The Real Truth About Greyhound Friends

This document was created by the Greyhound Friends Board of Directors to inform the public about the status of Greyhound Friends, Inc., how we got here, and our objectives for the current year.

Quick overview: who or what is Greyhound Friends?

Greyhound Friends is a Hopkinton based, 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to the welfare and adoption of dogs, focusing specifically on greyhounds. The organization was founded in 1983 by its former director, Louise Coleman. Its office and shelter have been located at its present site on Saddle Hill Road in Hopkinton, MA for over 30 years.

In addition to operating the adoption kennel, Greyhound Friends’ mission also includes informing and educating the public about greyhounds and other breeds, promoting responsible pet ownership, and generally doing whatever is necessary to prevent cruelty to animals. Consistent with this mission, over the past 35 years Greyhound Friends has grown to include a community of staff, volunteers, adopters, greyhound rehoming advocates, and dog welfare supporters working locally, nationally, and internationally. Through the dedicated efforts of its staff, volunteers, and supporters, the organization has rehomed over 10,000 dogs.

What is the current status of Greyhound Friends?

Greyhound Friends’ kennel and adoption operation are currently closed. Here’s why:

Between November of 2016 and January of 2017, Massachusetts Department of Agricultural resources (MDAR) made several inspections to the kennel and recommended a number of repairs. These included some worn, unsealed cement areas; damage to the kennel chain link; some pipes and doors; and a few smaller repairs. The Board of Directors agreed that the repairs would be made, and contractors were contacted to schedule the work. The nature of the chain link repairs required all the kennel dogs to be moved so all the chain link structures could be replaced. This is why significant preparation time was needed to do the work, along with the significant cost (over $50K).

However, when MDAR’s inspections in January 2017 showed that the November recommendations were scheduled but not yet completed, it issued a “cease and desist” order, prohibiting Greyhound Friends from taking in dogs from outside Massachusetts for adoption. Subsequently, based on the MDAR’s unsatisfactory assessment of Greyhound Friends’ facility, the Town of Hopkinton suspended its kennel license.

The MDAR’s reports also led to a criminal charge against Greyhound Friends’ founder and director, Louise Coleman, by the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office. At this point it was agreed that Louise would no longer have any operational or decision-making role at the shelter, although the Greyhound Friends community rallied behind her defense. At the conclusion of Louise’s trial in November of 2017, the judge found her not guilty, commenting that the problems noted at the kennel were not criminal but merely regulatory in nature, and that Louise was to be commended for dedicating her life to helping dogs.

Throughout the past year Greyhound Friends has continued to make changes and improvements to comply with MDAR and Town requirements in order to reopen and resume working toward its core mission. Despite those positive changes and Louise’s exoneration, a handful of angry opponents has continued to mount a vocal campaign condemning Greyhound Friends, fueled on social media by a twisted account of how several dogs were treated while at the kennel. (Greyhound Friends’ detailed response to those allegations will be made available in a separate document.)

Separately, the Attorney General’s Office has undertaken a review of the organization’s finances for the past five years. The Board of Directors has fully cooperated with this inquiry and continues to do so. Greyhound Friends’ financial transactions have been audited annually as required by law. While this inquiry is still ongoing, the AG’s Office has not issued any findings or sanctions, and we look forward to its speedy conclusion.

What is the plan for Greyhound Friends’ future?

Greyhound Friends intends to reapply for a kennel license from the Town of Hopkinton in the immediate future. We will then expect the MDAR to send staff to reinspect the facility and lift its “cease and desist” order.  In addition to the physical and procedural improvements we have made in response to the MDAR’s recommendations, we have also made changes in the staffing plan and in the Board of Directors, to improve accountability and oversight. It is our goal to meet or exceed current best practices in shelter management and operations, as we ramp up adoption efforts again.

How does oversight work at Greyhound Friends?

As a nonprofit corporation, Greyhound Friends has always been assisted by a committed Board of Directors. Working closely with a lawyer experienced in nonprofit governance and corporate law, we have recently reviewed and updated a number of our policies and procedures and have engaged in board training to ensure that Greyhound Friends’ governance reflects best practices for community-based charitable organizations like ours. Once we are back up and running, Greyhound Friends will hire an operations and kennel manager who will manage staff and volunteers and day-to-day operations; that individual will report to the Board on an ongoing basis. As required by law, the organization will continue to be monitored periodically by state and local inspectors and to file financial reports with the Public Charities Division of the AG’s Office.

How will Greyhound Friends be different when it reopens?

