Animal advocates worried about the dogs in the Riverhead Animal Shelter are becoming increasingly more concerned about their health and safety -- two dogs are slated to be euthanized Monday.
On Sunday, as volunteers bid good-bye to shelter employee Maureen Schneider, who left to take a job in Brookhaven Town, Vince Taldone, vice-president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Civic Association said he has been concerned since to visit a dog and found that no one had been to the shelter to feed and walk the dogs for 24 hours.
Despite the fact that Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said someone checks on the dogs every day, Taldone has countered that animals should not be left alone for a span of 24 hours. Hegermiller said the department has been short-staffed since animal control officer Jessica Eibs-Stankaitis was mauled by a pit bull in November.
Taldone said he has stopped by the shelter and found no animals in the pens, although the gates were open. He has expressed concerns that the dogs are not getting enough fresh air or exercise. The Riverhead Police department, he said, "is not exactly the most compassionate caretaker of dogs."
Pat Lynch, an ardent advocate of animal rights who told Patch she was banned from the shelter after a dog named Bruno was euthanized for biting a child -- Lynch said the dog never bit a child -- said on Saturday that the Riverhead Shelter is scheduled to euthanize two more dogs, Cooper and Maggie, this week.
Lynch said Noreen LeCann, chair of the town's animal shelter advisory committee, asked her to pass along the word in case someone could step up and save the dogs.
"I am afraid that the continued neglect by a shrinking staff will lead to more cage rage and more excuses to kill more dogs," Lynch said.
According to an email provided by Lynch, both dogs, Cooper and Maggie, have been negatively evaluated by the shelter staff and the veterinarian.
Riverhead Town Councilman Jim Wooten confirmed Sunday night that both dogs were slated to be euthanized Monday. Wooten said both dogs had been evaluated by shelter staff and a veterinarian and found to be "bad dogs." Town policy, Wooten said, states that if the staff and a vet both independently find a dog aggressive, the animal can be euthanized.
Wooten agreed additional staff is necessary at the shelter. In addition to Schneider, another member left on Friday. Currently, only one full-time kennel attendant, Vicky Kane, is on staff.
ACO Eibs-Stankaitis, he said, is still recovering from her injury and is expected back to work in another week.
When asked if there is truth to a fear expressed by animal advocates who are suspicious that the town might be euthanizing dogs due to limited staff, Wooten said, "That's not the case. We have room for the dogs. It's not overcrowded." Currently, he said, 14 dogs are housed at the shelter. "It's not like we're picking and choosing," he said. Instead, dogs that show aggression and are unadoptable are euthanized, according to town policy.
At the last town board meeting, Councilman John Dunleavy asked what was happening at the shelter and said more staff was critical. Wooten and Town Supervisor Sean Walter agreed and agreed to hire a kennel attendant.
Wooten said he would be working on that hire first thing Monday morning, and would be setting up interviews immediately.
In addition, he said, one idea he'd like to explore is hiring a full time director at the shelter. The director, Wooten said, would report directly to Walter and the town board and would not have to go through the Riverhead Police department in the future.
"The chief doesn't really have a handle on it, and I don't think he's really gung ho," Wooten said. "If we can get it out of his hands, the director would have the right credentials."
In the meantime, animal lovers are desperate to help the dogs. "I am so ashamed of my town and will be taking up the fight at the town board starting at the next meeting," Taldone said.
He added that the dogs are left locked up, and then, the decision is made to euthanize the dogs because they are aggressive. "Of course they are aggressive," Taldone said. "It is called cage rage, and it can be corrected in most dogs. Surely, there are some who must be euthanized for a variety of reasons and I have no argument about that. But to kill the animals because they are going crazy from lack of attention is just wrong."
Lynch agreed. "You can’t leave dogs looking at four walls barking all day going kennel crazy. It's driving them into kennel rage."
State law, Lynch said, mandates the need for additional employees at the shelter. "They need more staff, and they need to obey the law," she said. "You have dogs in that shelter sitting in their own feces, with no water and no food."
Hegermiller did not immediately return a call for comment.