Animals helped him through his darkest days. Now, he's determined to help them.

Posted at 7:30 AM, Dec 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-23 13:26:13-05

MECHANICSVILLE, Va. — James Mellon goes the distance for greyhounds.

“They’re pretty good on a leash as you can see,” said James. “The greyhound spends most of their time walking with their nose on the ground.”

He volunteers at James River Greyhounds, which rescues dogs at the few remaining race tracks in the country.

“If you’re interested in a pet there is no better pet than a retired racer,” explained James.

Running a shelter with a couple of dozen dogs takes lots of resources.

“Dog food, we go through about a 50-pound bag about every day and a half,” said James.

But the burden at James River Greyhounds will be eased a bit this holiday thanks to the work of Austin Gammon.

Austin Gammon

The 24-year-old is the founder of Operation Furry Christmas: A four-year-old holiday campaign that collects toys, beds and donations for animals at four shelters in central Virginia.

“These cats and dogs deserve to have people that care for them.”

Austin, who lives with autism, has a soft spot for four-legged friends.

“Growing up, animals were my world,” said Austin. “They meant the world to me.”

As a child and teen, Austin found himself in the crosshairs of bullies. Pets were his salvation.

“I was bullied and picked on in school. High school all four years,” said Austin. “It hurt a lot, but I know that my pets were what got me through it.”

Animals lifted Austin during his darkest days. Now, he is determined to pay it forward.

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Austin Gammon

“I want them to wake up in no-kill shelters on Christmas and that they know someone cares deep enough about them,” said Austin.

Donna Gammon said her son always thinks of others. From the elderly to pets. The proud mom said Austin’s generosity is second to none.

“It is like I told him, ‘You may have to take a different path to get there, but don’t ever let a label stop you.’ So far he hasn’t,” said Donna. “That is just Austin. He is just compassionate. I think he is an old soul. He has a loving and giving heart.”

Hanover Green veterinary clinic is working with Austin’s Operation Furry Christmas.

Bins fill up fast with kibble, leashes and bedding. The items will be divided up between four no-kill shelters — including James River Greyhound.

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Austin Gammon

James Mellon said Austin’s efforts will go a long way to help homeless dogs at the shelter.

“You know every little bit counts,” said James. “Whatever he ends up donating to our organization through this campaign that he is putting forth, we appreciate it immensely.”

Tis the season of giving. With Austin Gammon leading the pack, it’s also a time of tails-a-wagging on Christmas morning.

“I really truly appreciate it,” said Austin. “It means a lot to me knowing these animals can wake up and have something to celebrate.”

James and the other volunteers at James River Greyhounds said they will always remember Austin’s kindness.

“Austin is an amazing young man,” said James. “We’re honored as a group that he thought about us as a campaign to help out shelter dogs.”

Austin’s "Cat of the Week" Facebook group already has more than 8,000 members.

Austin Gammon

If you would like to donate to Austin’s Operation Furry Christmas, click here.

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