Previously, Greyhound Friends was licensed to house 35 dogs in its kennel. Going forward, we will apply for a license to house only 20 dogs at a time.  The Board believes that this lower number of dogs at the facility will help to ensure that each receives more than adequate care and attention from staff and volunteers, so that all aspects of their activities, sanitation, socialization, housing, and comfort are healthy and appropriate. This reduction should also provide kennel workers with ample time to complete the necessary documentation and paperwork for each animal.

In recent years Greyhound Friends expanded its adoption efforts from greyhound dogs to other breeds and mixes, including hounds and terriers. Unlike greyhounds, those types of dogs are generally less accustomed to kennel life and present different challenges in their transition to adoption and home life.  After much consideration, Greyhound Friends has decided focus on its core mission and skill set: rehoming greyhounds. Of course our public education efforts, while focusing on greyhounds, will continue to include animal welfare and kindness in general – especially when we present to children.

Requirements for all staff and volunteers will be carefully guided by new protocols, worksheets, checklists, and training that have been developed over the past year between MDAR and Greyhound Friends’ new Compliance Officer, a position recently created by the board and filled by a research PhD who brings high-level experience from MIT and MGH.

What has Greyhound Friends done to improve its shelter operation?
Renovations

Starting in January of 2017, Greyhound Friends adopted or fostered out all dogs that had been housed in the kennel and commenced physical repairs and renovations. Since the kennel had to be emptied for the chain link replacement, the entire kennel was renovated and repainted beyond the requirements of the MDAR. The extensive renovations were completed in February, 2017.  Because funds to pay for all the work were not available at the time, Greyhound Friends’ longtime contractor agreed to perform the work and wait for payment. By agreement, a contractor’s lien was placed on the property to secure payment in the future.

As is the standard procedure, MDAR was invited to reinspect the kennel upon completion of the work. MDAR has so far declined to return and reinspect.  We have been given to understand that they will visit after Greyhound Friends is once again licensed as a kennel.

Protocols & Documentation

We have thoroughly reworked our existing staff and volunteer protocols, not only to ensure compliance with state regulations but to go above and beyond the recommended best practices in ensuring proper treatment of the dogs in our care. Greyhound Friends has established a customized, comprehensive system to track the dogs throughout their stay in the shelter and make sure that any behavioral or medical issues are promptly addressed. Greyhound Friends has added the position of Compliance Officer to develop these protocols and to monitor compliance when the shelter resumes operation.

With new protocols in place, staff will ensure stricter controls and carefully maintained paperwork to document medical and behavioral issues and interventions. We also plan to house significantly fewer dogs at any given time, which will be an important safeguard against any potential oversights in recordkeeping or delivery of care.

Behavioral issues were observed in some dogs housed at Greyhound Friends; what does that mean?

Over the years, Greyhound Friends has established a successful national pipeline, moving at-risk dogs to our kennel in Hopkinton, and then on to loving homes. While the adoption effort focused primarily on greyhounds, more recently other breeds from a variety of backgrounds were also brought to the shelter for re-homing.  Some dogs came from adequate living situations, simply needing better opportunities to find a home; others were in dire straits: injured, mistreated, older, overbred, fearful, or otherwise “undesirable” in the eyes of other adoption operations.

Since its beginnings, Greyhound Friends has been known for accepting and often intentionally seeking out dogs that other shelters overlooked or rejected for a variety of reasons. Sometimes these “special needs” dogs needed costly veterinary care; not every shelter could afford to provide that. Sometimes, due to their histories, they simply needed more time before adoption to recover from their past, acclimate to their new lives, and learn new behaviors.

A criticism we have heard more than once from inspectors is that we did not “choose better dogs,” because “You have to choose the ones that will move quickly.” We disagree. Cherry-picking the dogs that are easiest to place has never been our philosophy. As a result, at times Greyhound Friends has been the target of some resentment and backlash, even from within the dog adoption community, for trying to help dogs who would not have been helped by others.

In recent years, Greyhound Friends moved into rescuing non-greyhound breeds to help ease the critical need reported from rescue organizations in other states, where spay/neuter rates are low and shelter kill rates are distressingly high. Trying to help these dogs also increased the proportion of dogs coming into the kennel with behavioral issues. Greyhound Friends staff and volunteers have worked diligently and successfully to help and ultimately rehome these “special needs” dogs whom no one else wanted. Often that has meant significantly longer stays at the kennel, which may not be the ideal environment for some dogs but nevertheless is a pathway to adoption.

