08/24/12 8:00am
08/24/2012 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Vince Taldone and his put bull, Champ, just a few weeks before Champ was put down.

In the fall of 2010, I read an article in the Riverhead News-Review about the Town Board reconsidering the town’s animal shelter euthanasia policy.

In the article, Supervisor Sean Walter was quoted as saying, “Some of them have been in there for close to six months. The more humane thing is not to leave them in there for another six months.”

In part, I agreed. Certainly warehousing animals is not very humane.

Councilman Jim Wooten, the town’s liaison to the shelter, noted that most dogs do get adopted, but the less desirable animals, primarily pit bulls, remain.

Pit bulls (including the American pit bull terrier, the American Staffordshire terrier and the Staffordshire bull terrier) are some of the gentlest breeds of dogs. The American Temperament Test Society (ATTS.org) gives the pit bull a very high passing rate of 90.6 percent, which is better than the beagle, the cocker spaniel, the miniature poodle and more than 100 other breeds.

I decided that I had to save one of the dogs, so I visited petfinders.com and saw a photo of a senior pit bull mix named Champ, who had been at the shelter for more than one year.

With Supervisor Walter’s comment in mind — as well as my 92-year-old mother’s recent comment that she was lonely — I went off to the shelter.

I fell in love with Champ as soon as I met him. He was quiet, friendly and had a funny walk. A kind volunteer named Pat Lynch explained that Champ never barked and was a very gentle animal who was found abandoned.

When I looked at Champ, standing in the prison-like atmosphere of the shelter, I could almost hear him saying, “Take me home, please!”

So I did.

My mother expected me to return with a small fluffy dog that could sit on her lap. She took one look at the 70-pound Champ and immediately decided that she was afraid of the gentle dog. In time, though, he would win her over.

Shortly after we brought him home, we discovered that he had Lyme disease, hook worm, advanced heart worm and a bladder infection. I could have returned him to the shelter because of medical treatment costs, which the town certainly would not cover (euthanasia is much more affordable). Champ was so loving that I couldn’t imagine parting with him. He had quickly become part of the family. He stayed.

Champ survived the treatments. I was thrilled. So thrilled that I installed a new back door with a sturdy doggie door especially for Champ.

He became even happier when I started taking him on two long walks a day.

I think I enjoyed the walks as much as he did. After living in my neighborhood for almost 12 years, I recognized many but knew almost none of my neighbors. Champ loved every one them and soon my neighbors began to recognize us. We had conversations and I got to know them better.

As for my mother, she started spending her time reminding me (as if I needed to be reminded) to make sure that the water bowl was full and to feed Champ on time. Champ made her giggle like a little girl whenever he would charge out his doggie door and run around the yard to meet me by the grill when I cooked chicken.

He made both of us smile every day and brought us great joy when he lived with us.

In addition to spending more time with Champ, I also started spending time walking dogs as a volunteer at the Riverhead animal shelter. I got to know a number of volunteers who selflessly spent much time and effort to walk, play and otherwise socialize the dogs to keep them from going crazy being locked up for long periods without human contact. Animals need a comforting, human touch as much as we humans do.

Initially, I joined in discussions with the town’s animal shelter advisory committee but the politics were overwhelming and the town was clearly not going to spend any additional monies to make things substantially better for the dogs. I decided to focus on the animals at the shelter and also on Champ.

Over the past almost two years, Champ’s “funny walk” became worse. It was, as we suspected, neurological damage (either from the Lyme disease I treated him for or his previous home). On the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 8, Champ went out of his doggie door for the last time. He fell and lost the use of his hind legs.

We had no choice but euthanasia. We adopted him so he wouldn’t be euthanized but the choice was the only responsible course of action.

The next night, I closed Champ’s doggie door. He was gone from our lives and changed the way I thought of pit bulls, as well as many of my friends, family and neighbors who all fell in love with this kind and loving animal. Although he lived only two more years after adoption, he certainly had a loving home that he deserved.

For all of Champ’s buddies at the Riverhead shelter, as well as other town and private facilities, I can only hope that other people will skip the puppy mills and find a place in their lives for the unconditional love of a shelter dog. For me, I will take a little time and surely find another kind, loving animal for whom I can open that doggie door again!

If you are interested in adopting a dog, visit the Riverhead animal shelter. You also may want to visit the YouTube site for New York Bully Crew (a rescue group on Long Island) where you can watch videos of dogs who need a loving home: youtube.com/NewYorkBullyCrew.

Vince Taldone, a retired urban planner, is an executive board member of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association. He lives in downtown Riverhead.

