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Off Track, on Greyhounds

Alum’s photos capture Wonderland’s twilight

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In the slide show above, Paul Defilippo, an employee of Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere, Mass., makes his morning rounds with his two retired race dogs. Photos by Jane Fox

Jane Fox doesn’t remember how she first heard, in fall 2008, about the controversy over banning greyhound racing, just that she wanted to see the practice for herself.

Then a first-semester graduate student in photojournalism, Fox (COM’09) set out for Wonderland Greyhound Park, a Depression-era holdover in Revere, Mass., and wandered in with her camera.

“I was chastised for trying to take photographs and met a complete dead end,” she says. Frustrated, she left the park, but stopped to take down a phone number on a billboard about adopting greyhounds.

“I thought, well, if I can’t do the racetrack, maybe I can just look at the greyhounds,” she recalls. She called the number then and there and reached the track’s secretary. Unable to understand Fox’s Scottish burr, the secretary told her to come around to the side entrance if she wanted to see one of the adopted dogs.

The dog belonged to Paul Defilippo, Wonderland’s assistant labor foreman for more than 30 years. The racing season had ended, Defilippo told her, but she was welcome to follow him and his two greyhounds, Devil Dog and Smiley Boy, as he made his rounds.

“I think the largest part of photojournalism is your people skills,” Fox says with a laugh.

Out of Fox’s chance meeting with Defilippo emerged atmospheric photos of Wonderland Park that capture a track, a sport, and a man in their twilight.

This month marks the end of greyhound racing in Massachusetts. In a November 2008 referendum, voters chose to ban the practice and gave the two Massachusetts tracks, Wonderland and Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park, until January 1, 2010, to hold their final live races.

Animal rights advocates, who argue the dogs are inhumanely forced to spend long hours in cages, applauded the successful antiracing campaign headed by BU alum Christine Dorchak (COM’90). But the ban drew criticism from defenders of the 75-year tradition, who worried that the greyhounds — as well as track employees — would face a grim future.

Fox, now a reporter and photographer at the Journal of the San Juan Islands, just off the coast of Washington state, says she went into the story “a blank slate. It’s standard procedure to go in with one brain cell and just report what’s actually there.”

She struck up an unlikely friendship with Defilippo and his dogs as her project stretched over several weeks. She would ride the T to the end of the Blue Line to catch him working in quiet moments before dawn and after the park had closed.

“I wouldn’t say he was particularly complicated,” Fox says, describing Defilippo. “He was just interested in making a living, making sure his son got through school, and in his dogs.”

Fox worked to capture Defilippo’s relationship with his dogs, both former racers. For instance, she says, he would buy Devil Dog and Smiley Boy a plate of chicken and rice pilaf every morning from the same snack car, insisting that the chicken must be hot.

For now, Wonderland remains open: last-minute legislation gave the track an extension to host simulcasts and off-track betting until July 31. Defilippo is one of roughly 100 Wonderland employees able to keep their jobs for the time being.

But the cages are now empty, and Defilippo’s routine of caring for racing dogs and maintaining the track is consigned to Fox’s photos.

“I hope they express an emptiness and sadness — this guy spent so much of his life here and now it was shutting down,” she says. “It was a very melancholic story.”

Fox’s photo essay was originally published in the 2009 edition of The Comment, the College of Communication graduate student magazine.

Katie Koch can be reached at katieleekoch@gmail.com.

1 Comments

One Comment on Off Track, on Greyhounds

  • chang le on 02.10.2010 at 4:35 am

    Jane Fox doesn’t remember how she first heard, in fall 2008, about the controversy over banning greyhound racing, just that she wanted to see the practice for herself. Very nice post, thanks for the update.

    Regards: french mastiff

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