Volunteers aim for pet shelter takeover

06/03/2010 12:00 AM |

Riverhead Town’s request for proposals to run its animal shelter got only one response, and that was from a group that’s had volunteers working at the shelter for years. It’s also a group that has clashed with town officials and union leaders in the past.

The Riverhead Shelter Volunteer Program, known as RSVP Inc., has submitted a proposal to not only run the town’s shelter and adoption program, but also to take over the animal control function, something the town did not include in its RFP.

“The ball is in their court,” said RSVP president Frank Mosca. “We’ll have to see what they come up with.”

The RSVP group had not received a response from the town as of Tuesday. The deadline by which proposals were to have been submitted was May 21.

Councilman Jim Wooten, the Town Board’s liaison on animal shelter issues, said he’s hoping the board can discuss the issue at its work session today, Thursday.

“We want to see what services they are going to offer and how it meets our request,” Mr. Wooten said. “From there, we can either accept it, amend it or reject it. This is something we want to do, although I’m a little disappointed that we only got one response.”

RSVP’s proposal estimates that it could run the shelter for $176,470 per year, including animal control — $67,343 less than what the town pays now. The RFP issued by Riverhead Town calls for private organizations to run the animal shelter and adoption functions under contract with the town, with animal control responsibilities to remain with town employees.

The proposal calls for having three paid employees, whose efforts would be supplemented by volunteers. The town currently has two animal control officers and one kennel attendant at the shelter.

RSVP members have been volunteering at the town shelter since 1996, and the group now considers itself a nonprofit animal rescue group serving all of Eastern Long Island.

“This small group of passionate and dedicated volunteers worked tirelessly to reduce the euthanasia rate and find suitable homes for lost, abandoned and surrendered animals,” RSVP states in its proposal to the town. “Through these efforts, they successfully reversed the trend to destroy many adoptable pets and still are active at the Riverhead shelter today, where the euthanasia rate has been reduced to approximately 5 percent.”

Over the years, RSVP has been critical of the town shelter and its volunteers have been in conflict with some shelter employees, as well as with the Civil Service Employees Association, which has argued that the volunteers are taking jobs that should go to union employees.

“We would have to work with the union for this to happen,” Mr. Wooten said.

The responsibility for determining if a dog at the town shelter should be euthanized would fall to whatever private organization the town picks to run the shelter, Mr. Wooten said.

Neighboring Southold and Southampton towns both have animal shelters that are run by nonprofit organizations.

In Southold Town, the North Fork Animal Welfare League has run the animal shelter under contract with the town since 1980. The group operates the shelter and tries to find homes for the animals. The group also handles the animal control function for the town, which involves responding to calls about stray animals.

Southampton turned the operation of its shelter over in late January to a newly formed nonprofit called the Southampton Town Animal Shelter Foundation, which is responsible only for shelter management. Unlike Southold, Southampton Town continues to be responsible for animal control.

RSVP’s proposal also calls for sheltering and handling cats, which the Riverhead facility currently doesn’t do, but which was included in the RFP.

RSVP says it would begin a one-year program focused on trapping, neutering and returning stray cats to the wild, with the goal of controlling overpopulation. The group would also offer spay and neuter services for pets whose owners need financial assistance, according to its proposal.

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