09/17/14 8:00am
09/17/2014 8:00 AM
Riverhead Move the Animal Shelter volunteers (from left) Richie Cox, Fred McLaughlin, Denise Lucas and Lindsay Reeve at Stotzky Park's Duke Dog Park Friday. They're holding tickets to the group's three-year anniversary benefit at Suffolk Theater planned for November. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Riverhead Move the Animal Shelter volunteers (from left) Richie Cox, Fred McLaughlin, Denise Lucas and Lindsay Reeve at Stotzky Park’s Duke Dog Park Friday. They’re holding tickets to the group’s three-year anniversary benefit at Suffolk Theater planned for November. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

They want to move the Riverhead Town Animal Shelter — and they want to move it now.

Volunteers from the nonprofit organization Riverhead Move the Animal Shelter, which is led by front-woman Denise Lucas, are shifting their fundraising efforts into overdrive to renovate the future home of the town’s shelter — the Henry Pfeifer Community Center building in Calverton — as soon as possible.  (more…)

06/03/14 2:00pm
06/03/2014 2:00 PM

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The Riverhead Town Board will hold a public hearing this afternoon to discuss moving the nonprofit North Fork Animal Welfare League, which operates the town animal shelter, to a portion of the Henry Pfeifer Community Center, a town-owned building that underwent a nearly-half million-dollar renovation about a decade ago. (more…)

03/15/14 8:00am
03/15/2014 8:00 AM

After Chipper, a 10-year-old border collie, was found in downtown Riverhead, a North Fork Animal Welfare League volunteer made him a wheelchair. He’s with kennel attendant Tammy Henderson on shelter grounds last Friday morning, before Chipper was flown to his new home in Illinois. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch photo)

Not too long ago people talked more about conditions at the Riverhead Town Animal Shelter than about the dogs there who were up for adoption.

But ever since the nonprofit North Fork Animal Welfare League took charge at the Calverton shelter, contracting with the town through 2015, a lot more volunteers can be seen walking the dogs along Youngs Avenue.  (more…)

12/03/12 8:00am
12/03/2012 8:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town’s animal control building on Youngs Avenue.

A little over a month ago, the Riverhead Town Animal Shelter was staffed by a full-time animal control officer, a part-time ACO, and a full-time and part-time kennel assistant.

But after the head of the shelter was mauled by a pit bull in October and two others resigned this past weekend, only a full-time kennel assistant remains working at the shelter as of Monday morning.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Animal control officer Jessica Eibs-Stankaitis earlier this year with a dog from the Riverhead Town shelter.

Most town officials said they recognize the issues at the shelter and are working to quickly hire replacements to fill the vacant positions.

But some shelter volunteers and residents say the situation there is troubling, citing an incident where dogs were left alone in the kennel for 24 hours Thanksgiving night into the next day.

Sunday was the last day at work for part-time animal control officer Maureen Schneider, who has worked at the shelter for nearly two years. She left Riverhead Town Animal Shelter to accept a position as the head of Brookhaven’s animal shelter, a much larger operation, she said.

“I cried all the way here this morning, because I’m leaving my babies,” Ms. Schneider said Sunday afternoon.

Her sudden resignation is the second loss to the shelter in the past few days after a part-time kennel attendant quit the job Saturday. The departures come as the shelter is already short-staffed while head animal control officer Jessica Eibs-Stankaitis recovers from a mauling in late October.

On Oct. 26, Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis was walking a pit bull at the shelter about 3 p.m. when the dog attacked her, biting her face and latching onto her hip, Ms. Schneider said.

Ms. Schneider was working at the time of the attack and used a snare pole to pull the dog off Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis, who is on medical leave while she recovers. Town officials said she will be out on leave for at least the next two weeks.

The two resignations also happened little more than a week after the 14 dogs at the shelter were left in the kennel for 24 hours, volunteers and town officials said.

Ms. Schneider said she came in at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving and worked at the shelter until 1 p.m., but because of short-staffing due to Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis’ injury, no one was able to come to the shelter to walk, feed or care for the dogs until Ms. Schneider’s next shift at 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon.

Ms. Schneider said she was sorry to leave the shelter for the Brookhaven job, though she was confident the town would fill the open positions at the shelter to prevent what happened from occurring again.

Town Councilman Jim Wooten, who serves as the liaison for the Town Board on animal control issues, said he was aware of the incident at the animal shelter over Thanksgiving, and said the situation was being handled.

He also denied rumors that two dogs were being euthanized at the shelter due to short-staffing. Mr. Wooten said the two dogs were deemed dangerous by both shelter workers and a veterinarian, as per town policy, and the dogs were planned to be put down long before the sudden resignations.

