Monday, August 14, 2017

The Futility Of Regulation

Guest Blog by Fred Barton

The doping scandal in Jacksonville is but the latest tear in the already thin fabric of lies the greyhound industry has woven to keep people from seeing the heartless cruelty that is the center of this barbaric “sport.” There have been 24 positive results for Benzoylecgonine (BZE) a metabolite of cocaine at Orange Park Greyhound Track and as of this writing two trainers have had their licenses suspended by the state as a result.

Of course the industry trots out the usual excuses and obfuscations to explain yet another instance of how these dogs who are supposedly so well cared for could have been abused. Jamie Shelton, president of the Orange Park track, said the cocaine reports had been “sensationalized” by the press. He suggested that the drug positive tests may have come from inadvertent exposure, or from environmental contamination. This is an example of the classic industry tactic of trying to change the subject. It’s not about giving illegal drugs to innocent living creatures so they might run a little faster and make their owners more of a profit; it’s about drugs in society.

No one is buying it. In West Virginia, Senate President Mitch Carmichael was alarmed by the link between the doping of greyhounds in Florida and the president of his state’s Kennel Owners Association. In a letter to the state Racing Commission he wrote, "West Virginia's possible ties to alleged drug abuse in the greyhound racing industry is obviously very troublesome. As you know, the reputation of the greyhound racing industry is lackluster to say the least." 

Over 200 racing greyhounds have tested positive for cocaine since 2001
Kiowa Amage Me is one of over 200 racing greyhounds who have tested positive for cocaine since 2001

“Lackluster” is being kind. As the money dries up and the industry contracts towards its final collapse, the pressure to win will intensify and the ultimate victims of that pressure will be the innocent greyhounds. In the past, dogs who didn’t finish in the money were dumped and replaced, but breeding of racing greyhounds has dropped over 60% since 2001. This means there are fewer dogs around to replace slow ones, hence the temptations to augment their effort with drugs. 

Of course this is illegal and the state agency that oversees greyhound racing in Florida quickly responded to what is turning out to be one of the most egregious violations of regulations since the Ronnie Williams scandal. We may be tempted to take some comfort in that fact, but don’t let the promise of regulatory enforcement lead to a false sense of security. First of all, these departments are woefully underfunded for the job they are asked to do and cash strapped states are loath to open their pocketbooks to fund the money losing activity that pari-mutuel betting has become. In Arizona for example, the state may defund the Department of Gaming altogether. Second, to think that regulations—even if they were enforced vigorously—would guarantee the lives and welfare of the greyhounds is naive. 

The greyhound racing industry rests on two fundamental core principles: profit and exploitation. No amount of regulation will change that, and no increase in oversight can change the mindset of those who seek to live off the backs of the dogs. An English trainer named Rob White was perhaps most honest about that when he replied in a Facebook comment, “Greyhounds are livestock, like it or not.”

From the industry perspective, like livestock, greyhounds are brought into this world to make money for their owners, and this is their sole purpose and the only thing that makes their lives valuable. Regulations may limit how that mindset manifests itself from time to time, but it is impossible to regulate away the cruelty of racing.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Florida is Focus of Global Fight to End Dog Racing

This weekend, Palm Beach County in Florida will become the focus of the global effort to end greyhound racing. Two dozen top animal welfare experts from across the world are joining together in Delray Beach to hold the first ever international conference on greyhound advocacy, named Greyhounds Around the Globe.

Commercial dog racing is now conducted at 146 racetracks in eight countries. Greyhounds routinely suffer racing injuries at these tracks including broken legs, broken necks, dislocations, torn muscles and paralysis. Some dogs die while racing while others are put down due to the severity of their injuries, or simply because of their diminished value as racers. More than 12,000 injuries have been documented in the U.S. alone since 2008, and in Florida a racing greyhound is dying every three days, on average.

In New South Wales, Australia, recent governments report shows that thirty-nine dogs were killed while racing in just over two months, and that 70% of all racing dogs may have been destroyed over the last dozen years, as either puppies or failed racers. At the Canidrome in Macau, the only legal dog track in China, greyhounds receive little or no veterinary care and are routinely killed at a rate of thirty per month. Because there is no adoption program, no dog gets out alive. In the countries of Great Britain, Mexico, Ireland, Vietnam and New Zealand, records are still not publicly disclosed, so the number of greyhound injuries and deaths remain an industry secret.

A worldwide movement has emerged to fight this cruel industry, and we are gradually winning. Grassroots advocates have linked arms with established animal protection groups like The Humane Society of the United States, RSPCA Australia, Animals Australia, Animals Asia, Anima Macau, the British RSPCA and the ASPCA. This coalition is fighting for a phase out of commercial dog racing, while also advocating for key industry reforms.