08/23/12 4:00am
08/23/2012 4:00 AM


It’s about respect

The Iron Pier handicap ramp to the beach is covered with sand up to the handrails and has been this way all season. After a number of calls to the recreation department and advising them of this condition, as well as handicap and disability laws, the deplorable conditions still remain the same. My brother, who is a disabled Vietnam veteran who visits Riverhead and loves our beaches, is unable to gain access to the beach due to these conditions on the handicap ramp, as well as the handicap residents who live in our town.

This needs to be corrected immediately and Riverhead Town must abide by handicap and disability laws to give our veterans and handicap residents access to our beaches.

Phillip Piegari


Pay the landfill debt

The Riverhead Town has just awarded a 20-year lease to a San Diego solar energy firm to erect solar panels on the former landfill site and to receive a minimum payment of $145,600 a year for 20 years.

Unfortunately the reclamation of the site started out with the Town Board voting on the separation of the garbage from the sand, and to sell the sand while having the garbage trucked away and burned. This was the idea of our most astute elected officials and which was completely contrary to all state and federal agencies and their suggestion of just covering the landfill.

So after all of the budgeted money was spent, along with an additional $10 million, it finally dawned on both the town supervisor and board that this was in fact an error of epic proportions, and which the taxpayers of the town must continue to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for both the extra costs as well as the yearly interest on the $10 million.

Therefore, as an idea to our current town supervisor and board, may I suggest that any and all money received for the lease of the landfill be used to assist in paying off the landfill debt as quickly as possible, instead of just putting the money into the general fund and wasting it on unnecessary expenditures.

Thomas W. Smith


Sad situation

It’s been almost two years since I signed up to volunteer at the Riverhead Animal Shelter, which insiders call “the pound.”

A wonderful senior pit named Champ who was filled with heartworm and destined for euthanasia was adopted by Riverhead citizen Vince Taldone. Vince gave Champ the only real home he ever had. Recently, that wonderful dog died. Sadly, the pound is the same and great dogs like Chester and Preston sit and wait. Why spend money when you can get away with running a pound with a skeleton staff and no one complains? It seems that just a temp and the police chief run the place.

Vince’s shelter beautification program is still in limbo. Bob, a professional photographer and Vince’s friend, never got a chance to film the dogs, put them on the Internet and get them adopted; that was Chief Hegermiller’s decision.

I was banned for revealing the murder of a great dog, Bruno, by the retired animal control officer who followed official orders. Almost two years ago I gave the News-Review the real story given to me by Councilman Jim Wooten.

The town supervisor no longer talks about privatizing the shelter to the North Fork Animal Welfare League.

Why help the dogs at the pound when most of the public don’t care? Supervisor Walter likes to save money, and dogs don’t vote. Trainer Gina Rizzo still volunteers her time, as do some other good people. You’d think Supervisor Walter would find a place for Ms. Rizzo? She cares.

I and others recently helped save the life of Henry, a dog who was going to be killed. He has a great life now at a place I know well — Silverstreak Sanctuary upstate — and is on his way to having his own home. A success story. And I haven’t been able to volunteer since Bruno’s killing. And so it goes. How terribly sad for the animals. This situation reflects badly on the good people of Riverhead.

Pat Lynch


Puppy store concerns

I am concerned about these puppy stores. How many animals come from the puppy mills?

There is not enough being done about this situation. My main concern is the store in Aquebogue, where there’s been an effort to shut it down. There are too many dogs there that I believe are not being taken care of.

If you’re an animal lover like myself we need more people to get involved.

Elizabeth Day


Her hard work

The organizing committee for Riverhead High School’s Class of 1962 reunion would like to thank Kathy Berezny for her help in locating the whereabouts of three 1962 graduates. No one knew where these people resided. When contact was made with these individuals they were thankful just to know we were concerned and wanted to have them with us for the Aug. 11 ceremonies at the Olde Vine Golf Club.

At the event, a scrumptious cake was brought out with the writing “SENIORS TO SENIORS, 1962-2012, Riverhead High School.”

Frank Stepnoski


Overwhelming help

In the August 16 issue of The Riverhead News-Review, Bob Liepa wrote a great column describing the recovery of my son, Joe Crosser, from an injury sustained during his senior year of high school baseball. Such an amazing recovery could never have happened without the many people who helped Joe get through a most difficult time.

The EMTs who arrived at the scene used their training, skill, expertise and humor to keep Joe calm and transport him to Peconic Bay Medical Center. Teammates, coaches, classmates, friends and parents provided support.

The PBMC staff was amazing. Vince Barry and the staff of Maximum Performance in Riverhead provided the physical therapy expertise to help Joe move from patient to participant. Joe was able to participate in a 120-mile Bike for Life Retreat thanks to the conditioning he received. Motivation to work hard to heal quickly so he could participate in that retreat was provided by fellow McGann-Mercy students and chaplain Father Jerry Cestare.