Though Mr. Wooten, Ms. Schneider and several volunteers at the shelter all confirmed dogs had been left in their kennels unsupervised two weeks ago, Police Chief David Hegermiller, who oversees the shelter, denied there had been a problem at the shelter over Thanksgiving, saying the dogs were cared for each day.

“Obviously, we haven’t let the dogs down yet and we’re not going to let the dogs down in the future,” Mr. Hegermiller said. “As far as I’m concerned, nothing happened.”

When asked whether the town was looking to hire part-time kennel attendants to help at the shelter during Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis’ absence, Mr. Hegermiller said: “I mean, obviously that makes sense,” adding the town was already in the process of looking for new hires.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Mr. Wooten said the town has put out an advertisement for part-time kennel attendants and has received some replies already. Interviews will be conducted Monday, and the town could hire new kennel attendants as early as Tuesday, he said.

But Mr. Wooten argued that the town should also take more “radical” steps now that they are in the current situation. He advocated for privatizing the shelter, an idea discussed last year that would see the North Fork Animal Welfare League take over control of the shelter from the town’s police department.

But contract talks stalled, and town officials could not provide an update on the negotiations.

“I think now’s the time to hire a [shelter] director,” Mr. Wooten said. “We should strike while the iron is hot.”

Meanwhile, volunteers said the shelter’s dogs are paying the price for the town’s indecision.

“It’s just beyond despicable … and the ones who are suffering are the animals,” said Linda Mosca, a volunteer who works with the Responsible Solutions for Valued Pets, a Riverhead-based advocacy group that has clashed with town leaders for years over the animal shelter.

“Nothing changes because the town simply doesn’t care,” she said. “This has been going on, nobody stays, everybody leaves and nobody cares.”

Vince Taldone, who volunteers at the shelter, was not so quick to blame a specific person in town government. Instead, he said that while he believes Mr. Hegermiller shares some of the fault for the shelter’s shortcomings, the police chief is ultimately bound by the budget the Town Board sets.

“I don’t even know who to blame,” Mr. Taldone said.

Mr. Taldone said he is concerned that the full-time kennel attendant who remains at the shelter now will be overwhelmed with responsibilities and will not be able to care for the dogs adequately in the wake of the most recent resignations.

“How is [the attendant] going to do everything?” he asked. “If she gets two calls in the office, she’s stuck.”

psquire@timesreview.com

Correction: An earlier version of this story contained a typo that incorrectly stated the remaining employee at the shelter was a part-time kennel attendant. The worker is a full-time employee.

04/25/12 8:00pm
04/25/2012 8:00 PM

JON NEELY PHOTO | Ben gets his toenails trimmed.

A dog wash fundraiser was held Saturday to benefit efforts to build dog parks and a new animal shelter in Riverhead Town.

The town’s first dog park is set for a grand opening this Saturday, April 28 at the EPCAL Recreation Center on Middle Country Road in Calverton.

On Saturday, locals paid $20 to have their dog washed outside Walgreen’s in Riverhead with the money going to the non-profit “Move the Animal Shelter” group.

Check out some of our favorite shots from the event:

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02/08/12 3:30pm
02/08/2012 3:30 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Town's animal control building on Youngs Avenue.

Riverhead has a new animal control officer.

Jessica Eibs-Stankaitis of Wading River was hired on a temporary basis to fill a vacant animal control officer, or ACO, position for up to six months. The position has been vacant since longtime ACO Lou Coronesi resigned last year. Members of the public had been pressuring the town to replace him in light of a decision to euthanize a dog fbased on reports that turned out to be untrue.

Ms. Eibs-Stankaitis, who made a cameo appearance at Tuesday’s meeting to show off Ranger, an American Staffordshire Terrier up for adoption at the town shelter, ranked first in the county on the civil service list for Animal Control Officer I, her official title with the town.

Ironically, while she is working with the town now, she was one of a group of beachfront property owners who sued the town two years ago over the issue of beach access along Long Island Sound in Wading River. That lawsuit was recently settled.

tgannon@timesreview.com

11/08/11 10:00am
11/08/2011 10:00 AM

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | Denise Lucas receives a $2,225 donation from her boss Tom Otis for the Move the Animal Shelter fund.

A Riverhead woman who has made it her quest to raise money to build a new facility for the Riverhead Town animal shelter, has raised over $12,000 for the cause in just five weeks.

Denise Lucas received her most recent donation, a $2,225 check from her boss Tom Oits, the owner of Otis Ford car dealership in Quogue, which brought her to that number Friday. Mr. Otis donated $25 for every car sold at the dealership throughout the month of October.

“I felt very much compelled to take an active interest in her pursuit,” Mr. Otis said.

