2012 Top Story No. 10: Animal advocates get Christmas wish

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.

For years, animal advocates across the East End have pressured Riverhead Town officials to make changes at the municipal dog shelter, which has been criticized for its management and the dogs’ living conditions.

In mid-December, the advocates finally got their wish.

The Riverhead Town Board voted unanimously on Dec. 18 to privatize the shelter starting early next spring, contracting with a long-established North Fork nonprofit group.

The contract between the town and the North Fork Animal Welfare League will authorize the nonprofit group to run, staff and supply the shelter, which was previously overseen by Riverhead Town’s police chief.

Under the three-year contract, the town will pay $223,135 — roughly $5,000 more than the 2012 shelter budget — to the welfare league. The town will cover utilities and maintenance, officials said, and supply a vehicle for animal control activities.

The welfare league has run the Southold Town animal shelter in a similar manner since 1980.

“We could not be more excited,” league president Richard Radoccia said after the contract became official. “We look forward to bringing the same nurturing care to Riverhead that we have extended to the animal community in Southold.”

The Riverhead shelter had been under almost constant fire from critics for years. The most notable of cases came in late 2011, when a dog named Bruno was euthanized. The animal control officer managing the shelter at that time said the dog had bitten a child in the face, but this later proved to be untrue. The ACO later stopped coming into work before resigning.

The shelter also faced a crisis earlier this year when another ACO was mauled by a pit bull and a pair of unexpected resignations left the shelter with just one full-time employee for a short time, alarming critics.

Town officials quickly hired part-time kennel attendants to fill the open positions and care for the dogs.

North Fork Animal Welfare League will take over the shelter beginning March 1.