After years of discussion and months of public outcry by residents, who have been raising concerns over conditions at the Riverhead municipal animal shelter, it's official -- the town board is slated to sign an agreement with the North Fork Animal Welfare League to privatize the facility on Tuesday night.
"We will be entering into contract with the North Fork Animal Welfare League for services of animal care at our shelter at tonight's meeting," Riverhead Councilman Jim Wooten said Tuesday. "They accepted our offer."
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said the news was good. "The dogs are dancing in the kennels," he said.
The town will enter into a three-year contract, for $223,500, and will provide full services at the shelter; the NFAWL will take over all animal control functions. Riverhead Town will provide maintenance to the building, Wooten said.
The contract will begin on March 1, Walter said, and will extend for three years, "and hopefully, thereafter," he said. "I'm very, very happy. we've been working on this for a long time. I'm just happy to see it come to fruition."
The North Fork Animal Welfare League, which has run the Town of Southold Animal Shelter since 1980, will extend their operations and begin management of the Riverhead facility, according to the new contract.
President of the North Fork Animal Welfare League Richard Radoccia said, "We could not be more excited. We look forward to bringing the same nurturing care to Riverhead that we have extended to the animal community in Southold."
The North Fork Animal Welfare League was formed in 1963 and is a not-for-profit organization committed to the prevention of cruelty to animals and to extend humane education.
"We are ready and raring to go," Radoccia said. "The New Year will bring a new level of care for the animals of Riverhead."
Walter added, "Our shelter has long been the source of controversy and good people have argued for many years about what its future should look like. Our first responsibility has always been to provide animals with the best care we can and I am convinced that this agreement will do that. Today, we turn the page and make a fresh start and this is happy news for animal lovers everywhere," he said.
Wooten, the town board's shelter liaison and an animal activist, said, "We have worked at this long and hard and it feels so good to finally turn the corner and begin a new era in providing the proper care for the animals in our charge." He added, "This is a great day for Riverhead."
Wooten said he and Walter met Friday with representatives of the North Fork Animal Welfare League to talk about potential collaboration.
In recent weeks, Wooten has suggested privatizing the shelter could be the solution to staffing and other concerns.
The shelter was short-staffed after an animal control officer was mauled by a pit bull; the board voted to hire three-part time kennel attendants and Wooten said further options included hiring a director or privatizing.
Animal advocate Vince Taldone said privatization would be a win-win. "The NFAWL has done a wonderful job at the Southold Town shelter," Taldone said. "The dogs there are in good hands with volunteers and staff who care deeply about them. I am hopeful that a deal can be struck so that the NFAWL can take over management of the Riverhead shelter. I want the dogs in my town to be treated as decently as those those in Southold."
As a Riverhead shelter volunteer, Taldone said he hopes to provide whatever assistance he can to make things better for the town's dogs.
"They deserve no less humane treatment than those at the Southold facility receive," he said.
On Tuesday, Taldone added, "This is the best Christmas gift I could have gotten."