Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Great Bend Towards Justice

Nearly two centuries ago, abolitionist Theodore Parker gave voice to the idea that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice. Although I believe this to be true, change can also be disappointingly slow.

Saving Greys has been silent for several months, because I have been deeply engaged in fights to help greyhounds in several states. The legislative season is almost over, and the greyhound protection community did win important victories, including a $2 million reduction in dog race subsidies in West Virginia.

At the same time, I'm deeply disappointed by the work that has been left undone. Although the Florida Senate unanimously passed a greyhound injury reporting law, the House never followed suit. Greyhound decoupling passed three Florida committees, but never advanced to the floor of either chamber. Meanwhile, Lawmakers in Oregon and Connecticut neglected to vote on proposals to outlaw dog racing.

Of course, not ever year can be like 2014, when we helped pass multiple major pieces of legislation to help greyhounds and end dog racing. Still, it's easy to be frustrated when we see greyhound continue to suffer while change is delayed.

It's important to keep in mind that commercial greyhound racing has existed for more than eight decades. After its introduction in Florida in 1931, it took the industry a full sixty years to peak. At its high point, dog racing was legal and operational in nineteen states, and roughly $3.5 billion was bet on greyhound races nationwide.

Today, the industry has shrunk to only 21 tracks in seven states. In the two decades between 1991 and 2012, the most recent year we have data for, gambling on greyhound racing fell by 81%. Similarly, since 2012 betting on dog races in Florida, where twelve tracks are located, declined by a further 6.5%.

It's also very notable that the movement to end greyhound racing has gone global. There are now active campaigns to reform or end greyhound racing in Great Britain, Australia, Macau and New Zealand. Just last week John Kaye, Greens Member of the New South Wales Parliament, introduced the first ever bill to outlaw dog racing Down Under. He has launched an informative web page and petition, and deserves our support.

Every year, we grow stronger while the commercial greyhound racing industry grows weaker. GREY2K USA now has more than 100,000 supporters worldwide. We have an expanding team of researchers and advocates, and have established key relationships with allies like the ASPCA, Humane Society of the United States, League Against Cruel Sports and Animals Australia.

Meanwhile, dog race promoters have added nothing substantive to the debate. Their cynical strategy of personal attacks has failed, and their cruel industry is slowly slipping away one day at a time.

The moral arc of the universe does bend towards justice, and we are winning the fight to end greyhound racing. Although it pains us to see the daily suffering of racing dogs, we must be patient and stay the course.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A New Hope for British Greyhounds

For decades, greyhounds have suffered and died in Great Britain. There are 33 commercial tracks in the country, and more than 7,500 greyhounds were registered to race in 2013. In recent years one humane problem after another has been documented, and as a result there is an active grassroots movement fighting to outlaw the industry.

At GREY2K USA Worldwide, we stand in solidarity with these grassroots groups. At the same time, we are excited by the emergence of a new voice for British greyhounds. The League Against Cruel Sports is an effective, established, savvy organization. Formed in 1924, the League advocates for animals through many means, including investigations, campaigning, and lobbying.

Three weeks ago, GREY2K USA Worldwide President Christine Dorchak and I joined the League at a special event in Parliament, where we released a joint report. The State of Greyhound Racing in Great Britain covers humane, economic and regulatory issues. It also calls for the following changes:
  • A public review, by lawmakers, of current greyhound welfare regulations.
  • Full public reporting on greyhound injuries, breeding, import and export, transport, daily living conditions, retirement, adoption and euthanasia.
  • A prohibition on the use of anabolic steroids to prevent estrus in female greyhounds.
  • A legal requirement that every racing greyhound ultimately be adopted.
These are all common sense measures that will help thousands of dogs. More importantly, they will begin to lift the veil of secrecy that now shrouds the greyhound industry.

This is the industry's last chance. It can either make real reforms or face a full-blown campaign that will not stop until commercial dog racing is prohibited. Either way, I'm convinced that change is inevitable in Great Britain. There is now a broad based coalition for the dogs, a partnership of grassroots advocates from all over the country joined with an effective national organization.

