Report shows euthanized pit bull didn’t bite child

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | A Riverhead animal control truck sits outside the town's shelter on Youngs Avenue.

Bruno was a pit bull mix that had been kept in isolation at Riverhead Town’s animal shelter from the day of his arrival on Oct. 7 to the day he was euthanized by the town, Dec. 21.

Later that day, at a Town Board meeting, animal rights activists who have long complained about the town facility’s policies questioned Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter about why the animal had been killed.

“This dog bit a child,” Mr. Walter said plainly.

The supervisor went onto explain that the dog had been abandoned at the town shelter by its owner, who told workers there it had no history of biting. But, Mr. Walter continued, Riverhead shelter workers soon learned from county officials that a hospital had reported to the county health department that the dog had bitten a child. So the dog was immediately quarantined in the shelter.

A day earlier, on Dec. 20, at a town animal shelter advisory committee meeting, Supervisor Walter’s secretary, Carol Sclafani, also said the dog had bitten a young girl in the face.

Now it appears that story was not accurate.

According to the animal bite report from the county health department, the dog bit its 22-year-old male owner from Wading River — who was breaking up a fight between two dogs — and not a child, said Riverhead Councilman Jim Wooten, who obtained the report. The report says the bite took place Oct. 5. It described the injuries as “three superficial wounds” to the left hand.

Like Mr. Walter, Mr. Wooten also said the dog’s owner had not disclosed that incident when he forfeited the dog in October.

Asked about the report at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, Mr. Walter said, “I’m not commenting on this any further; we have a policy and the policy was followed.”

At the Dec. 20 advisory meeting, Mr. Wooten, who has been spearheading an effort to turn over some of the shelter’s functions to a private organization, asked Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, who has jurisdiction over the animal shelter, to hold off euthanizing Bruno until the councilman investigated the matter. Despite that request, the dog was euthanized the next day.

So far, only one organization has expressed interest in taking over some shelter functions, and town officials have been reluctant to turn over control to that animal rescue group, RSVP, which comprises and was founded by Riverhead shelter volunteers.

The subject of Bruno’s demise has also triggered renewed criticism of animal control officer Lou Coronesi from the activists and volunteers.
Pat Lynch, a volunteer at the Riverhead shelter who several years ago successfully sued Southampton Town after officials there barred her from volunteering, told the Town Board at its meeting Tuesday that Mr. Coronesi makes the volunteers feel unwelcome.

“Basically, the attitude toward volunteers is, ‘We don’t want you,’” she said.

Ms. Lynch said she didn’t feel that way with Sean McCabe, the other animal control officer at the town shelter, whose position was eliminated at the end of 2010. She also told the board Tuesday she “conducted my own inquiry [regarding Bruno] and I’m told there is no evidence of a dog bite on a little child.”

She asked if it was possible to see the report. Mr. Walter responded that she could file a Freedom of Information Act request.

Shortly after the meeting ended, she had the report and provided a copy to the News-Review.

Also speaking critically of the town shelter Tuesday was Gail Waller of Glen Cove.

Ms. Waller said she has been “a large financial contributor to the care and welfare of the animals at the Riverhead shelter” and added, “I advocate for animals.”

She noted that she had spent more than $9,000 of her own money on one dog in the town shelter that had a broken hip.

Ms. Waller then proceeded to read publicly from a 2003 arrest report on Mr. Coronesi made by Arizona Fish and Game Department officers. Its contents should be grounds for his dismissal, she said.

On Aug. 28, 2003, at about 11:30 p.m., Mr. Coronesi was arrested in Bagdad, Ariz., after he was seen putting a Gila monster, a venomous lizard, into a pillowcase, which is illegal, according to the incident report, which the News-Review has also acquired. The report says the officers then found three tarantulas and a very small diamondback rattlesnake in small plastic containers inside the vehicle Mr. Coronesi was driving.

He was charged with hunting without a license and possessing wildlife unlawfully, for the snake, and possession of restricted wildlife, for the Gila Monster, and later pleaded “no contest” to the charges, all misdemeanors, according to the reports.

Mr. Coronesi was allowed to keep the tarantulas, the incident report reads.

Ms. Waller said Mr. Coronesi was also charged with two counts of driving with a suspended driver’s license.

“An argument can be made that there is a significant connection between the admitted criminal acts of officer Coronesi in disregarding an Arizona law designed to protect its wildlife, and officer Coronesi’s sworn duties to ensure the humane treatment of animals,” Ms. Waller said.

Supervisor Walter said in an interview after the meeting that the arrest record wouldn’t jeopardize the animal control officer’s job.

“Lou is doing a fantastic job and all of those things are things that happened a long time ago that Mr. Coronesi has dealt with to the town’s satisfaction,” he said. “These people have been trying to make hay with that [information] for a long time.”

Mr. Coronesi said he could not comment on the report.

“I’m not the enemy here,” Mr. Walter told Ms. Lynch at the Tuesday Town Board meeting.

He also said that for six years before he took office as supervisor in January 2010, dogs at the town shelter were not being given the proper medication or medical attention. Responding to complaints that some of the dogs are sick, Mr. Walter said he is arranging to have veterinarians and vet techs come to the town shelter to treat the dogs there.

In Bruno’s case, Mr. Walter at the December Town Board meeting noted the dog was examined by a vet before it was destroyed.

“We have a policy that says that if the animal control officer determines that a dog is violent, it then goes to a veterinarian,” Mr. Walter had said. “In this case, the veterinarian said the dog was dangerous, so combined with the bite history and both the [officer] and the veterinarian saying the dog was dangerous, the dog was euthanized.”

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