We continue to believe that dogs with special needs, behavioral or otherwise, are an important part of Greyhound Friends’ rehoming mission. We acknowledge that such dogs require more resources to be invested in their recovery and rehabilitation; that might include greater financial costs, more staff and volunteer time, longer stays at the shelter, special care and training, etc. Our new operational protocols, combined with a plan for fewer dogs at the shelter at any given time, should help Greyhound Friends better attend to the special needs of the dogs we commit to take in and rehome.

What does a typical day at Greyhound Friends look like?

When Greyhound Friends is fully operational, there are staff and volunteers in and out of the kennel caring for the dogs all day, every day. The normal hours of operation when the shelter is open to the public are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; outside of those hours, staff and volunteers are present to care for the dogs from early morning until they are kenneled for the night.

Senior staff:

  • The Operations Manager and/or Kennel Manager are present to cover the kennel for the full day, every day. They are the staff with primary responsibility for handling the adoption process.

Kennel staff:

  • An ‘opener’ arrives at 6 a.m. to do an initial turn-out, check on the dogs, and make sure they have fresh water and clean bedding.
  • Morning crew, typically two people, arrive by 8:00 a.m. to feed, turn dogs out into outdoor pens, and clean kennels and bedding. Morning medications are given as prescribed.
  • Evening crew repeats the process from 3:00 to 8:00 p.m. for closing.

Volunteers, trained and scheduled by the senior staff and Volunteer Coordinator:

  • Arrive throughout the day depending on scheduling to
    • walk dogs
    • let dogs run in the large fenced play area
    • assist with cleaning duties inside and outside
    • assist with special projects
    • provide additional socialization
  • Groups come in several times a week to help with cleaning tasks and spend time with the dogs.
  • Volunteers can come at pre-approved times to take dogs for a run on surrounding trails.
  • As needed, trainers come in to work with dogs needing special assistance.
  • Pet massage therapists and vet techs come in and work with the dogs to satisfy their training hours.
  • A volunteer photographer photographs all the dogs for our website and adoption materials. High quality photographs generate increased interest from potential adopters.
  • Students requiring community service hours for school volunteer at the kennel; many will come back to volunteer or work part time even after they’ve completed the required hours.
  • Businesses send teams of employees to do major projects on their “community day of giving.”
  • Local Scouts also visit to do service projects.
  • Off-site volunteers who visit schools, nursing homes, events, pet stores, etc. to promote greyhound adoption check in at the kennel regularly.

Adopters:

  • Prospective adopters come to the kennel to submit their applications and meet the available dogs. Some travel from the surrounding states, though most are from Eastern Massachusetts.
  • Key staff who are trained to process adoption applications speak with prospective adopters, assess their specific status, verify their applications, and introduce them to adoptable dogs whose needs and personalities are best suited to those particular individuals or families. This is a time consuming and thorough process to ensure a good match.
  • Follow-up calls are made at intervals following adoption to check on how everyone is acclimating and to offer solutions and support with any behavioral or other concerns. Greyhound Friends’ adoption agreement requires that dogs be returned to the shelter if for any reason the adoption does not work out.
  • Adopters often return to the kennel to visit, attend events, drop off donations, or to let their dogs run in the large fenced field.
Why is there opposition to Greyhound Friends reopening?

Most people are opposed to animal cruelty or even substandard treatment. So are we.

Sadly, many misstatements and misrepresentations about Greyhound Friends are fueling anger, especially on social media. The various concerns raised since late 2016 have been and continue to be addressed, through improvements to the kennel facility and in our expanded protocols, procedures, and checklists which have been reviewed not just by MDAR but by the original leaders in shelter protocols, the Koret Shelter Program at UC Davis. It is apparent to most, after the grueling events of the past year and a half, that Greyhound Friends fell short primarily in documenting the delivery of care to our dogs, rather than the quality of care itself. The cadres of staff and volunteers comprising the Greyhound Friends community have repeatedly attested to their first-hand observations and experiences with the shelter dogs, confirming that on the whole, their care was more than adequate. Occasional shortfalls have been acknowledged and addressed.

Greyhound Friends recognizes that in recent years our capacity was overextended in an attempt to save more dogs than was practical. We recognize that there was a need for improvement and for better checks and balances on some of our procedures. But we do not accept that dogs should pay the ultimate price because a small handful of misguided individuals seek vengeance.

We are at a loss to explain why some individuals are opposed to MDAR and the Town of Hopkinton following their regular procedures to evaluate Greyhound Friends’ ability to operate as an adoption kennel, and removing the remaining obstacles to resuming adoptions of dogs who are waiting for good homes. Further delay would only punish dogs in need of care and homing. Greyhound Friends is eager to resume doing its part in the effort to save as many greyhound dogs as we can, without compromising the quality of our work on their behalf.