After animal advocates expressed concerns about dwindling staff at the Riverhead Animal Shelter, the town board took action Tuesday to fill the vacancies.
The town board voted unanimously to hire Ariel Reichel, Loretta Kotowicz, and Lou Passantino as part-time kennel attendants at a rate of $12 per hour.
Before the vote, Vince Taldone, vice-president of the Flanders, Riverside, and Northampton Civic Association, took to the podium to express his concerns for the dogs. Taldone has charged recently that the dogs at the shelter have been left for periods of longer than 24 hours and questioned why two dogs were euthanized Monday.
Cage rage, he has said, can cause dogs to become aggressive.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said there had been "a slight emergency" at the shelter, with staff dwindling after animal control officer Jessica Eibs-Stankaitis was mauled by a pit bull last month. Next, Maureen Schneider left to take a job in Brookhaven Town, and part-time kennel attendant Jacob Phillips resigned, leaving only one attendant, Vicky Kane, on staff.
Councilman Jim Wooten said the need to hire new staff was critical.
"People were departing all at once," Walter said.
"I'm here to stress the urgency of the need to fill the positions to take care of those animals," Taldone said. "I'm here to speak generally about the lack of care, in part due to staff issues. Leaving dogs in dark cages without human contact is just wrong. You wouldn't do this in a hospital."
Taldone said he was not blaming the police department. "They can only provide what you provide them with the resources to do," he told the town board.
In addtion, Taldone said his hope was that the board would address the problem long-term by hiring an Wooten. "That way, the police can do police work and people who know how to run a shelter and care about animals," are in charge, he said.
Privatization is an option, Taldone said; he pointed out that Southampton Town has a "beautiful" facility.
The board agreed to discuss the possibilty of a director for the shelter at its town board work session on Thursday.
"We're responsible for those animals," Taldone said. "They can't take care of themselves."
Wooten said the new kennel attendants hired were "excellent choices."