This coalition has already made an impact: the release of a landmark report, a powerful video, and the launch of an official government petition that already has nearly 15,000 signatures. These are the first achievements for a campaign that has the potential to move mountains.

The British greyhound racing industry has nowhere to run, and can no longer hide.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Florida Study: Racing Greyhounds are Underfed

Puppies at a Kansas breeding farm, circa 2013
Over the years, I have heard the claim that greyhounds are intentionally underfed while at commercial racetracks. I always assumed this was a misunderstanding based on the sleek greyhound physique. It turns out, however, that this claim may in fact be true.

According to a 2005 study, it is a "common practice" for greyhound trainers to "mildly restrict" the food intake of racing dogs "to reduce body weight." The study, titled "Effect of mild restriction of food intake on the speed of racing Greyhounds," was conducted by the University of Florida, University of Minnesota, University of Aberdeen, and the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition. It was also supported by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering and Novartis.

The Florida study found that dogs were "significantly faster" when food intake was restricted. It also found that when dogs were restricted food, they had "slightly fewer neutrophils," white blood cells that form an essential part of the immune system.

Finally, the study also comments on the general body condition score of racing greyhounds:
"A body condition score of approximately 3.5 on a 9-point scale is normal for a trained Greyhound in racing condition."
According to the widely cited Nestle Purina Body Condition System, 3.5 is considered "too thin." It describes this designation as:
"Ribs easily palpated and may be visible with no palpable fat.  Tops of lumbar vertebrae visible. Pelvic bones becoming prominent. Obvious waist and abdominal tuck."
This is yet another standard practice that the dog racing industry uses to increase profits while at the same time reducing costs. The racing industry can't exist without cutting corners, and it's always greyhounds who pay the price.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Seven Things You May Not Know About Greyhounds and "4-D" Meat

4-D Meat at a Commercial Dog Track
Last week, the News-Journal reported on the deaths of two racing greyhounds at Daytona Beach Kennel Club. According to state records the dogs were found in the bottom of their cages, lying in pools of blood. Nearly a hundred other greyhounds in the same kennel also became ill, apparently from a foodborne pathogen.

At dog tracks across the country, greyhounds are fed 4-D meat. In light of the Daytona incident, here are seven things you might not know about this standard practice.
  1. 4-D stands for dying, diseased, disabled and dead livestock. This meat is deemed unfit for human consumption, and includes denatured charcoal to prevent human use.

  2. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the use of 4-D meat in the racing industry is a potential health hazard. According to an FDA Compliance Policy Guide, the use of 4-D meat at dog tracks "may present a potential health hazard to the animals that consume it and to the people who handle it." The FDA also considers 4-D meat an "adulterated" product, and its shipment across state lines "is subject to appropriate regulatory action."

  3. Multiple studies have proven a direct link between 4-D meat and dangerous pathogens, including Salmonella. Also, according to an industry expert, racing greyhounds suffer from foodborne illnesses that other dogs do not. In a 1996 article, Dr. Brad Fenwick claimed that "foodborne diseases in dogs appear to be rare with the exception of greyhounds in the United States."

  4. Greyhound trainers use 4-D meat as a way to cut costs. According to industry handbook Care of the Racing and Retired Greyhound, 4-D meat is used because "it is the most economically feasible for the Greyhound industry at this time." This same handbook also reports problems associated with the use of this meat, including exposure to pathogenic bacteria and false drug positives.
  5. 4-D meat is mixed in large bathtubs at the track

  6. Greyhounds are fed 4-D meat raw. Cooking the meat would remove dangerous pathogens, but greyhound trainers refuse to do so because they are afraid of negatively affecting race performance.

  7. The use of raw 4-D meat at dog tracks is banned in South Tucson, Arizona. This prohibition was approved by local voters in 2008. Unfortunately, it's not clear whether this law has ever been enforced.

