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Rescued from starvation and neglect, a racing greyhound finds a home in Wellesley thanks to nonprofit

Posted by Evan Allen  October 1, 2012 03:00 PM

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sick nova.jpg
Photo courtesy of Louise Coleman
Nova, as she is nursed back to health

By the time Nova arrived on Kathy Mahoney’s doorstep last month in Wellesley, the greyhound had been to death’s door and back. A racer in West Virginia for the first few years of her life, she had grown too old for the tracks and been adopted by a family that let her starve.

She weighed just 32 pounds – half her healthy weight – when animal control officers found her.

“She was truly just a skeleton,” said Mahoney. Nova was covered in weeping sores and wounds, and the shelter she was initially taken to had no room for her, so she sat outside in the West Virginia heat.

“One more day,” said Mahoney, “and she would have died.”

But Nova got lucky. Greyhound Friends, Inc. stepped in and, as the Hopkinton-based non-profit has done for thousands of greyhounds before, rescued Nova and found her a home.

Racing tracks breed greyhounds, but the dogs typically only remain racers for about two to four years. When Greyhound Friends was founded in the early '80’s, track owners often just euthanized the dogs once they were past their prime, said founder and executive director Louise Coleman.

Greyhound Friends has created a network throughout the racing community so that dogs that leave the circuit have a home to go to. The organization typically takes in between six and eight dogs a week. When greyhound racing was still legal in Massachusetts, said Coleman, they dogs were coming in truckloads.

Mahoney is the president of the board for Greyhound Friends, and Nova is her tenth rescue greyhound.

“It really just gives my life purpose,” she said, sitting in her living room surrounded by the four dogs she currently has – three rescue greyhounds, including Nova, and one very assertive Yorkie.

Mahoney’s walls are covered with photos and paintings of dogs she has rescued – she takes in the older greyhounds, who often have bad health problems. There are eleven dog beds scattered throughout her house, and the greyhounds, champion sleepers, flop down in whatever room Mahoney is in, their long, thin legs sprawled across the floor.

Today, Nova is healthy, weighing in at 61 pounds. The only visible marker of her former life is the green ink smudged on the inside of her ears – tattooed racing information: her date of birth, her registration number, now unreadable.

Greyhound Friends takes a neutral stance on greyhound racing. Some tracks might abuse the dogs, said Mahoney and Coleman, but others treat them just fine.

“I don’t think racing is inherently bad,” said Mahoney. “They’re born to run, truly.”

And if Greyhound Friends were to speak out against racetracks, they said, they might not have access to the retired dogs anymore.

“We’ve always had to be pro-dog,” said Coleman. “If we had been really anti-racing overtly, they don’t have to give us their dogs.”

And if dog-racing were completely abolished in the country, said Mahoney and Coleman, then who would breed greyhounds?

“We’re stewards of the breed,” said Mahoney.

Since greyhound racing was banned in Massachusetts in 2008, said Coleman, people no longer think of greyhounds as needing rescue – people forget the need. Today, many of the dogs that Greyhound Friends adopts come from Florida, where there are 13 tracks, according to Coleman.

“There might not be racing here, but there are still greyhounds in this country that really need our help,” said Coleman.

But as a result of the lowered awareness, donations to Greyhound Friends have declined, said Coleman, at a critical moment when shipping the dogs from out of state is more expensive than in-state rescues.

“People believe what they see,” she said. “If they don’t see greyhounds in the immediate vicinity, they think it’s all over. It’s not.”

Greyhound Friends puts a big emphasis on education – bringing greyhounds to schools, nursing homes, rotary clubs. People often think that greyhounds will be jumpy, hyperactive, or violent, because they were racing dogs, said Mahoney – but they’re actually a very mellow breed.

At tracks, they’re kept in small cages for most of the day, and trained not to bark, said Mahoney. As a result, they are calm and quiet. They’re leash-trained, too, and walking them down neighborhood streets draws a lot of attention.

“It’s like walking Robert Redford on a leash,” said Coleman. “You meet everybody!”

Mahoney’s three greyhounds follow her around the house, quietly padding behind her and her Yorkie, Angie. Nova has settled right in, said Mahoney, getting along well with greyhound friends Dana and Alayna.

Mahoney wants another greyhound, and says she plans to adopt again in the future.

“I honestly could do five,” she said, “but my husband – that’s where he draws the line.”

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com

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