A happy ending to this story would never have occurred, however, without the skill and expertise of the surgeon, Dr. John Brennan.

Fifty days after bloodcurdling screams echoed over the Mercy baseball field, Joe walked to the front of the auditorium to receive his high school diploma. One hundred and three days after that injury and 120 miles later, Joe completed the Bike for Life journey, his leg intact with hardware.

It is said that people are put in our path for a reason. There is no doubt that these many people were clearly put in Joe’s path so that, as the headline read, “Crosser finds there is life after injury.”

Thank you just seems so inadequate.

Diane Crosser

St. James

Time for a change

I am sure most, if not all, of you have now read about the very serious ethical and legal questions surrounding Congressman Tim Bishop and his shady fundraising practices.

The fact that Newsday, other local newspapers and the leading non-partisan ethics group in Washington are all calling for an investigation into Congressman Bishop, suggesting he may have even broken the law, speaks volumes.

Congressman Bishop’s attempts to blame others for his own actions — going so far as to claim that the allegations are somehow an attack on his family — reek of desperation.

If this whole sordid tale teaches us anything, it’s that the career politicians who have made a mess of Washington simply cannot be the ones trusted to clean it up.

We need to change Congress. And we can start by changing our congressman.

My 10-point plan, which I encourage you all to read at www.Randy2012.com/jobsplan, outlines real solutions to the problems we face. My plan will foster a climate of job creation, boost small businesses, attract new jobs to Long Island and help to transform our local economy for the future.

As the father of two children under the age 6, my wife and I are deeply concerned about what awaits them in the future. On the campaign trail, one of the chief concerns I hear from parents and grandparents is the lack of jobs for their children and grandchildren here on Long Island. I couldn’t agree with them more.

With your support, I will work with common-sense people on both sides of the aisle in Congress to clean up the mess we have now and build a brighter future for Long Island and our country.

Randy Altschuler

Editor’s note: Mr. Altschuler is the GOP candidate in this year’s 1st Congressional District race.


Debating a
moving target?

Now that Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan as his running mate, he’s also doubled down on his previous support of Paul Ryan’s budget as well as Ryan’s extreme social positions. Unfortunately, immediately upon joining the ticket, Ryan began out-Romneying Romney by flip-flopping on many of his long held beliefs.

For example, Ryan has attacked President Obama for “raiding Medicare” of over $700 million. The fact is that in the Ryan budget passed by the Republican House in 2011, Congressman Ryan included the exact same $700 million elimination of waste from Medicare

Advantage! When he originally proposed this, it was hailed by Republicans as making Medicare more efficient. Secondly, this weekend Senate candidate Todd Akin, congressman from Missouri, answered a question about why he opposes abortion even in the case of rape. His extreme language brought cries of outrage from Democrats and Republicans alike, including Mitt Romney, but previously there had been no daylight between Akin’s positions on abortion and Paul Ryan’s. In fact, Akin and Ryan co-sponsored a personhood bill that would have classified abortion as murder (declaring that a fertilized egg is a person) and effectively outlawing many common types of contraception. Since both Romney and Ryan have publicly supported personhood amendments, who can believe Romney’s faux outrage now that Akin’s (and in effect Ryan’s) views are being scrutinized in the national spotlight.

At a time when the country hungers for a serious discussion of the issues, how can we have a reasonable debate with two candidates like Ryan and Romney, whose former and current beliefs are moving targets? Presidential candidate Rick Santorum summed it up best during the Republican primary when he said to CBS News on March 19 that “Mitt Romney is someone who doesn’t have a core. He has been on both sides of almost every single issue over the last 10 years.”

Jerry Silverstein


Safety net shredder

Mitt Romney has selected Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to be his running mate, a radical choice.

Paul Ryan is by any measure a radical conservative. He is the author of the tea party budget plan, and that plan will cut taxes for the wealthy and shred all the social safety net that has been developed in the United States over the last 80 years.

He wants to change Medicare into a voucher program that has no provision for rising health care cost and may cost senior citizens an additional $6,000 a year.

Mr. Ryan’s budget makes drastic cuts in education funding, from Head Start to college loans and Pell grants. Hundreds of thousands would be denied funding.

Like Mr. Romney, he would kill the Affordable Health Care Act and offer nothing in its place. He would ban all choice for women when it comes to health care issues.

He believes climate change is a myth and his budget severely limits the EPA’s ability to address environmental issues. But he supports large tax cuts for the wealthy and does not explain how his budget choices will reduce the fiscal problems without major tax increases for the middle class.

When Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan talk about the federal budget they’re not talking about real numbers and calculations. It’s all words and no analysis. Nobody has sat down with a pencil and a calculator and run the numbers.

They’re making very large claims about how all of this will increase jobs and bring the economy back to life, but in reality they are proposing exactly the same policies put forward by George W. Bush, which caused the problem in the first place.

We’ve already had 12 years of the Bush tax cuts and where is the economy today?

Steve Curry


Profit over patients

During the Bush administration, whenever the Democrats criticized the president they were called unpatriotic, yet when Mitt Romney traveled to Europe he not only insulted our allies but also bashed the present U.S. administration. How come there were no calls about his lack of patriotism?

If the Romney/Ryan team wants to privatize Medicare, and their plan really affects those in nursing homes right now, who will pay for my mother in a nursing home I could not afford?

Talk about killing grandma, one of the Republican charges against Obamacare.

If you want to know why Romney hates Obamacare, read The New York Times August 15 front page article “A giant hospital chain is blazing a profit trail.”  Profit, not patient care, is the topic. This is exactly why we need the new programs for health care for everyone, not just the rich.

In the late 19th century, businessmen ran the government on almost every level. They claimed they were defending capitalism and freedom. What were they called? The Robber Barons.

Barbara Ripel, Ph.D.


Spending isn’t cut

Howard Meinke continues to wail about ”massive cuts” in federal spending supposedly promoted by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan that would lead to all kinds of horrors.

But as Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute pointed out in an article in The Wall Street Journal last week, the budget proposed by Mr. Ryan projects federal spending will increase at an annual rate of 3.3 percent over the next 10 years. That compares with the Obama administration’s projected increases of 4.3 percent a year over the same period.

The only “cut” would be in the rate of increase.

Mr. Mitchell also noted that federal spending now amounts to 24 percent of gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the nations’s economy. That’s 32 percent higher than the rate in 2001, when Bill Clinton was president.

Jack Abele


Who’s serving whom?

The Obama administration has succeeded in its efforts to make us all dependent on big government.

Think about it: How many government employees and their spouses will vote against Obama in this coming election? Why would they, since they make on average $20,000 more than the comparable private sector employee.

Why do you suppose that the only significant new hiring has been by the federal government? More votes and dependency? Is Mr. Obama trying to buy more votes?

There are 107 million Americans receiving some kind of government welfare. No, that doesn’t include Medicare and Social Security.

Neither does it include benefits that the illegal immigrants are receiving. They’re soon to include educational benefits that you as a taxpayer may not have access to for your children.

Mr. Obama would lead you to believe that the wealthy are too wealthy. How absurd, since the top 20 percent earners paid 70 percent of all federal taxes collected and more than 50 percent of working Americans pay no federal income taxes at all.

So what’s the gripe?

A question we should ask is why go into debt to send my kids to college if their education will eventually enable the entitlement group to sit back and leech off their taxes?

Keep this in mind: The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government doesn’t first take from someone else.

Read the history of the failed regimes of the smooth-talking socialist dictators of the past and compare this to that of the Obama administration’s blueprint for government control over our lives.

Be aware that if the government controls health care, it then controls you.

God help America.

God bless America.

John Copertino

09/27/11 11:34am
09/27/2011 11:34 AM

Denise Lucas is on a one-woman campaign to bring a new animal shelter to Riverhead Town.

A longtime Riverhead resident and life-long dog lover, Ms. Lucas has already raised more than $3,000 for a potential new municipal facility in the past few days by going door-to-door asking for donations — and she hasn’t even hit up any Riverhead residents yet.

Instead, those funds have come from residents and businesses in Mattituck, Eastport, Manorville, Mastic and Moriches and other hamlets. She plans on eventually making her way to Riverhead as well as hosting fundraisers at local restaurants.

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | In just a few days, Denise Lucas has raised more than $3,000 for a new Riverhead Animal Shelter. Her goal is to raise $200,000 by this time next year.

“I have more energy than 10 people,” she said. “When I start something, I finish it.”

Ms. Lucas plans on raising $200,000 in the next year for a new facility. She has already scheduled an event at the Birchwood restaurant for Oct. 15 as well as a fundraiser at Polish Hall on Nov. 18.

“I’m going to fill every one of these places,” Ms. Lucas said.

Her vision includes shuttering the Youngs Avenue facility and building a shelter in a location that is not near a landfill and where volunteers aren’t asked to walk dogs around an overgrown sump, as they are at the current shelter.

She said she would like to see larger dog runs, space for the town to take in cats and a shelter that can host school field trips.

“If [the dogs] were in a nicer environment they would feel good, look good and be more desirable to families looking for their forever pet,” she states on a flier advertising her efforts.

