FRAMINGHAM — The founder of Greyhound Friends pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a charge of felony animal cruelty and was ordered by a district court judge to stay away from the Hopkinton kennel.
Louise Coleman, who founded the organization in 1983 and had served as its executive director until taking a leave of absence earlier this month, was charged after state inspectors said they found “continuous unsanitary conditions” at the kennel.
Since January, Greyhound Friends has been closed, and the organization is currently subject to a state-issued cease and desist order, the kennel’s third since 2010.
Framingham District Court Judge David W. Cunis ordered Coleman, 72, of Sherborn released on personal recognizance and ordered her to stay away from Greyhound Friends or work in a kennel for the duration of the case.
Following her arraignment Wednesday, Coleman declined to comment through her attorney, Daniel Cappetta.
Cappetta said that Coleman has a 35-year track record in the community working with animals and has helped place 10,000 dogs into homes.
“Any suggestion she was ever cruel to any animal is false,” Cappetta said.
About 60 supporters of Coleman packed one side of the courtroom, some wearing shirts with the Greyhound Friends name printed on them, others wearing silver armbands to show their support.
Cindy Sorensen, a volunteer at Greyhound Friends since adopting a dog there in 1992, said she never received a complaint about the treatment of dogs. She dismissed the accuracy of inspections of the property.
“I did not see the circumstances described,” Sorensen said in an interview. “The kennel is worn, not dangerous.”
Michael McCann, who adopted a greyhound from the organization in 1994 and has volunteered there since, said Coleman works with animals that have trouble being placed into the right home.
“She’s always taking in the difficult ones, the ones that are hard to place,” McCann said.
The case is scheduled to return to court for a pretrial conference in May. The complaint was filed against Coleman by the Animal Rescue League of Boston.
Earlier this month, state inspectors faulted Hopkinton town officials’ handling of Greyhound Friends, both for failing to properly enforce the town’s own existing regulations and for poor tracking of the kennel’s records.
“By allowing a kennel licensee to house more dogs than the capacity of the facility, the Town of Hopkinton has contributed to the multitude of problems at GF,” according to a March 9 report from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources.
Since 2011, town boards have increased the permitted number of dogs on the property from 22 to 35. During the final inspection in January before the facility’s kennel permit was suspended, state officials found 38 dogs, according to records.
Inspectors reported finding unsafe facilities in “dire need of repair,” problems with cleanliness, and concerns that dogs were not being properly diagnosed for any infectious or contagious disease.
One inspector called Greyhound Friends an “inhumane place of detention for animals.”
All dogs kept at Greyhound Friends were transferred to other registered shelters and rescues, according to a spokeswoman with the state Department of Agricultural Resources.
Coleman previously told the Globe that the kennel, located at 167 Saddle Hill Road, has undergone $50,000 in renovations to address problems found by inspectors in January.
In an interview Monday, Coleman declined to answer questions, citing her then-pending arraignment. “We’ll comply with whatever we’re asked to comply with,” she said.
David Ball, a spokesman for Greyhound Friends, pointed to a letter sent by the organization to selectmen that outlined changes the organization is making, including the resignation of Coleman from its board of directors.
“Through our efforts to put in place the right structure for our organization, we look forward to reopening our doors when we have satisfactorily addressed the issues raised by the agencies that oversee our work,” the statement said.
In 2015, the organization earned about $447,000 and Coleman was paid about $55,000 as executive director, according to public tax records. On the kennel’s grounds in Hopkinton, Coleman’s name is engraved on a stone sculpture out front.
Despite reports that Greyhound Friends repeatedly kept more dogs than it was allowed under its permit, “GF has consistently exceeded that number with no repercussion from the town,” state officials reported in March.
An anticipated public hearing Tuesday on whether to reinstate Greyhound Friends’s kennel license was postponed at the request of the organization, said Norman Khumalo, Hopkinton’s town manager.
Khumalo said the town worked to address problems at the kennel, but said the town’s authority was limited. He pointed to a proposed kennel bylaw that he said would strengthen local authority over kennels.
“We take these issues seriously,” said Khumalo.
Records released by the town reveal a pattern of public complaints leveled against Greyhound Friends stretching back to 1988 reporting overcrowding and other problems.
That year, then-town dog officer Susan Sebilian told selectmen about overcrowding at the kennel. Coleman said at the time she would reduce the number of dogs on the property, records show.
Coleman “always just had too many, and consequently, the kennel was always kind of a mess,” Sebilian said in a recent interview.
Amy McConnell, who along with her boyfriend adopted a greyhound from the kennel around July of last year, said in an interview that her new dog was happy but underweight, and she discovered the dog had tapeworms after bringing him home.
She said she regrets not filing a complaint with the town after Coleman couldn’t find some medical records for the dog.
Cathy Staniunas, who volunteered at Greyhound Friends from 2013 to 2015, said the kennel was “a dreary, very sad environment” when she worked there on Sunday mornings. Staniunas described a confrontational relationship with Coleman, who fired her as a volunteer for “not following orders.”
Coleman declined to comment. Staniunas said she debated filing a complaint, but now regrets she didn’t.
“The problem was she was taking in too many dogs,” Staniunas said of Coleman, “and wasn’t placing them in homes fast enough.”
But Coleman’s supporters said they were shocked at the allegations leveled against her and Greyhound Friends, saying they don’t reflect the organization they’ve come to know.
Ellen Jean Cooley, who adopted her dog in 2015, said Coleman was the only person who correctly diagnosed a problem with her dog’s paw and recommended a veterinarian to treat it.
“She would be the last person to abuse dogs,” Cooley said. “She’s always trying to save dogs, as many as possible.”
John Hilliard can be reached at email@example.com.