"It's absurd," said Leger, after Coleman's arraignment on an animal cruelty charge Wednesday morning. "Louise has taken care of dogs for 30 years."
Leger was joined by about 60 other supporters who packed the standing-room only Framingham District courtroom wearing Greyhound Friends T-shirts and gray ribbons on their arms for the six-minute court hearing. Coleman, 72, pleaded not guilty on the felony animal cruelty charge. She resigned from the board of directors and is taking a leave from her role as executive director of the nonprofit.
Lt. Alan Borgal of the Animal Rescue League of Boston filed the felony charge on March 1, according to court documents. Animal cruelty can be for either abuse or neglect, according to the organization's website.
"During my investigation, I found that the defendant has charge or custody of the dogs, and did unnecessarily fail to provide those dogs with proper sanitary environments," he wrote in the complaint application. If convicted, Coleman faces a maximum penalty of up to seven years in prison.
She appeared overwhelmed, but remained stoic as she faced Judge David Cunis.
At the request of prosecutor Wendi Safran, Cunis ordered Coleman to stay away from the shelter and not seek a kennel license for her North Main Street home in Sherborn. Cunis released Coleman without bail. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for May 12.
Safran said the charge is based on complaints from between 2015 and 2017 with conditions deteriorating to the point of putting dogs in harm's way. Inspectors compiled a list of 10 specific dogs of concern based on multiple inspections, she said.
Inspection reports revealed poor shelter conditions and sick dogs not being diagnosed or treated for infectious and contagious diseases, such as hookworm and Giardia, a parasite that lives in the intestines of dogs and can spread to humans.
"It is not just those 10 dogs," Safran said, "but the way the kennel was run and additional certain record keeping issues that put the health of so many of those dogs at risk and potentially put other dogs in the area at risk of catching certain diseases and parasites."
She asked for Coleman to be banned from the property as the case proceeds because there are records and paperwork that could potentially be evidence. Daniel Cappetta, Coleman's attorney, objected to insinuation that Coleman would tamper with evidence.
During a Jan. 13 inspection, state Animal Health Inspector Linda Harrod wrote that Coleman tried to mislead inspectors by having a kennel staff member move a dog, Ivan, that Coleman had previously said was adopted.
"As inspectors moved to the kennel area, (a staff member) was observed outside the building moving Ivan from the back kennel and placing him in Director Coleman's car," Harrod wrote.
Representatives of the organization have said that $50,000 has been spent on renovations at the shelter. Coleman declined comment Wednesday morning.
Cappetta told Cunis that Coleman has a 35-year track record of rescuing and adopting out dogs. He said in an interview after the arraignment that Coleman estimates she's rescued close to 10,000 dogs. "She is someone who has devoted her entire life to rescuing animals from cruelty and any suggestions that Louise was ever cruel to any animal is flat out false," he said.
He argued the stay-away order is unnecessary.
"She is occasionally, very occasionally, required to go to the facility to hand off information and responsibilities to other people who are still involved in Greyhound Friends," he told Cunis.
With no dogs in the kennel and other staff members, Cunis disagreed.
"There is no reason for her to be there," he said. "It's an ongoing investigation."
Among the crowd of supporters, Julie Wakstein and Alyse Morrisette took a different view.
Wakstein adopted a one-eyed greyhound mix named Sammi, who lived in the shelter for more than two years. She said a lot of long-stay dogs at Greyhound Friends, who in some cases were there for years, end up being moved to other shelters and were then adopted much more quickly.
"There is a lot of scientific data to support the fact long-term incarceration is mentally and physically detrimental to their health," she said. "Nobody disagrees that Louise has saved a lot of dogs, but she hasn't done it in a responsible and humane way."
Coleman takes on too many dogs and can't care for them in a proper way, Morrisette said.
Gail Reichert, a longtime volunteer who adopted Frannie, a greyhound from the organization, said Coleman takes in dogs that would have no quality of life or would otherwise die if they were not rescued. She said all greyhounds are used to their small kennels at the track and volunteers work to help socialize them as pets.
"It is all about the dogs," she said. "They are suffering because they can't come into the kennel now. She rescues dogs that come from the South that have a lot of issues."
Leger said he's often stopped by the shelter to help walk dogs or drop off food.
"That's why we are shocked," he said. "We would come by unannounced and saw nothing. There was nothing negative done to the dogs."
(Metrowest Daily - March 30, 2017)