  8. This cheap meat is used at every dog track in the country. According to a 2003 letter from the National Greyhound Association, the NGA is "unaware of any professional Greyhound kennels or farms that use any other classification of meat as a major part of their Greyhound feeding programs."
The use of cheap 4-D meat is another example of how the dog racing industry cuts corners. The industry seeks to maximize the profit margin for every dog, at the expense of animal welfare. Unfortunately, greyhounds are continuing to suffer as a result of this recklessness.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Texas Commission Delays Vote on Proposal to Subsidize Dog Racing

Marlee lives with her adopted family in Texas
Yesterday, the Texas Racing Commission delayed voting on a proposal to legalize so-called "Instant Racing" machines. Instant Racing devices are racing-themed slot machines, and in Texas would be used to directly subsidize dog races at Gulf Greyhound Park.

Greyhound racing is dying in Texas. Between 2007 and 2012, the amount gambled on live dog races in the state declined by 61%. During the same period, dog track attendance was cut in half. Wealthy dog track owners are desperate, and reaching for any opportunity to salvage their failing venture.

Greyhound racing should not be artificially propped up. Over the last six years, 2,150 greyhound injuries have been reported at Gulf Greyhound Park, including 86 fatal injuries. Those dogs died needlessly, at a gambling facility that is not economically viable. Hundreds of greyhounds also endure lives of confinement at Gulf, kept in small cages for long hours each day.

We are proud to stand with other humane organizations in opposing this terrible proposal, and are grateful for the support of the Texas Humane Legislative Network, the Humane Society of the United States, and the ASPCA. Together, we have joined a diverse coalition of organizations that oppose Instant Racing. Other groups that have weighed in include Stop Predatory Gambling Texas, Empower Texans, and the General Baptist Convention of Texas.

It's a positive sign that the Texas Racing Commission has delayed voting on Instant Racing, but the fight is not over yet. Everyone who cares about greyhounds should contact Texas Governor Rick Perry today, and ask him to oppose Instant Racing.

Together, let's send Texas dog track owners a message that their cruelty will not be rewarded.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Report Reveals Stark Conditions at Macau Dog Track

In late June, a trade group for the Australian racing industry, Greyhounds Australasia, released a review of greyhound exports. This report includes new details about the Canidrome dog track in Macau, where hundreds of greyhounds die every year. According to the review:
"Construction of the kennels is almost entirely concrete and metal. Each individual kennel is numbered and has a raised bed with some bedding ... the entire facility can house up to 900 greyhounds."
"The kennels are 50 years old and appear dark and uninviting but were clean and cool."
"There were no runs' or outdoor yards for exercise ... many of the greyhounds chose to lie on the concrete floor of their kennels."
The report also indicates that as many as half of all greyhounds that race at the Canidrome are killed annually:
"Macau management confirmed that close to 50 per cent of their racing stock were euthanized each year due to serious injury."
The greyhounds that aren't killed instead live the rest of their life in dismal conditions. This is partly because greyhounds are imported to Macau under a working dog license, and not allowed to be pets. This means that Brooklyn the greyhound may still be alive, and being kept in a concrete kennel with hundreds of other dogs. According to the review:
"At the end of a greyhound's career, its owner decides on what will happen to the greyhound. Some continue to pay their kennel fees and the dogs are simply housed at the Canidrome until old age - GA delegates met a number of these elderly residents during our visit."
Regarding injuries, the review indicates that "many" of the Canidrome greyhounds were previously hurt in Australia before being sent to Macau. It also states that there are serious problems with the Canidrome track surface, including issues that cannot be resolved:
"The track has two parallel straights with quite tight turns at either end ... there is no possibility of the track shape being able to be modified due to the other land uses both inside and outside the track."
What does the future hold for the Canidrome?
"The track surface appears to be too dry and too hard most of the time and the manual methods of preparing the racing surface is likely to lead to inconsistent race surfaces ... it is not possible for the track shape to be altered."
Incredibly, after documenting all of this cruelty, Greyhounds Australasia was still predisposed to defend the Canidrome. According to the review, group representatives found it "extremely difficult to be overly critical of the greyhound racing operations in Macau." Further, although the group has suspended greyhound passports to the track, their decision has not prevented Australian greyhounds from being shipped there.

