Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Every Dog Deserves a Home

Darren Rigg with his greyhound York
By Darren Rigg, GREY2K USA Worldwide Board Member

I love dogs, especially greyhounds. Caring for them has been my passion for more than three decades. I am motivated to help these dogs by collaborating with people who share the passion, the love of greyhounds, and a belief that each dog deserves a quality home. 

My thoughts and feelings about greyhound racing may surprise you. You might assume that I despise all people who are “pro-racing.” I don’t. I’ve collaborated with dozens of racing greyhound owners, breeders, kennel operators, track workers, dog haulers and countless adoption organizations. I have yet to encounter anyone who got into the business of greyhound racing with deliberate intention to cause suffering to the dogs. What I have encountered, however, is a collective culture within greyhound racing to accept and normalize the cruel circumstances in which racing dogs live and die.

Greyhound racing may seem like an innocent sport, and greyhounds love to run, right? Not true. Greyhound racing is NOT a sport; it is a for-profit business and the greyhounds themselves are simply commodities. The quality of daily life for each dog is dictated by economies of scale. The dogs are “produced” on farms – yes, greyhound farms where, I suspect, they are treated without much individual nurturing, in other words -- less like dogs, more like cattle. They are often ear-tagged, like cattle. Suffer parasite infestation, like cattle. Are taken to auction, like cattle. Housed in smelly barns, like cattle can be on some farms, and worst of all, many greyhounds have to endure lives of extreme confinement in cages. So no, I am not so much against the actual running of dogs around a track during greyhound racing — as if that is not bad enough; what keeps me awake at night is the thought of all those dogs suffering because of an industry that has normalized cruelty. (And why do we treat cattle "like cattle" - a bigger question for another day!)

Fortunately, public opinion is now turning against the cruelty of betting on the dogs. People who want to gamble have many places from which to choose, and most choose not to frequent dog tracks.

I know for a fact that the greyhound-racing industry within the Western world is in rapid decline. This is largely due to so many motivated dog lovers who are stepping into the political effort to end greyhound racing, as well as to discourage new dog racing in developing nations, and both these efforts are being spearheaded by the amazing, hard-working people at GREY2K USA Worldwide.

Which is the reason I recently joined the board of directors of GREY2K USA Worldwide. I am also still serving on the board of Greyhound Adoption Center. While this is a personal collaboration between me and GREY2K USA Worldwide, I remain 100% dedicated to GAC and will always be mindful to avoid conflicts of interest.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Greyhound Racing: A Bad Bet For Kansas

By Fred Barton, GREY2K USA Worldwide Board Member

There’s an old saying attributed to Alfred Einstein that goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” It’s a saying that should be put on a big banner and hung in the Kansas legislature because lawmakers there are considering bringing greyhound racing back to the state.

House Bill 2545 would use casino gambling profits to subsidize greyhound racing. The fact that the legislature knows greyhound racing will need to be subsidized to survive should send up red flags. Why would they want to bring back an industry they know can’t make it on its own? Surely some of the legislators must remember Kansas’ previous experience. Greyhound racing started there in 1989 with two tracks, Wichita Greyhound Park and The Woodlands. A third track, Camptown Greyhound Park, opened in 1995, but went out of business in only six months. Things weren’t much better for the other tracks and by the time they closed in 2008 revenue from greyhound racing had shrunk 95% from when they started.

Hence the need to prop up racing with subsidies. But the reality is that subsidies don’t work. They have failed in every other state that has tried them. Every. One. In Rhode Island the Twin River Casino complained that racing cost them $9 million in annual subsidies, but only brought in $1.75 million. They ended racing in 2009.

In Iowa the casinos subsidized racing to the tune of $14 million a year while betting at the two tracks combined had shrunk to just $5.9 million by 2012. The Iowa legislature allowed the casinos to walk away from racing in 2014.

