Riverhead’s embattled head animal control officer Lou Coronesi will likely be transferring to another department within town government, animal advocates told the News-Review Monday.
Town Supervisor Sean Walter did not deny those rumors, though he declined to discuss specific personnel matters with a reporter.
“Personnel changes are in the works,” Mr. Walter said. “I think the hiring committee found a very highly qualified part-time animal control officer and other changes are in the works. We’re moving in the right direction. I think people will be happy.”
Former shelter volunteer and outspoken critic of the town’s shelter operations, Sue Hansen of Rocky Point said Mr. Coronesi’s potential departure “was a long time coming.”
“I hope the shelter has turned the corner and we’ll start to see some progressive changes,” she said.
She and others have criticized Mr. Coronesi’s handling of shelter dogs and his treatment of volunteers, some of whom have been banned from the shelter.
Volunteers and staffers at the shelter, which is overseen by the Riverhead Police Department, have battled for years over operations at the Youngs Avenue facility. The long-simmering feud came to a boil in late December after a male pit bull named Bruno was euthanized over the protests of volunteers who contended he wasn’t dangerous. Mr. Coronesi told Mr. Walter the dog had attacked a child, according to the supervisor, but it was later revealed through a bite report that the victim was a 22-year-old man who was trying to break up a dog fight at the time of the incident.
Councilman Jim Wooten, who has served as Town Board liaison to the shelter, said Monday he was glad the supervisor “has recognized a change is sorely needed” at the shelter.
“The town is finally moving in the right direction,” Mr. Wooten said.
But he also said bigger changes are necessary.
“What’s really needed up there is a shelter supervisor who handles just the shelter; that’s really where we have to move,” Mr. Wooten said. “If we really want this shelter to be a community shelter and do the right thing for the animals entrusted in our care we have to have a shelter director who reports directly to the supervisor. Take the police department out of it; take the animal control officers out of running the shelter. The ACO has enough to do enforcing the laws. It’s problematic and it’s been problematic forever. And its at the breaking point because of trust issues and poor decisions as of late.”
Mr. Wooten envisions a public and private partnership for animal control and adoptions, respectively.
Town officials issued a request for proposals from organizations last year in a quest to privatize the shelter, but only one group, the Riverhead Shelter Volunteers Program Inc., or RSVP, responded. Its plans for the shelter were not considered viable.
Deborah Benjamin, one of the co-founders of RSVP, which runs an outreach spay and neuter program in Riverhead called Responsible Solutions for Valued Pets, said the volunteers welcomed the news Monday of Mr. Coronesi’s departure.
She said she’s hopeful the shelter will be run differently with new leadership.
“We were founded circa 1196, and it has been a 15-year battle,” Ms. Benjamin said. “I hate to say battle but politics is politics and the shelter doesn’t really fall high up there on the list of priorities for funding. But I am cautiously optimistic that the information we’re hearing is the first step in a turning this pound into a shelter. To us, animals should be respected and we have not seen that in Riverhead at this point.”
Mr. Coronesi could not be immediately reached for comment.