Riverhead Councilman Jim Wooten said the Town Board is expected to vote Tuesday to set up a trust fund for shelter donations.

No price tag for a new facility has been determined yet.

The Town Board will be managers of the money and once all funds are raised, the town will ask for project bids, Mr. Wooten said. The shelter will likely continue to be run by municipal employees, unlike in neighboring Southampton and Southold towns, which contract those services to private organizations, Mr. Wooten said, noting the town has not made a monetary commitment to kick in funds if Ms. Lucas’ fundraising efforts fall short.

Ms. Lucas, who has three rescue dogs herself, is also hoping local businesses will donate materials.

“This really is going to be a community effort,” Mr. Wooten said.

Though she had always dreamed of running her own shelter, Ms. Lucas didn’t get the idea to revamp Riverhead Town’s facility until a visit there Labor Day weekend. She brought her 13-year-old neighbor, who dreams of one day becoming a vet, to the shelter to become acquainted with dogs that are not purebreeds.

The pair were appalled at the conditions of the kennels.

“She was begging me to leave,” Ms. Lucas said.

Ms. Lucas, who works for Otis Ford, a car dealership in Quogue, said she has no desire to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the facility, though she does plan to volunteer.

Ms. Lucas and three friends, who have labeled their ad hoc committee “Concerned Citizens,” are the only one who are now actively fundraising.

Those who wish to make a donation can make checks payable to Riverhead Town and note in the memo that it is for the new shelter. Those checks can be mailed to the town clerk’s office at 200 Howell Avenue, Riverhead NY 11901.


04/25/11 4:20pm
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.


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.

04/07/11 5:00am
04/07/2011 5:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Reko, a 5-year-old male American Staffordshire Terrier, has been at the Riverhead Town Animal Control shelter since Dec. 30.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Reko, a 5-year-old male American Staffordshire Terrier, has been at the Riverhead Town Animal Control shelter since Dec. 30.

Riverhead’s animal shelter, which in recent months has come under heavy fire from animal rights activists, euthanized the fewest dogs last year, percentage wise, of all taxpayer-funded shelters in neighboring towns, according to data provided to the News-Review from four different shelters.

The publicly funded shelter and animal control facility on Youngs Avenue, overseen by the Riverhead Police Department, put down eight of 209 dogs admitted there in 2010, which computes to a 3.83 percent “kill rate.”

That rate is lower than the 5.5 percent reported by the privately run North Fork Animal Welfare League shelter in Southold, which is partially funded by the town; the 4 percent at the Southampton Animal Shelter, a hybrid of town-paid animal control and nonprofit adoption and sheltering efforts; and the 11.1 percent at the Brookhaven Animal Shelter, though the shelter director there noted the town put down a large number of dogs — 127 in 2010 — signed over by their owners for euthanasia services, usually because the owners could not afford the procedure.

Not including those 127 dogs, Brookhaven put down 52 of 1,607 admitted dogs deemed unadoptable because of aggression or health reasons, which computes to a 3.2 percent rate. However the other shelters, while not taking dogs specifically for euthanasia, will accept severely aged or sick dogs that are usually put down, though those numbers weren’t readily available from all the shelters.

The euthanasia findings came as welcome news to Riverhead Town officials and animal welfare advocates, groups that have fought bitterly for years, even decades, over shelter operations.

But they couldn’t agree on where the credit should lie.

“We do a good job,” Police Chief David Hegermiller said in response to the figures. “For what we have [in our budget], we do a great job.”

Chief Hegermiller said that even one euthanized dog would be too much for some animal welfare activists.

Glen Cove resident and activist Gail Waller, who says she has personally paid for vet bills and other assistance to help save Riverhead shelter dogs — though she was not sure if she had done so in 2010 — called the numbers “skewed.”

“There are dogs that have been saved through me or RSVP [Responsible Solutions for Valued Pets Inc.] that would have otherwise been killed for medical reasons or for what [the town] deemed aggression,” Ms. Waller said. “And the numbers don’t account for any dogs sent to Kent Animal Shelter.”

Chief Hegermiller readily acknowledged the town gets help in adopting out dogs.

“There have been some groups and individuals who have helped spread the word,” he said, though he declined to give the RSVP group credit.

“You have two different mind-sets, two different goals,” the chief said of the frequently warring sides. “I’m not faulting their goals. But we’re a municipality and we do the best we can. Some of their goals are not to euthanize any animals — no matter what they may say publicly — and as a municipality it can’t be that way. There are some dogs that, sad to say, have to be euthanized.”

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter speculated that the positive 2010 numbers could have come in spite of RSVP, a nonprofit animal rescue organization that was started by Riverhead shelter volunteers in 1996 but currently has only two members placed there.

