Massachusetts-based dog lover Louise Coleman has been improving the lives of Greyhounds for more than 30 years. She fell in love with the breed on Mother’s Day 1983, when she adopted retired racer Boston Boy.
“He was a great dog,” explains Coleman. “He had worked all his life. We got him at the Wonderland track just up north.”
Inspired by Boston Boy, Coleman founded the nonprofit rescue organization Greyhound Friends, and over the last three decades she has helped thousands of racetrack Greyhounds find homes as cherished pets.
Running the rescue hasn’t always been easy, and in the early days the financial pressures where particularly hard. For a time, Coleman actually lived full-time at the kennel in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, after finding it difficult to continue also paying for an apartment in Cambridge.
“It was awful,” she recalls.
Over the years, the situation at the rescue improved, and so did the outlook for Greyhounds in the United States. While Greyhound Friends was expanding, the sport of Greyhound racing was dwindling in America.
As commercial races were banned in many states, tracks across the U.S. closed their doors for good. Wonderland Greyhound Park, the former home of Coleman’s Boston Boy, shut down in 2010, but other race tracks still exist in a handful of states.
“We have dogs transported up from West Virginia and Florida,” explains Coleman, who adds that the sport’s decline in America isn’t all good news for the dogs.
“As the organized racing — which is monitored by state authorities — is going away, for Greyhounds it’s not terrific because they’re being sent overseas to places where there is not regulation.”
According to Coleman, the trade of these dogs from Miami, Florida, to Argentina is particularly troublesome.
“It is unclear how many American track Greyhounds are being sent to Argentina, but any is too many.”
Coleman works with the group Proyecto Galgo Argentina (Argentina Greyhound Project), which aims to stop the exploitation of the breed in racing, hunting, and breeding.
Problems in the international trade in Greyhounds aren’t limited to the Miami-to-Argentina route. For years, Coleman has been working to help the breed in Ireland, where the sport is very popular and controlled by a state board. Coleman, who has family in Ireland and travels there frequently, works closely with Limerick Animal Welfare. She was pleased to see controversial plans for the export of Irish Greyhounds to China halted after lobbying against the idea, but says Irish Greyhounds being transported to other international destinations are still dying.
“There was a terrible incident just recently when a bunch of Irish Greyhounds suffocated on an Irish ferry going to Spain,” says Coleman.
According to Irish news website The Journal, the Irish Department of Agriculture is investigating after 11 Greyhounds died in a van on an Irish Ferries vessel in France on October 27, 2014. The Irish Times reports that the Irish Greyhound Board is shocked and horrified by the tragedy.
Advocates for the breed in Ireland say Spain is not an unusual final destination for Irish Greyhounds past their prime. For many years, it was very difficult to place the racers as pets in their home country.
“Irish Greyhounds didn’t have much chance of being adopted in Ireland,” explains Coleman, who says the breed’s history as a hunting dog worked against it.
“The image of the Greyhound in Ireland is really pretty bloody and gory. It’s taken a long time to change that image and get people to see them as companions instead of murders.”
One of Coleman’s own pets, Elvis, came to the U.S. from Ireland, where he rescued by Limerick Animal Welfare. Elvis is what’s known as a Lurcher — a Greyhound cross traditionally used for hunting.
“During the Middle Ages, common people could not own Greyhounds,” Coleman explains. “When possible they would ‘liberate’ a dark Greyhound and cross it with a dark hunting dog. The offspring were taught to walk by the nobility’s hunting grounds at night, lurch in, grab available prey, and then lurch back out again.”
Just like their purebred cousins, Irish Lurchers have had to overcome their image as prey-snatchers, but many are very trainable and make wonderful pets.
Elvis isn’t the only cross breed dog to be rescued by Greyhound Friends. Coleman’s organization now takes in a variety of Greyhound crosses, Lurchers, and mixed hounds.
“I started getting calls from shelters in the Midwest asking if we would take Greyhound crosses because a lot of the rescue groups don’t take crosses. They don’t have the socialization, the structure, and routine that the racing Greyhounds do. They need more socialization before they are ready to be pets.”
Coleman says a lot of these mixed dogs were bred by people trying to create faster hunting dogs — but the results aren’t always what the humans intended, as is the case with one of Coleman’s own pets. Her Basset–Beagle mix was brought to Greyhound Friends from Kentucky.
“He was turned into a shelter there because he was afraid of guns and wouldn’t hunt,” explains Coleman. “Thus his name, Gun Shy.”
The hunting dog who wouldn’t hunt is just one of many mixed breed dogs who end up at Greyhound Friends after disappointing human breeders.
“With any purpose-bred animal, if it’s not doing what they bred it to do, they don’t want it,” explains Coleman.
The retired racers and failed hunters lucky enough to be rescued by Greyhound Friends are able to find a new purpose they excel at — being loving companions to humans with lots of love to give in return.
Coleman and her staff at Greyhound Friends are always busy helping mixed hounds, Beagles, and of course Greyhounds. The financial situation has improved since the days when Coleman lived in the kennel, but as the rescue expanded so did its expenses — vet care for the animals being one of the most costly.
“Little by little by little we have managed through,” says Coleman.
And little by little she keeps on going, standing up for the breed that captured her heart back in 1983.
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About the Author: Heather Marcoux is a freelance writer in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but Specter the kitten and GhostBuster the dog make her fur family complete. Heather is also a wife, a bad cook, and a former TV journalist. Some of her friends have hidden her feed because of an excess of cat pictures. If you don’t mind cat pictures, you can follow her on Twitter; she also posts pet GIFs on Google+.