in these parts.

Alligators can grow to be up to 14 feet long in the Everglades, Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis said, though she added the reptiles would not be able to survive the winters in the Northeast.

After the alligator was caught with a catch pole and had its snout taped shut, the live animal was brought to the Long Island Aquarium to be held and cared for by specialists.

“I can only assume it was someone’s pet, and they probably thought releasing it was the humane thing to do,” she said.

Long Island Aquarium aquarist Julian Ansell agreed, noting that the gator – dubbed “Golf Course” by workers at the aquarium until they could come up with a better name – was surprisingly tolerant when being handled.

Aquarium officials have not yet determined whether Golf Course, an protected species known as the American alligator, is a male or female.

Mr. Ansell said Golf Course seemed to be in good health, unlike another gator that was seized by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

“He’s a little underweight but otherwise he seems pretty healthy,” Mr. Ansell said.

Golf Course was the first gator discovered in the wild near Riverhead, he added. For the next three or so years, Golf Course will be kept at the aquarium with the other two gators and a fourth alligator rescued by a television show.

He will be used to teach children about reptiles and will eventually be sent to a zoo, aquarium or alligator farm in the South when he becomes too large to be reliably handled.

Mr. Ansell said alligators are sometimes taken as pets because they appear cute when they are smaller. But they can quickly grow to be strong and, even at Golf Course’s age, can take off a person’s finger.

“They’re always going to be dangerous,” Mr. Ansell said, adding that even pets like iguanas and snakes can be dangerous if not properly cared for.

He advised that families looking to purchase a pet, be it a dog, cat, fish or lizard, make sure they do they do their research first.

“People don’t realize what they’re getting into until it’s too late,” he said.

psquire@timesreview.com

09/28/12 4:37pm
09/28/2012 4:37 PM
Riverhead Raceway, Jim and Barbara Cromarty, NASCAR

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Jim and Barbara Cromarty and dog Candy at the Riverhead Animal Shelter.

What do dogs and race cars have in common?

Trees.

At least, on Friday, they did.

That’s when Jim and Barbara Cromarty, the longtime owners of Riverhead Raceway, were on hand for the planting of six trees donated by NASCAR to the Riverhead Town Animal Shelter.

The trees will provide shade for the dogs there, as well as add some aesthetics to the shelter grounds.

The Cromartys through NASCAR, which sponsors the Whelen All-American Series at Riverhead Raceway, actually have donated a lot more trees than this.

As part of NASCAR’s Green Clean Air Program, nearly $10,000 was donated to provide trees in the town, with that money going to the purchase a 71 trees, which will be supplied by for Ver Der Ber Landscape Nursery in Aquebogue.

The Green Clean Air Program plants trees for each green flag that drops during a NASCAR-sanctioned race.

NASCAR says the plantings will capture 100 percent of the carbon produced by the on-track racing.

Riverhead Raceway was just one of five tracks nationwide in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series to be selected to participate in the program, and the Cromartys chose the Town of Riverhead to be the recipient of the trees, officials said.

“These trees are much appreciated as they will provide comfort to man’s best friend and will make Riverhead that much more beautiful,” Supervisor Sean Walter said.

tgannon@timesreview.com

09/25/12 10:00am
09/25/2012 10:00 AM
Riverhead Animal Shelter, New York Bully Crew, Craig Fields, Vince Taldone

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Craig Fields of NY Bully Crew walking Julie the pit bull outside the Riverhead Animal Shelter Monday morning. Mr. Fields expects to adopt Julie next.

Preston, a 6-year-old pit bull who’s lived in a cage in the Riverhead Animal Shelter since June of 2010, is on his way to a new life, courtesy of the New York Bully Crew.

The Bully Crew is a nonprofit organization that rescues pit bulls that might otherwise be euthanized or spend their whole lives in a shelter. Crew members help train them to become adoptable, according to Craig Fields, its founder.

Mr. Fields arrived to the town shelter about 11:30 a.m. Monday and looked over all the dogs, taking some of them was walks and interacting with them before eventually deciding on Preston.

“I think they’re all highly adoptable,” Mr. Fields said of the dogs, most of which are pits or American Staffordshire Terriers.

“I don’t think there’s one dog here that can’t be adopted.”

Mr. Fields said he plans to adopt and then rehabilitate other dogs from the shelter moving forward.

Read more in the Sept. 27 News-Review on how the Bully Crew decided to come to Riverhead.