“Our problem is that our not-for-profit group, RSVP, spends more time lambasting the town than they do working with the animals,” he said. “Those [kill rate] numbers are amazing considering how these people are consistently out there beating the tar out of us, so that’s a good thing.”

RSVP member Sue Hansen of Rocky Point insisted the kill figures could be traced to a 2005 Town Board resolution that demanded the then-banned shelter volunteers be allowed back on the shelter premises, as well as another measure that created an animal advisory committee to offer recommendations on euthanasia and other policies.

“What’s happening is that they’re being watched very closely now,” she said of the town authorities. “They’re being scrutinized.”

“What you really should look at is the statistics in 2004 and 2005, when we formed the animal committee, which Councilman Jim Wooten is now the liaison to,” said Rex Farr, a Calverton farmer and outspoken critic of the town’s animal control officer, Lou Coronesi, who handles day-to-day shelter operations.

The 2004 and 2005 figures were not immediately available.

“Once 2005 came and the committee stepped in, they set up procedures such as checking with vets and animal behaviorists that could actually give an educated opinion as to whether a dog was aggressive or non-aggressive or had a medical problems,” Mr. Farr said. “But the bottom line is, it’s not just the euthanasia that is the problem. The problem is the running of the shelter by Lou Coronesi. I’m not saying he should be fired from the town. All we’re saying is he should be removed from the animals.”

The activists have repeatedly called for Mr. Coronesi to leave his post as animal control officer, claiming he alienates volunteers who want to help. They also point to his criminal convictions dating to 2003 in Arizona — where Mr. Coronesi was arrested on charges that he unlawfully hunted and possessed wild animals, including a Gila monster lizard and a rattlesnake — as reasons he should not be near shelter dogs.

The long-simmering feud came to a boil in December after a male pit bull named Bruno was euthanized over the protests of volunteers who contended he wasn’t dangerous. Mr. Coronesi told the supervisor the dog had attacked a child, according to Mr. Walter. But it was later revealed through a bite report that the victim was a 22-year-old man.

But the supervisor says the transfer of animal control officer Sean McCabe to another department because of budget cuts was at the heart of this winter’s sharp assault on the town and police department.

“They liked this person and didn’t like the other person,” Mr. Walter said. “It’s really a battle of personalities.”

“Lou is more by the book, which I don’t think they like,” Chief Hegermiller said, indicating Mr. Coronesi pushes the volunteers to abide more closely to shelter rules, which results in disputes.

Mr. Wooten, who as the Town Board liaison to the animal committee has frequently sided with the animal activists, has for about two years been pushing to privatize the shelter, but those efforts have so far failed.

He is now calling on the town to hire a shelter director and rearrange the staff. That would include transferring or minimizing Mr. Coronesi’s role.

“We don’t have the right management,” he said. “You’ve got an animal control officer who runs the shelter, which is like putting a police officer in charge of rehab. Riverhead’s outreach is not that good. We need a director who will work with the nonprofits regularly. We actually shun our volunteers.”

He also said the same activists despised by town officials deserve much credit for the euthanasia rates.

“[The animal advisory committee] will reach out to RSVP and we’ll tell them straight-up, ‘This dog is slated to be euthanized; you gotta get this dog out of here,’” Mr. Wooten said.

Mr. Walter had pitched an idea to share services with Brookhaven Town but those talks are now on hold as that town considers building an entirely new shelter.

Ms. Waller of Glen Cove and other animal rights activists interviewed insist a fundamental problem with almost all municipal shelters is that animal control officers are often not qualified to train or socialize animals or assess health and behavior. (Towns are mandated by the state to fund animal control efforts.)

So a change in state laws may be required to solve recurring problems.

“What qualifications are required for a person to be an animal control officer?” Ms. Waller asked. “They take a civil service test, and all most of them know is how to work with animals the old way, when the new way is you rehabilitate them.

“Anybody working in animal control should be there for the protection of the public and also the protection of the dogs,” she continued. “They should be qualified to rehabilitate them. Or not be afraid to at least try.”

Robert Misseri is one of the founding members and a former president of Rescue Ink, a Long Beach-based group of tattoo and muscle-clad animal rescuers whose exploits are featured on the National Geographic Series series Rescue Ink Unleashed. He now runs a Long Island-based national group called Guardians of Rescue.

Mr. Misseri said he is familiar with the issues at the Riverhead shelter. He agreed with Chief Hegermiller’s take that the animal control officers and the activists would likely never see eye to eye, even though the warring sides have combined for some decent adoption rates.