GREY2K USA Worldwide lobbyist Michael Preston Green declares victory in Arizona
Just in the last year, we have won stunning greyhound protection victories. In May, Arizona became the 40th American state to outlaw greyhound racing. The largest Australian state, New South Wales, voted to prohibit dog racing in August. Although the government has since decided to allow a small remnant of the industry to temporarily survive, dozens of tracks are still slated to close. Also in August it was announced that the last dog track in London, iconic Wimbledon Stadium, is permanently closing. Meanwhile, the Macau Canidrome is in the process of shutting down after the government refused to extend its land lease.

Florida has become the epicenter of this global fight, and humane advocates are starting to win victories in the Sunshine State, too. In March, lawmakers passed a budget proviso requiring the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to report greyhound injuries to the public for the first time. The dogs won again this summer when Seminole County Commissioners approved the Greyhound Protection Act, a local citizens initiative to require greyhound injury reporting, require reporting on the ultimate fate of racing dogs, and eliminate a loophole that exempted greyhounds from County licensing and inspection laws.

We realize our historic conference is taking place only twenty miles from Palm Beach Kennel Club, the preeminent commercial dog track in the world. To its credit, Palm Beach has directed its attention to some humane issues and recently announced a series of adoption events in the month of October. Nevertheless, it is not immune from the culture of cruelty that permeates the greyhound industry. According to state records, 25 dogs have died at Palm Beach since 2013. To ensure the track has a ready supply of racers, hundreds of greyhounds endure lives of confinement, kept in cages barely large enough for them to stand up or turn around for long hours each day.

At the conclusion of our conference, our coalition will send a letter to the heads of states of the eight countries that still host commercial dog tracks. We will urge them to support legislation to end greyhound racing and tell them that dogs deserve better. It is time for this cruelty to end in Florida, the state where it started, and worldwide.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Our Grief Must be Turned Into Action for Greyhounds

Across the world, greyhound advocates are frustrated and hurt by the announcement that New South Wales, Australia will severely reduce dog racing rather than prohibit it altogether. There is a growing sense that the dogs have not only been failed by the New South Wales government, but the political process itself cannot be trusted. We must reject that assessment.

We are all living through history, playing a part in a global debate that will inevitably end with a complete prohibition on commercial dog racing. Our victory is certain, because the greyhound industry contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. To operate as a profitable commercial enterprise, it must utilize practices that go against our mainstream values about the humane treatment of animals. The entire industry lacks a social license, and will inevitably be outlawed.

Unfortunately, the change we seek will not happen on our desired timeline. It will be a slow, gradual process that unfolds over decades or even generations. That may sound unbearable, but in the grand course of history a generation is barely a blink of the eye.  In fact, I'm amazed by the progress we have already made.

Just in the fifteen years since GREY2K USA Worldwide formed, we have seen seeds of compassion grow into a global movement to end the cruelty of greyhound racing. The American industry has been reduced to a mere 18 operational tracks in only five states, with roughly $500 million bet on races nationwide. At its peak, nearly $3.5 billion was bet on races held at nearly sixty tracks in nineteen states. The industry is also economically collapsing in the United Kingdom, where the last dog track in London, iconic Wimbledon Stadium, is set to close. The worst dog track in the world, the Macau Canidrome, is teetering after having received a government ultimatum to close or move.

In Australia, the last twenty months represent a tectonic shift in the history of greyhound racing. The plan that has been floated by the New South Wales government includes the closure of dozens of commercial dog tracks, a vast reduction of greyhound breeding, bonds for each dog born into the industry, track restructures aimed at reducing injuries, and other major reforms. These changes reflect a political victory, not a defeat. They are also a huge step towards the day when greyhound racing is prohibited everywhere.

Finally, every time we speak up for greyhounds we become political actors. We should be grateful for the democratic mechanisms that allow us to oppose and even abolish injustice. Rather than blame the political process for the New South Wales reversal, we should instead accept the fact that the greyhound industry deftly used politics to temporarily salvage a small remnant of itself. Dog race promoters flexed their political muscles, and threatened to pull the government apart if they didn't get their way. Using media surrogates, they engaged in a campaign of misinformation and bullying, and didn't stop until they won.

Because the animal advocacy community is committed to justice, we must never allow ourselves to use these underhanded tactics. We can, however, become more effective at using the democratic mechanisms ourselves. The solution is not to reject the political process, but to become better at it. This is one of the goals of this weekend's Greyhounds Around the Globe conference.

