Riverhead Town Board uncertain over animal shelter euthanasia policy

Kennel attendant Vikki Cain with two-year-old pit bull ‘Jack’. He has been there since May.

Riverhead Town’s animal shelter is overcrowded. The tiny kennel is currently housing 15 dogs, some of which have been there for a long time.
But whether or not to euthanize healthy dogs who have spent months in the shelter is a question no one seems ready to answer, as a call to privatize the Youngs Avenue facility has drawn only one response.
The deadline for proposals was last Monday.
“Some of them have been in there for close to six months,” Mr. Walter said of the dogs at a public work session last Thursday in Town Hall. “The more humane thing is not to leave them in there for another six months.”
The Town Board is even trying to find homes for dogs by showing them off at Town Board meetings. On Tuesday, town officials brought Jill and Bill, two Jack Russell terriers from the shelter, to Town Hall in hopes of finding someone to adopt them.
Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, whose department runs the animal shelter, said the majority of the dogs euthanized by the town are either violent or ill. He said the town hardly ever has had to euthanize dogs simply because they’ve been in the shelter for too long.
The town is seeking proposals from private organizations to run the shelter and to have that group be responsible for getting the dogs adopted. This would leave the decision as to whether a dog is euthanized or not up to the private organization running the shelter, rather than the town.
But first they have to find that organization.
The town has twice this year issued a request for proposals seeking a private group interested in taking over the shelter, and both times, only received one response from the same group. The members of that group, Riverhead Shelter Volunteer Program, have feuded with shelter personnel over the years, often on the subject of euthanasia.
The most recent request for proposals to privatize the shelter was issued on July 29 and the proposals were due by Sept. 27. In both cases, the town sought to have the shelter function handled by a private organization, while the animal control function, such as picking up stray dogs, would continue to be handled by the town’s animal control officers.
Town officials have said they are reluctant to award any contract where only one proposal has been received.
Councilman Jim Wooten, who is the board’s liaison to the animal shelter, said usually more desirable dogs get adopted, and the dogs that remain in the shelter are often pit bulls or dogs deemed less desirable.
“There’s a saturation of pit bulls,” he said, adding that this is common with most municipal shelters. Mr. Wooten said municipal shelters also cannot have a “no-kill” policy like some private shelters do.
Mr. Walter said the town needs to re-evaluate a policy it established several years ago wherein if the animal control officer deems a dog to be aggressive, the dog is then evaluated by a veterinarian. If the vet and the officer disagree, the dog then goes to what’s known as an “animal behaviorist,” who makes the final decision.
Board members remained uncertain on what their next step will be regarding the shelter.
“We’re not going to get an answer today,” Mr. Walter concluded, following a lengthy board discussion on the matter.
In Southampton Town, a private organization was selected to run the shelter last year, although that town also received a $1 million donation to build its shelter.
Meanwhile, Mr. Walter says the town will create an “awareness campaign” to urge residents to control animal population through spaying and neutering and to step up the town’s efforts to publicize the dogs that are available for adoption at the shelter. “There are no simple or easy answers to the animal overpopulation problem, but I do believe it starts with educating the public that a pet is a true responsibility,” Mr. Walter said.
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