Helen Banks, 87, founder of Second Chance for Greyhounds, died on March 14, 2015.
“Her protective concern for animals of all kinds started early,” recalled William Ernest Waites in a November/December 2002 profile of Banks for The Times of the Islands, “with much of her childhood spent rescuing strays. As an attractive young woman in New York City, she became a professional model with numerous magazine covers in her portfolio. Smitten with a man who raised horses in Connecticut, she abandoned her successful modeling career to marry, live on his farm, and care for their horses. When she learned what happened to aging horses, Helen persuaded a local slaughterhouse owner to let her know when a horse was headed for slaughter before its time so she could give it a ‘second chance.’”
After the marriage ended, 25 years later, Banks relocated to Bonita Springs, Florida, where she became involved in dog rescue. Hearing dogs barking in the distance one day, she investigated, met greyhound handlers walking their charges, and after helping to walk the greyhounds several times, was hired as a “lead out” at the Naples/Fort Meyers Greyhound Track. “All was well,” Waites wrote, “until the day Banks visited a veterinarian’s office,” and, she said, “’walked into this room that I thought was the ladies’ room and there was a stack of twelve dead greyhounds.’”
Recounted Waites, “That summer, in anticipation of the new racing season, Banks enlarged her home to accommodate rescued dogs on their way to new homes. She went back to the track and signed up as a lead-out again. She also persuaded the track to let her set up a table so she could identify and recruit suitable adopters for the dogs. Banks personally underwrote all the expenses. She worked other jobs at the track, cleaned homes, and even worked at a local spa to cover veterinary fees, food, leashes, collars, and other expenses.” Incorporated as Second Chance for Greyhounds in 1986, Banks’ track-based greyhound rescue organization ran into difficulty after Life magazine featured her in a 1995 exposé of greyhound racing.
“Calls poured in from dozens of people who wanted to adopt dogs and twenty-seven were placed within the week,” wrote Waites. “Banks also received three threats of bodily harm and was physically attacked when she showed up at the track after the story broke.” Waites credited Second Chance for Greyhounds with rehoming as many as 9,000 former racing greyhounds through 2002.
Banks also encouraged others to start greyhound rescue organizations, among them the founders of Second Chance for Greyhounds of Michigan, formed in 1990, and Greyheart Rescue & Adoption Inc., incorporated in 1999.
Banks, involved in a variety of other animal protection projects over the years, was a former board member of Marian’s Dream, “and even had a story to tell of physically placing herself between baby harp seals and the imminent clubs of death,” recalled Marian’s Dream executive director Esther Mechler.