We are holding a winning hand, and must stand together in solidarity as we fight for the freedom of these gentle dogs. Today is about our frustration and grief over a bad government decision that will harm greyhounds. But tomorrow must be about our resolve, and a commitment to be even stronger advocates for greyhounds.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Jeroen van Kernebeek: Why We Fight for Greyhounds

I am reporting only a few hundred meters away from where Australia’s first greyhound race took place at what was then called Epping in New South Wales. It was a day all of us wish had never happened. But it did, and this started 90 years of cruelty to greyhounds in Australia as the industry soon expanded and currently operates 67 tracks in all states and territories.

Happily, this week marks a massive change of fortune for the greys. With the New South Wales Parliament passing legislation to close all of its 34 tracks by July 1 2017, half of this country’s operating facilities will be shuttered and thousands of greyhounds will be spared from injury, abuse and death each year going forward.

Let’s briefly put this into perspective. There are just eight jurisdictions in the world with a commercial dog racing industry and five of these combined have fewer tracks than the number of tracks that will be closing in NSW (USA, Macau, Mexico, New Zealand and Vietnam). The whole of the UK has 35 tracks. These numbers show how big this week’s victory is!

Wednesday’s decision by the NSW Parliament to stop dog racing has redefined the future for greyhounds in Australia. This decision is an absolute turning point in both our Australian and global fight to end this atrocious industry. The Australian Capital Territory (the ACT) has already announced that the industry has no future. Suffering and dying dogs are a fixed part of racing and only ending racing will stop the suffering.

GREY2K USA Worldwide works with partners in all eight countries where a commercial greyhound racing industry still exists to phase out this cruelty. We are knocking down the last remaining states in the US one by one. It is also likely that racing in Macau will end soon due to our joint campaign with ANIMA, Animals Asia and Animals Australia. And in both the UK and Ireland the industry has come under intense fire for its failure to take the welfare of dogs seriously.

The times are with us because collectively we have alerted our communities to the plight of these animals and we have inspired action to speak up against what is so obviously and inherently wrong. The days of greyhound exploitation for a bet and a profit are numbered. Our societies simply don’t tolerate it anymore. On behalf of GREY2K USA Worldwide, I thank all of you for fighting on the greyhounds’ side. Let’s celebrate this moment together with our rescued greyhounds. We look forward to continue to work with you to give greyhounds around the world the wonderful and safe future they so much deserve.

Down the road from where I live, in the opposite direction of where the Epping track used to be, is Australia’s best known greyhound race track, Wentworth Park. On race nights, I can hear the lure go around and sometimes the dogs barking in the kennels. It is a frequent reminder of the greyhounds’ misery and why we are fighting this fight. We are incredibly relieved that these noises will soon be a thing of the past. But our fight will continue to free all greyhounds around the globe from cruelty. Your donation will help the animals so much.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Top Greyhound Breeder Thwarts State Investigation

Vince Berland, Photo by the Tampa Bay Times
Earlier this year, the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering opened an investigation after a greyhound named Flying Ambrose was apparently infected with Chagas disease. Chagas is transmitted through insects that exist in South America, Mexico and Central America, and rarely seen in the United States. State investigators were immediately concerned by the discovery of this disease in a racing greyhound in Florida and investigated the circumstances surrounding the dog.

According to a state Investigative Report, Flying Ambrose suffered a broken leg at Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track on December 12. Confidential informants told investigators that three dogs, including Flying Ambrose, had been given to track veterinarian Dr. Hakim Hamici for euthanasia, but the dogs had instead been transported to volunteers in Sarasota.

For some reason Dr. Hamici, who I have been critical of in the past, refused to publicly acknowledge this apparent good deed. Instead, he initially stonewalled investigators before ultimately stating that he had no record of Flying Ambrose ever being at his clinic. At the same time, he demanded to know the identity of a confidential informant.

When the state approached greyhound trainer Kelly Everett, who was responsible for taking care of Flying Ambrose at Naples, Everett provided documentation which claimed that the dog had been "taken to the owners farm" in Kansas. When Everett was later pressed regarding this obvious false statement, he stated that he "could have made a mistake with his record keeping."

Meanwhile a state investigator contacted the registered owner of Flying Ambrose, a Kansas-based greyhound breeder named Vince Berland. Berland is one of the most prominent greyhound breeders in the country, and in 2011 was inducted into the Greyhound Hall of Fame. Berland has also been accused of animal cruelty by former employee Roy Brindley, who claims to have personally observed a pit full of dead greyhounds on his property.