It's now clear that the greyhound racing industry will take no serious action to address the problems in Macau. The government has no choice but to close the track, and we are asking it to do so when the Canidrome's lease expires at the end of 2015.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

NGA Tells Sheriff Not to File Charges, Instead Tries to Profit from Greyhound Neglect Case

A greyhound puppy at the Vonderstrasse
farm in Kansas, 2012
Last week the National Greyhound Association (NGA) announced it was revoking the membership of Shane Vonderstrasse, after an inspection at his Arkansas breeding facility found greyhounds "not receiving proper care and adequate shelter." The NGA is a lobby group that represents greyhound breeders.

In its statement, the NGA indicated that it was "accompanied by local law enforcement" agents during the inspection. It also quoted Executive Director Gary Guccione, who claimed this incident is proof the industry effectively polices itself:
"This was an unusual case that required NGA's immediate action and full attention ... NGA representatives and members responded to the situation swiftly and effectively." 
As usual, the NGA is only telling the public part of the story. The full truth is shocking, and proves that the NGA's top priority is protecting greyhound breeders, even those who have committed acts of serious animal neglect.

According to an official Incident Report from the Izard County Sheriff's Office, a large number of dogs were in distress when the Vonderstrasse inspection occurred. Citing a witness, the Report states:
"There was 141 dogs that were alive and 2 were deceased (sic) ... some of them had to be nursed back to health ... the dogs that were dead had died from lack of food and water. He said Mr. [redacted] only had financial ability and means to house 50 to 60 dogs."
NGA Executive Gary Guccione,
photo from Facebook, 2013
The report also indicates that Vonderstrasse had at least one previous incident involving animal welfare, and the NGA "had a problem with [name redacted] a short time back in Abilene concerning greyhound dogs and had to pick up a number of the dogs at that time." This previous incident has also been mentioned in recent industry discussions.

After the dogs were rescued, the Izard County Sheriff's Office asked the NGA if it wanted to press charges against Vonderstrasse:
"I asked [name redacted] if they wished for the state to press charges on [name redacted] for this incident. He told me I needed to talk with Gary Guccione [partially redacted] to see if they wished to press charges."
Incredibly, three days later the NGA responded by telling the Sheriff's Office not to charge Vonderstrasse with animal neglect:
"He stated that he did not wish to pursue charges because he believed they 'got all they were going to get' from [name redacted]. [name redacted] also said he would not be willing to come to Izard County to testify in Court."
As outrageous as that admission is, the next revelation in the Incident Report is even more troubling:
After being rescued, Lady Wire and her four young
puppies are being auctioned off on Friday
"He also stated he did not want people knowing that he was not willing to do so."
Unfortunately, this story has one more sad chapter. After being rescued, some of the Vonderstrasse dogs were given to adoption groups. But at least 23 dogs from the case are being auctioned off to the highest bidder by the NGA on Friday. The auction list includes a nine-year-old fawn greyhound named Gable Eris. Three years ago she was sold to Vonderstrasse for a mere $400, and after everything she has been through she deserves a break.

But there will be no retirement for Gable Eris if the NGA gets its way. She is on the auction block so the industry can make a few more dollars off of her sad life. She is joined by seven other female greyhounds to be used for breeding, including an eight-year-old red fawn greyhound named Lady Wire. Lady Wire is being auctioned off with four young puppies that are only a few weeks old. Her puppies were born nine days after Lady Wire was removed from the Vonderstrasse farm.

Enough is enough. The NGA should be seen for what it actually is: a lobby group that covers up for greyhound breeders, and prevents them from being held accountable for their actions. It puts out press releases, while at the same time actively enabling greyhound cruelty and neglect.