Rescue legend allegedly no longer kept up with the pack
HOPKINTON, Massachusetts––Greyhound Friends founder Louise Coleman, 72, for nearly 35 years a pioneer of racing greyhound rescue, rehabilitation, and adoption, on March 29, 2017 pleaded not guilty to felony animal cruelty for alleged neglect of many of the dogs in her care.
Animal Rescue League of Boston agent Alan Borgal testified that he counted as many as 41 dogs in the Greyhound Friends shelter, built to house 20, during repeated inspection visits in 2016 and January 2017.
Massachusetts Department of Animal Resources animal health inspector Linda Harrod listed 48 dogs on a spreadsheet submitted as part of her affidavit. Of 30 dogs tested for giardia, hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms, Harrod testified, 19 were infected with one or more of these common parasites. That in itself might mean nothing if the dogs were recent arrivals from southern tracks, but many were longtime Greyhound Friends residents.
The Hopkinton animal control department suspended the Greyhound Friends operating permit on January 23, 2017 “after the state issued a cease-and-desist order for the shelter to stop taking in new out-of-state dogs because of needed repairs,” recounted Framingham MetroWest Daily News reporter Jonathan Phelps.
Borgal “filed the felony charge on March 1, 2017, according to court documents,” updated Bill Shaner of the Framingham MetroWest Daily News staff.
Coleman, Shaner added, subsequently “resigned from the board of directors and is taking a leave from her role as executive director of the nonprofit,” which she founded in 1983.
Coleman was succeeded as board president by retired school teacher and counselor Stoddard Melhado, also a noted former marathon runner and coach, now serving as a Massachusetts justice of the peace.
Succeeding Coleman as shelter manager was longtime Greyhound Friends employee Theresa Shepard.
“If convicted,” Shaner wrote, “Coleman faces a maximum penalty of up to seven years in prison. She appeared overwhelmed, but remained stoic as she faced Judge David Cunis,” who ordered her to stay away from the Greyhound Friends shelter, set a pre-trial hearing for May 12, 2017, and further ordered that Coleman not become involved in any other sort of dog rescuing, including from her home.
Prosecutor Wendi Safran told the court that the issue was not just the care of the 10 specific dogs named in the criminal charges, “but the way the kennel was run and in addition certain record keeping issues that put the health of many dogs at risk and potentially put other dogs in the area at risk of catching certain diseases and parasites.”
“Some of the problems date back to when the shelter moved to Hopkinton in 1987––30 years ago,” wrote Phelps. “Records dating back to 1988 show a problem with the shelter staying within the allowed number of dogs.”
The Greyhound Friends kennel limit was gradually raised from the original 20 dogs to 35.
Rehomed 10,000 greyhounds
Greyhound Friends claims to have cumulatively rehomed more than 10,000 former racing greyhounds, initially mostly from the now defunct Wonderland and Raynham tracks in Massachusetts, the now defunct Plainfield track in Connecticut, and four now defunct tracks in New Hampshire.
Coleman was at times criticized by more outspoken activists for her mostly cooperative relationships with greyhound track management.
“If we are too outspoken, the tracks will not give us dogs,” Coleman explained.
But Coleman made no secret of her wish that the greyhound industry would go out of business, and of her support for organizations such as Grey 2K, which with backing from the Animal Rescue League of Boston eventually won a string of political victories that brought about the collapse of greyhound racing throughout New England.
As the local supply of retired racing greyhounds suitable for adoption dwindled, Coleman kept up with adoption demand by importing greyhounds from abroad, and began offering dogs of other breeds for adoption.
Among the Greyhound Friends inventory detailed in recent inspection reports were a pit bull and several beagles.
But most of the Greyhound Friends dogs were greyhounds, as ever. The major change at Greyhound Friends appeared to be that as adopting rescued racing greyhounds fell out of vogue, the average stay of a dog in the Hopkinton kennel stretched from 10 days when the organization was most successful to several months, or longer.
Importing dogs for adoption was nothing new for Coleman, who began bringing in occasional dogs from Ireland in 1994.
“I began going to Ireland on a regular basis in 1978,” Coleman told ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton in 2005. “I have Irish grandparents and used to go over to visit family, hear music, and have a good time. After my greyhound work began in 1983, I realized that the glut of extraneous greyhounds in the U.S. had a corollary in Ireland. Many of the dogs raced here are from Ireland or are bred from Irish dogs.
“In 1994,” Coleman recalled, “I heard that the World Greyhound Racing Federation was meeting in Dublin. I decided to see what was happening. I was not an official registrant, but sat in on many presentations. I became worried about plans to send greyhounds to race in countries where there is little or no animal protection, including in the Far East, Spain, and Morocco. Even with marginal welfare provisions, those dogs’ fate was obviously grim.”
Beginning with that 1994 visit, Coleman actively assisted several start-up Irish greyhound rescue organizations. Coleman also helped to coordinate mass greyhound rescues in Quebec, Spain, and even Guam, after the 32-year-old Guam Greyhound Track closed in November 2008.
But as well as conflicting with Hopkinton officials about her dog inventory, Coleman often clashed with Massachusetts state regulators, including in 2005 when a canine influenza outbreak that killed 18 greyhounds at Wonderland occasioned a state agriculture department demand that shelters had to add isolation-and-quarantine facilities if they wished to bring animals in from out-of-state.
Greyhound Friends complied, but objected that pet stores and nonprofit animal shelters were subjected to the new requirements, while breeders were exempted.
“No one wants to bring in sick dogs,” Coleman told Boston Globe reporter Jose Martinez in 2011. “No one wants to bring in a diseased animal. But we need rational rules that apply to everybody.”
Wrote Martinez, “The isolation rule, Coleman said, has added $50 to $100 to the cost per dog for rescue organizations, which already scrape by on donations. As a result many adoptions occur on the sly.”
Observed Coleman, “They’ve created this underground situation where the dogs come in and the adopters meet them at the state line.”
Won felony conviction of abusive adopter
Ironically, in view of the charges she now is facing, Coleman in 2008 helped to win the landmark felony conviction of a man named Kevin Schneider for abusing and then abandoning two greyhounds he had adopted from Greyhound Friends.
“Schneider pushed one dog named Talca from a moving SUV in Connecticut,” reported David Riley of Gatehouse News Service, “and left the other dog, Sari, under a bush near a Rhode Island hospital. Sari died from severe malnourishment days later. Talca recovered and was again adopted.”
Pleading guilty in Newton District Court, Schneider plea-bargained a sentence of 18 months in jail, with 60 days to be served and the balance on probation.
“I think it’s the best we could get,” Coleman said at the time. “I think that it strikes a chord. I think it makes people aware that cruelty is a serious offense.”