When he was contacted by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering in the Flying Ambrose case, Berland refused to take the call. He then had the following conversation with a state investigator via text message:
INVESTIGATOR: "Good morning Mr. Berland My name & title is Investigator Supervisor Minaya with the Pari-Mutuel in the state of Florida. If you can please call me ... Important thank you"
VINCE BERLAND: "What do you need?"
INVESTIGATOR: "This is involving an official investigation Mr. Berland and may I remind you that since you are a licensed you must cooperate or risk losing your license."
VINCE BERLAND: "I'm not licensed. You are incorrect sir."
INVESTIGATOR: "Your license is still active Mr. Berland."
VINCE BERLAND: "Who do you think you are talking to? Do you have an actual question? 
INVESTIGATOR: "Mr. Berland all I need is 5 minutes of your time. I rather talk to you over the phone not through text messaging. If you choose to talk to me you have my phone number."
VINCE BERLAND: "I'd rather have your threats and harassment in writing, Sir. I don't trust government."
The Investigative Report also states that Berland "intentionally obstructed this investigation by refusing to cooperate" and indicates that a separate case has been opened against him.

The state must hold Berland accountable for his actions and send a message to everyone in the industry that they cannot get away with thwarting official animal welfare investigations. Meanwhile, if the National Greyhound Association (NGA) were truly serious about policing itself it would also take action against Berland. I won't hold my breath, as the NGA has proven time and again that it isn't in the business of holding its members accountable. Instead, it covers up wrongdoing and prevents law enforcement from taking action against animal abusers.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Winning Strategy to Help Greyhounds

GREY2K USA President Christine Dorchak & Gina
Last week Arizona became the 40th state to prohibit commercial greyhound racing when Governor Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2127 into law. In a statement, the Governor said that dog racing's time had passed:
"Greyhound racing has run its course in Arizona ... it's heartening that these beautiful greyhounds will soon be off the track and in loving homes."
The end of dog racing in Arizona is also further proof that our strategy to protect greyhounds is working. Since our formation in 2001 we have helped pass sixteen major greyhound protection laws:
  • We led the fight to prohibit dog racing in Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
  • We helped eliminate a state mandate for greyhound racing in Iowa and reduced dog track subsidies in West Virginia.
  • We helped pass a greyhound injury reporting requirement in Florida and worked with Massachusetts lawmakers to pass the only state-funded greyhound adoption trust fund in history. This program provided millions in funding to help dogs find loving homes.
The strategy we have utilized to achieve these victories is surprisingly simple. First, we deeply research the greyhound racing industry, with the goal of understanding it better than it understands itself. Next, we provide accurate information to lawmakers, members of the media, and the general public. Finally, we engage in the legislative process and ask lawmakers to make humane choices for the dogs.

This compassionate plan of action is having an impact. Since our formation thirty-one dog tracks have closed or ended live racing in the United States, and gambling on greyhound racing has dropped by 68%. The rate of industry collapse has more than doubled compared to the years before GREY2K USA Worldwide existed.

We are fortunate to live in a vibrant democracy, a system that allows citizens to bring about change and fight injustice. The process isn't easy. It requires tenacity and a willingness to challenge obstacles that appear immovable. Our slow march towards the end of greyhound cruelty, however, proves that everyday people can bring about real change.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Greyhound Tragedy Cited in Historic Arizona Vote

Rep. Andrade, photo by YANOK Photography
A few days ago the Arizona legislature unanimously passed House Bill 2127, a landmark bill to end greyhound racing that is now on the desk of Governor Doug Ducey.

During a final vote State Representative Richard Andrade gave an impassioned speech in support of the measure, and cited a 1992 case in which 124 greyhound carcasses were found in a citrus grove in Chandler Heights, Arizona.

The Chandler Heights scandal received national coverage at the time and was notable for its brutality. The dogs had been dumped after being bludgeoned or shot in the head, and most of their left ears had been removed to prevent identification. This sad case helped spur a national movement, and inspired the creation of Greyhound Network News, an important resource that gave greyhounds a voice for many years.

Listening to the Arizona debate, I was reminded of comments made by New Hampshire State Senator Sheila Roberge in 2009. I was in the chamber when she told her colleagues about Amber, a young greyhound who had died in her first ever race. After listening to Senator Roberge, the New Hampshire Senate voted to outlaw greyhound racing, ending years of animal cruelty.

It took nearly a quarter of a century, but greyhound racing in Arizona may finally be coming to a close. By signing HB 2127 into law, Governor Ducey can end this cruel industry and give the Chandler Heights greyhounds the justice they deserve.