“I think at the end of the day, both sides will never agree. So both sides need to find a happy medium and work hand in hand for the animals,” Mr. Misseri said. “The ideal situation is for a private group to operate the shelter. That’s sometimes difficult because of union issues. But the advantage is a private group can go out and raise money through charitable events. Chief Hegermiller’s not going to go out and do fundraisers.”



03/02/11 1:39pm
03/02/2011 1:39 PM

Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko on Wednesday confirmed he has had discussions with Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter about the possibility of Brookhaven’s animal shelter taking on dogs from Riverhead’s shelter, thus relieving Riverhead of the need to have an animal shelter.

The idea, which was discussed at Tuesday’s Riverhead Town Board meeting and at a Riverhead shelter advisory committee meeting Monday, was opposed by several residents who spoke at the two meetings. Despite this, Mr. Walter believes his town could save around $150,000 through the move.

“I briefly spoke with Supervisor Walter, but no details were discussed and no agreements made,” Mr. Lesko told the News-Review. “I am open to having our animal shelter staff examine the needs of Riverhead and determine if the Town of Brookhaven can help. The town is always willing to talk to other municipalities, school and fire districts about the consolidation of services and inter-municipal agreements that can help save the taxpayer’s money.”

Click here for Tuesday’s coverage.

02/28/11 11:25pm
02/28/2011 11:25 PM

Riverhead Town officials are looking into the possibility of no longer sheltering dogs in its Youngs Avenue pound and instead sending those dogs to Brookhaven Town’ municipal shelter, according to Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, whose department oversees the local shelter.

For years, town officials have discussed the possibility of separating the animal control function from shelter operations so that the responsibility for maintaining the shelter and getting dogs adopted would not rest with the animal control officers.

The chief briefly brought up the topic of sending the town’s dogs to Brookhaven Town’s shelter in Yaphank “as a cost-saving measure” during a meeting of the town’s Animal Shelter Advisory Committee Monday.

But committee members voiced strong opposition to the proposal.

“No way,” said committee member Connie Farr. “If I lose little Fluffy and I have to go to Brookhaven to retrieve my dog and I live in Riverhead and I paid all my taxes, I would be very [angry].”

“Are we talking about just the dogs that now belong to us, and not the ones we’re picking up off the street…?” asked the committee’s chairperson, Noreen LeCann.

“We’re talking about not housing dogs,” the chief responded.

“At all?” Ms. LeCann asked.

“At all,” Chief Hegermiller said.

Dogs kept at the shelter are usually either dogs picked up as strays or dogs surrendered by their owners.

Statistics from the Riverhead Police Department indicate that in 2010, the town impounded 155 dogs. In addition, 54 dogs were surrendered and seven more were either found dead after car accidents or brought in dead by owners for cremations. The town got 105 dogs adopted and 98 dogs — including the dogs found dead in the streets — were returned to their owners, and 13 were cremated. Of the 13 cremated dogs, eight dogs had been euthanized.

Chief Hegermiller said six of those eight dogs were euthanized for health reasons, leaving only two dogs having been put down because they were deemed unadoptable by shelter officials.

The town currently has about 18 dogs in its shelter.

Committee members said the Brookhaven shelter is overcrowded itself, as evidence by a recent proposal by Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko to pay animal rescue organizations $250 for each pit bull they adopt from the town shelter. Like most municipal shelters, most of the dogs in Brookhaven’s shelter are pit bulls.

The chief said the proposed move is about consolidation, much like consolidation is talked about with school districts.

“People love dogs,” Ms. Farr said. “And to be politically correct and smart, this town would be dog friendly and they would have a nice shelter and they would have everyone happy here.”

She said the current shelter smells because it’s surrounded by a landfill, a sanitation company’s hub and the town’s deer cemetery, and that there are giant rats that come into the shelter and get killed by the dogs.

The chief said the idea of sending Riverhead’s dogs to Brookhaven’s shelter — for a price, of course — is being discussed, but that no final decision has been made.

Supervisor Sean Walter said on Friday that he hopes to have a solution to the animal shelter problems within 30 days, but he wouldn’t say what that solution might be.

“I’m working on some things and hopefully in the next month, we’ll have an answer,” he said.

He acknowledged that last Tuesday he called Rex Farr, Connie’s husband and a vocal critic of the current shelter, and asked for a 30-day grace period by which to solve the shelter problems.

Mr. Farr insisted any solution would have to include removing animal control officer Lou Coronesi, who has clashed with shelter volunteers and who recently came under fire for previous animal crime convictions and his handling of a case involving a pit bull named Bruno that was euthanized in December.

“I didn’t propose that idea,” Mr. Walter said when asked about the previously expected move Mr. Coronesi out of the shelter position and into another town position. “But we have taken appropriate actions with Lou and that’s a personnel issue and I can’t go further than that.”

