Going To The Dogs

Gianna Volpe
Kennel manager Gina LaPine and attendant Katelyn Knapp in the front room of the Riverhead Animal Shelter, at its new location. Independent/Gianna Volpe
A renovation project would divide the kennel room at the Riverhead Animal Shelter into four larger enclosures. Independent/Gianna Volpe

After years of waiting — and wading through bureaucratic red tape — the Riverhead Animal Shelter has a new home. The North Fork Animal Welfare League purchased a facility in Aquebogue formerly occupied by Scoshire Kennels & David’s Dog Grooming. The organization is now shifting their focus to renovating the property, and a history-making program expansion.

The league’s kennel manager, Gina LaPine, said the organization had spent two years tied up in a complex permit application process with Riverhead Town, which had offered to provide town-owned property for a new shelter, until the Church Lane facility became available.

“This place is a little bit of magic,” LaPine said of the space that became the shelter’s new home last month. “Someone said, ‘We can’t believe you’re going to move in before you renovate,’ but even now — without renovation — it’s a thousand times better than where we were.”

The Riverhead Animal Shelter was formerly located on Youngs Avenue between the town dump and a space where shelter staff said the highway department often dropped off animal carcasses, making for a noisy and unpleasant enough atmosphere. Several of those interviewed said the need to walk dogs down main roads like Youngs and Osborn avenues also posed a safety risk to staff, volunteers, and animals.

“Just getting down the road was a challenge alone, especially in the rain,” said 20-year-old volunteer Malyssa Delgaudio of East Marion. Moving to Church Lane has meant the ability to keep animals on shelter property for their half-mile or longer walks along trails throughout the 6.5-acre site.

“The first few days when we walked them, they were like, ‘Oh, my God!’, even the dogs that are more mellow,” said 27-year-old kennel attendant, Katelyn Knapp of Southold. “This is definitely a much better environment for the dogs.”

And dogs won’t be the only ones who will enjoy the benefits of the new shelter. The league’s Gillian Wood Pultz said the organization wants to raise $500,000 for a three-phase renovation project that would expand the shelter to include cats. “Never in the history of Riverhead Town have cats been included in the animal control program,” said Wood Pultz.

The league plans to build intake and isolation cat rooms on the facility’s second floor, which will also be the site of the director’s office and a staff locker room. Adoptable animals will live in areas with separate air exchanges to isolate them from new arrivals or those that need veterinary care. Wood Pultz said transforming former grooming space into two dog intake and isolation rooms is the project’s top priority before the organization brings in cats.

Ultimately, entrance-level office space will be reduced to make room for meet-and-greets, a dog play group room will be added for social animals, and 24 kennels will become 22 larger-sized ones.

“If we get everything we want, we’ll be separating them into four smaller rooms with less dogs in each room, which gives less stimulation, less stress for the dogs; installing noise-control baffles to cut down on the noise; and adding extra doors and windows for more light and air,” Wood Pultz said of the renovation project planned to begin before the new year. “It’s going to be costly, but we want it to be exactly as it should be for the animals. Our architects designed the entire renovation based on guidelines provided by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians that we should follow to make it the best possible environment for sheltered animals.”

She added Denise Lucas, who headed the Riverhead Move the Animal Shelter movement, is 100 percent on board with making the Church Lane facility the “best animal shelter
Riverhead has ever had.”

Those interested in kickstarting NFAWL’s capital fundraising campaign can click the “DONATE” button on nfawl.org, as well as consider buying tickets to the organization’s “Four-Legged Gala” honoring Mattituck-Laurel Veterinary Hospital and the North Fork Animal Hospital, which will take place Sunday, December 2 at Giorgio’s of Baiting Hollow and include an open bar, cocktail reception, dinner, dancing, live/silent auctions, as well as live entertainment by the Rakiem Walker Project Band.

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