Ms. Lucas, who raised $3,000 in her first week by knocking on doors and asking for donations, plans on raising $200,000 in the next year for a new municipal facility. She calls the effort the “Move the Animal Shelter” fund or MTAS.

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. It is not clear how much a new building will cost.

Ms. Lucas 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.

“It’s sorely needed,” said Town Councilman Jim Wooten, the Town Board liaison to the shelter.

Ms. Lucas is hosting several upcoming events for the cause. On Nov. 18, a steak night dinner will be held at Polish Hall. Tickets are $35.00 per person and include raffles, door prizes, a cash bar, and a live band. On Dec. 17, there will be a Riverhead MTAS Christmas Party at Eagles Landing Caterers at the Calverton Links golf course. Tickets are $25 per person and include a buffet dinner, dessert, beer and wine tasting, raffles, door prizes, cash bar and a live band.

She is also scheduling fundraisers for January and February. For more information or to reserve tickets call Ms. Lucas at 516-768-7467. Tickets can also be purchased on Ms. Lucas’ website, www.rmtas.org.

“I’m going to to do whatever I can to bring awareness,” she said.

Meanwhile, Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton is also embarking on a campaign to raise $2.5 million for a new 10,000-square-foot facility for the private shelter.

vchinese@timesreview.com

04/19/11 3:17pm
04/19/2011 3:17 PM

For 30 years I’ve been a journalist with NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw and before that with Walter Cronkite of CBS News. I’ve won two Emmys for investigative reporting. My avocation is animal lover and volunteer — not animal activist, which has a negative meaning in Riverhead. For four months since I exposed the lies surrounding the euthanasia of the dog Bruno on Dec. 21 — lies made up by animal control officer Lou Coronesi, who then shared those lies and others about me with Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and Police Chief David Hegermiller — I’ve been banned from being a volunteer or even walking on shelter property.

Mr. Coronesi said Bruno had bitten a child in the face; Councilman Jim Wooten shared the real bite report with me. My own investigation could not even establish if Bruno ever bit anyone in an alleged dog fight. Mr. Coronesi also said I was disrespectful to him. To avoid him, I made a point of going to the shelter when he wasn’t on duty. One day, unfortunately, he was on duty.

With no witnesses around, Mr. Coronesi then defamed me to his bosses. This man, who has been convicted of animal-related crimes, was believed. I was banned just like Linda Mosca of RSVP, who was banned over a year ago.
What’s going on here?

Maybe in the movie “Deliverance” Mr. Coronesi would have been kept on the job, but in the real world, I believe it’s scandalous that he still is collecting a paycheck from Riverhead taxpayers after criminal convictions dating to 2003 for unlawfully hunting and possessing animals protected by federal law, and then driving with a suspended license. This and the disrespectful way he’s treated volunteers and lied about them can’t be countenanced any further. The man must go.

What is the union thinking protecting Mr. Coronesi, who has a criminal record? And what is Mr. Walter thinking protecting such a person in an election year? And why did Mr. Walter set me up in a distorted story about a medical situation that I was just reporting about at a town meeting so proper medical attention could be given to shelter animals. To his credit, Mr. Walter says the dogs at the Riverhead Animal Shelter are now being tested regularly for disease.

Well over a year ago I adopted two badly injured pit bull puppies from Riverhead. They were going to be euthanized because of financial reasons, I was told. With the help of Gail Waller, private donations and the badly maligned rescue group RSVP, whose members have saved so many Riverhead shelter dogs, the pit puppies now are well and in great homes. RSVP is the reason why the euthanasia rate in Riverhead — that never has many dogs to start with — seems low.

I also know that authorities have a way of distorting facts and figures. I sued Southampton Town after I was unlawfully banned from its shelter for what I reported firsthand. I know that records can be changed or never turned in. I know that records can be more fiction than fact. I won a jury trial in federal court in Islip and an appellate court decision over this matter and the violation of my First Amendment rights.

The Bruno case is a paradigm of what a lying employee can get away with. In the April 7 issue of the Riverhead News-Review Chief Hegermiller was quoted as saying, “Lou is more by the book, which I don’t think they (the animal activists) like.” Chief, if Mr. Coronesi’s killing of Bruno was “by the book,” then you knew Bruno was supposed to be walked finally by volunteers — after isolation since Oct. 7 — because that was all written down. Mr. Wooten learned that Mr. Coronesi had indeed informed his superiors of Bruno’s change of status. Nevertheless he was euthanized. Why?

And why, Chief Hegermiller and Supervisor Walter, do you continue to advocate and protect this man who disrespects or bans volunteers and does as little as possible to provide a good life, exercise and homes for the animals in his charge?

Ms. Lynch is a New York City and Southampton resident.