Greyhounds = great pets
Hopkinton nonprofit finds homes for racers
By Pamela H. Sacks
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
Stoddard Melhado was intrigued with greyhounds from the moment he encountered the breed. His wife, Ky, wasn’t so sure.
“Her hesitation was that the very few greyhounds she had met were aloof,” Mr. Melhado said. “I can remember her saying, `I want a dog that wags its tail and greets me when I come home.’”
When the time arrived for the couple to get a new pet, Mr. Melhado worked hard to persuade his wife to consider a greyhound. She agreed to take a look, and the Melhados headed off to Greyhound Friends in Hopkinton, a private nonprofit organization that finds homes for dogs that are to be discarded by race tracks, either because they have been injured or do not perform well.
At the kennel, the Melhados took several rescue dogs for a walk and quickly decided to adopt two.
“Ky fell instantly in love,” Mr. Melhado remembered. “We came back a few days later and picked them up.”
That was 16 years ago. Those two dogs lived out their lives in comfort, and the Melhados went on to adopt more greyhounds. They now have four males, Toby, Finny, Benny and Ernie.
“I am currently on the sofa with one,” Mr. Melhado said by telephone from his home in Littleton one recent morning. “One is in a chair and another is in the other chair and one is on the floor. I always tell people, `I’ve lived with dogs all my life, and right now I can’t conceive of having any other breed.’ They are very sweet and loving and forgiving.”
Cyndy Curley had to talk her husband, Paul, into a visit to Greyhound Friends 15 years ago. They adopted a timid black male, Bailey, just off the track at Seabrook, N. H.
“We had a cat, so that’s always iffy,” Ms. Curley said, referring to a hound’s instinct to chase small animals. “When we introduced him to the cat we put a muzzle on him. The cat took one look and spit and hissed, and the dog vomited on the floor. He loved the cat.”
The Curleys, who live in Sterling, have gone on to adopt another greyhound, Gus, a former racing dog, and three lurchers, which are greyhounds crossed with a working breed, such as a terrier. Ms. Curley said the greyhound is often called “the potato chip of dogs.”
“It’s hard to have just one,” she said. “Despite their size, they are easy to care for. They are used to being in packs at the track. It’s more soothing for them.”
The Melhados and the Curleys are among thousands of people across the nation who have adopted former racing greyhounds. Observers might expect that tracks and rescue groups would have a contentious relationship. Those in the rescue business have worked hard to make sure that is not the case, however, even as politically active animal welfare organizations have fought to end racing. To ensure access to dogs that are discarded by the tracks, many rescuers stayed out of the battle over Question 3, the ballot initiative that passed on Nov. 4, ending dog racing in Massachusetts in 2010.
Louise Coleman, founder and director of Greyhound Friends, spent years building a working relationship with owners and trainers at the Wonderland and Raynham/Taunton tracks in Massachusetts and the Belmont, Seabrook and Hinsdale tracks in New Hampshire. Greyhound Friends finds homes for roughly 350 dogs a year. The success of Question 3 will not end the need for greyhound adoption services, Ms. Coleman said. She takes dogs from kennels in the Midwest and abroad, where racing continues.
“Greyhound Friends sees our role as part of the adoption process and not political,” Ms. Coleman said. “We’re not a lobbying group. We’re an adoption group.”
Ms. Coleman founded Greyhound Friends in 1983. She was living in Cambridge with her son, Nolan, who was 10 at the time. An acquaintance mentioned that a trainer at Wonderland was desperately trying to find a home for a once-great racer past his prime. Ms. Coleman picked up the dog, named Boston Boy.
“He was like a retired gentleman,” she recalled. “Initially, he was shy but very amiable. He tried to figure out what we wanted and then did it.”
Ms. Coleman started taking greyhounds and keeping them in her apartment. She laughed when asked how many she had. “Let’s just say, `A lot,’” she said. She was boarding them at the Brookline Animal Hospital in 1987 when she learned about the property in Hopkinton, which had been used as a kennel. A new, far larger facility was built in 2000, made possible by a surprise bequest from a woman Ms. Coleman had never met.
On a morning in October, 35 greyhounds were seemingly everywhere, lying on desktops and tabletops and on comforters in the office, laundry room and conference room. They were in 20 separate kennel spaces and in crates in the kenneling area. Classical music filled the air. The facility has heat and air conditioning, as well as a large fenced-in area and dog runs at the rear of the building.
One black greyhound could be seen trotting down a run. His right front leg was misshapen and he was limping, the result of a break suffered at a track. Sandra L. Jepsen, kennel manager, greeted a gentle-looking 9-year-old named Alana as she came to the gate at the kitchen door. She had been diagnosed with lymphoma, Ms. Jepsen said, and was on a diet of rotisserie chicken.
It costs $1,000 a day to run Greyhound Friends; all of the funding comes from grants and private donations. Ms. Coleman and Ms. Jepsen are the only full- time employees. Mr. Melhado serves as the volunteer coordinator of approximately 60 volunteers who, among other things, clean the facility, walk dogs, and conduct “meet and greets” at pet stores and events to recruit potential owners.
Both Mr. Melhado and Ms. Curley credit Ms. Coleman with a special talent for matching the right dog and owner. They enumerated challenges that must be met to succeed with a greyhound: The dogs are sprinters, born to chase, and do not do well off leash; they must be socialized and taught simple functions such as climbing stairs; they must be housebroken, although they are used to being let out on schedule and catch on quickly; they are not necessarily good with other animals, especially small dogs and cats.
“They’re hounds; they’re lazy dogs,” Ms. Coleman said with a laugh. “They like to lie around a lot. They survive at the track because they’re used to lying around.”
Jennifer Carr and her family carefully researched the breed before paying a visit to Greyhound Friends. They took several dogs for a walk and immediately took a liking to them. But one in particular, a female named Guerly, captured their hearts. They left to think it over. When they returned, Guerly was no longer there, having been moved to another adoption agency. The Carrs decided to pay a visit to Greyhound Rescue in Mendon, and there was Guerly. They took her home.
“Guerly was in Florida, a fantastic racer,” Ms. Carr said. “We found her history and her racing record. She raced for a good five years.”
But then that “potato chip” thing took hold. The Carrs, who live in Milford, couldn’t have just one and went shopping for another greyhound. They found Trevor, a greyhound mix who is blind.
“Despite his handicap, he is the sweetest thing,” Ms. Carr said. “He has learned the backyard and he goes out by himself. He knows the whole kitchen. He’s my walking partner. He’s fabulous to walk with. I just love him.”