“Other things probably will happen in the not-so distance future if I’m successful,” the supervisor added.

Councilman Jim Wooten, who is the Town Board’s liaison to the shelter advisory committee, said he thinks Mr. Coronesi should be moved to another position and that the town should work more cooperatively with volunteers at the shelter.


01/10/11 5:08pm
01/10/2011 5:08 PM

SOUTHAMPTON PRESS COURTESY PHOTO | Pat Lynch, shown in 2007 with a rescue dog she had adopted, successfully sued Southampton Town after she was banned from the town's animal shelter. She's now not allowed on the Riverhead shelter property.

Pat Lynch has now been banned from two East End animal shelters.

A self-described animal lover, Ms. Lynch, of Southampton, who successfully sued Southampton Town after she was banned from volunteering at its shelter years back, was just notified by Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller that she is now banned from volunteering at the Riverhead Animal Shelter.

“Your services as a Riverhead Town Animal Shelter volunteer have been terminated effective immediately,” the chief wrote to Ms. Lynch Friday, Jan. 14. “You are also no longer permitted to be on the animal shelter grounds.”

The letter gives no reason for the ban, but comes days after Ms. Lynch questioned Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter’s public explanation that a dog from the shelter named Bruno was euthanized because it bit a child. Ms. Lynch subsequently obtained a copy of the county health department’s report on the bite from Councilman Jim Wooten. The report shows that the dog did not bite a child, but bit its 22-year-old owner, who was breaking up a fight between it and another dog. The bite wounds were described as “superficial.”

Ms. Lynch subsequently made that report public by giving it to the News-Review.

Asked Monday to elaborate on the decision, Chief Hegermiller said, “She was not an asset to the shelter and her services were no longer needed.” He added there were several factors that went into the decision, but that he was not going to release them until he first speaks with Ms. Lynch.

“I was banned because of what I said about Bruno and the so-called bite he gave to a child,” Ms. Lynch said. “[Supervisor] Walter was furious because it made him look bad. And I have no regrets giving [the News-Review] the paper Jim Wooten got for me.
“It needed to come out,” she said.

Supervisor Sean Walter said he had nothing to do with Ms. Lynch being banned, saying it was entirely the chief’s call. Mr. Wooten said the suspension was due to Ms. Lynch’s suggestion at a public meeting that dogs at the shelter may have the disease parvo, which town officials say is untrue.

Ms. Lynch and other shelter volunteers have been critical of the town’s running of the shelter and, in particular, of animal control officer Lou Coronesi.

Last week’s letter was not the first the police chief has sent Ms. Lynch. She said that on Dec. 13, Chief Hegermiller sent her a letter accusing her of acting “inappropriately” toward Mr. Coronesi on two occasions, one in an alleged Nov. 24 confrontation at the shelter and the other pertaining to “unfounded allegations” she made about him at a Nov. 15 shelter advisory meeting in Town Hall.

Ms. Lynch says she has a witness to refute the Nov. 15 allegation, and denies getting into a confrontation with Mr. Coronesi. She says there are no witnesses to the alleged Nov. 24 incident.

At the same Jan. 4 Town Board where Ms. Lynch publicly questioned the circumstances surrounding Bruno’s death, Gail Waller of Glen Cove, who says she has donated thousands of dollars to help shelter dogs, also made public a 2003 arrest of Mr. Coronesi in Arizona for illegally taking a gila monster, which is an endangered species.

The women have called for Mr. Coronesi’s firing.

Ms. Lynch was a television reporter for NBC news for 17 years and for CBS news for another 10 years, and won two Emmy Awards for investigative reporting at NBC. In 2004, she was banned for volunteering at the Southampton Town animal shelter and filed a federal lawsuit, claiming her first amendment rights were being violated. In 2007, the court ruled in her favor, initially awarding her $251,000 but later reducing the award to $50,000.

Since then, Southampton Town’s animal shelter has been taken over in part by a private, nonprofit organization, although the animal control function is still run by the town. Ms. Lynch said her application to volunteer at that shelter was denied last year, and she has subsequently filed another lawsuit, which is still pending in the courts.

She insists she has no intention of suing Riverhead Town.

Mr. Walter said on Tuesday that it was Mr. Coronesi who told him Bruno bit a child.

“I’m only as good as the information given to me, and in this case, it wasn’t too good,” Mr. Walter said.

Mr. Wooten said he has requested that the Town Board undertake a disciplinary hearing to determine where the misinformation came from and why there was such urgency to euthanize the dog, despite a Dec. 15 report from Mr. Coronesi saying the dog showed great improvement, and another report from him the next day saying it should be euthanized.

Mr. Walter had no comment on that, saying it is a personnel issue.