Update: Riverhead Town set to privatize animal shelter

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Reko, a 5-year-old male American Staffordshire Terrier, when he was in the shelter in 2010.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Reko, an American Staffordshire Terrier, at the dog shelter in 2010. He was later sent to the Kent Animal Shelter for adoption.

After more than a year of on-again, off-again negotiations, Riverhead Town is set to privatize its animal shelter under an agreement with a nonprofit group, officials said.

The shelter on Youngs Avenue, which is run through the Riverhead police chief, will be run by employees with the North Fork Animal Welfare League, a nonprofit group that currently runs the Southold Animal Shelter — if the deal is approved, officials said.

The Town Board will vote on a resolution to accept the contract at Tuesday night’s meeting.

“This is huge news,” said Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter. “The animals are dancing in their kennels.”

The contract will have the town pay $223,000 — $5,000 more than the town had budgeted to run the shelter itself — to NFAWL to run the animal shelter, Mr. Walter said. The group will staff and supply the shelter while the town will cover utilities and maintenence, he said.

“We’re going to pay the heat and the lights, similar to the contract that Southold has,” Mr. Walter said.

The town’s two full-time shelter employees will be encouraged to apply for other possible positions within the town, officials said.

The town will also provide a vehicle to the nonprofit group so they can pick up stray animals, explained Councilman John Dunleavy.

“This is a good deal for the town and a good deal for the dogs,” Mr. Dunleavy said.

NFAWL would take over the shelter starting Feb. 1, Mr. Walter said.

The group will continue to run the Southold shelter in addition to the Riverhead shelter, allowing them to “tap the donor and volunteer base in both towns,” Mr. Walter said.

NFAWL has run the Southold animal shelter since 1980 through a mix of town contract money and private donations.

Mr. Walter said if the deal is approved, it will good news for all North Fork animal lovers.

“It’ll make Southold shelter better and it’ll make our shelter 100 percent better,” he said.

Volunteers at the shelter have long criticized the town about the shelter’s operations, arguing that more employees and better conditions are needed for the more than dozen dogs that are usually there at one time.

Since late 2011, town officials had held several meetings with the group to hammer out a deal, most recently on Friday, officials said.

NFAWL executive director Gillian Wood Pultz was not immediately available for comment.

The board’s resolution to approve the contract was not available.

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