In West Virginia betting has declined 55% over a ten year period forcing lawmakers to make up the difference with annual handouts. Betting there is still trending down putting more pressure on the state’s breeding and purse fund accounts to carry the weight of a failing business. A bill has been introduced to sever this arrangement moving forward.

In Arkansas the legislature mandated a giveaway for the one track, Southland, in 2006. Since that time betting has dropped from a high of $212 million in 1989 to a little over $18 million by 2013 in spite of this arrangement.

In Florida, the largest racing state, the situation is no different. One track in Miami loses $5 million a year because the owner is forced to have racing. In all, Florida tracks lose over $30 million on live racing each year.

If Kansas legislators know racing will need to be propped up with subsidies, they should also know those subsidies will ultimately fail. Even billionaire casino mogul Phil Ruffin, the Wichita man behind House Bill 2545, has seen the writing on the wall. He recently admitted to the state Lottery Gaming Facility Review Board ...”[P]arimutuel is not a viable business anymore anywhere in the country...Parimutuel (horse racing) is dead and Greyhound is even worse.”

Greyhound racing is even worse than dead, and yet the Kansas Legislature is considering bringing it back to the state. How many different ways does an idea have to present itself as bad before legislators see it for what it is?  How many other times does it have to fail before someone says, that probably won’t work here either. It shouldn’t take an Einstein to answer those questions.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Steroids: Putting Greyhounds At Risk For Profit

Steroids are endemic to the greyhound racing industry
By Fred Barton, GREY2K USA Worldwide Board Member

The use of anabolic steroids to interrupt the estrus cycle of female racing greyhounds is a common practice in the greyhound industry. As trainer James “Barney” O’Donnell said in a 2014 interview, “We use testosterone on our females, yes...We’ve been using it for years and years and years.” While not quite as headline-grabbing as greyhounds who test positive for cocaine, the industry practice of using steroids deserves equal attention for its impact on the health and well being of female racers.

A female greyhound’s complete cycle lasts 15 weeks. According to Care of the Racing & Retired Greyhound, a female can only safely race three of these weeks if left untreated. So to avoid the loss of productive racing time, female greyhounds are routinely given anabolic steroids. But what effect does this continued exposure to steroids have on the health of the dogs? The industry will tell you none. It’s just like birth control they say, trying to equate the issue with human contraception. Besides, they argue, the dosages are so small as to be irrelevant to the health of the animal.

However, when you look at the science of what happens when dogs are given these drugs you reach a different answer. The Merck Veterinary Manual states, “[L]ongterm suppression of estrus by using androgens is not advised ... the safety and efficacy of injectable testosterone, as is practiced commonly in racing Greyhounds, has not been supported by controlled studies and is not advised.” According to the racing industry’s own handbook, Care of the Racing & Retired Greyhound, anabolic steroids can cause serious side effects including increased aggression and virilization. Steroid use has also been shown to have a negative effect on dogs’ heart functions, and some studies have even linked steroid use to liver, kidney and cartilage damage, gastrointestinal problems, and shock. In addition to these deleterious health effects, there is some evidence that steroids can affect performance. Dr. Richard Sams of the University of Florida Racing Laboratory, has said that anabolic steroids such as stanozolol would be “excellent” for enhancing greyhound race performance.

Other countries have begun to recognize the dangers of anabolic steroids. In 2014, the Irish Greyhound Board outlawed all steroid use. In Australia, testosterone is considered an illegal substance and in New Zealand all forms of steroids have been banned.

This is not the case in the United States. In the past month, Florida Senator Kevin Rader filed a bill that would formally legalize the use of anabolic steroids in racing greyhounds. Interestingly, Senator Dana Young has filed a bill that would do the exact opposite by outlawing the use of anabolic steroids altogether. Consequently, from a Florida legislative viewpoint the issue remains up for debate.

The greyhound industry knows that anabolic steroids are potentially harmful but uses them anyway. This can be seen most clearly in a recently adopted rule by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, an industry group which writes model rules for the American horse and greyhound industries. Anabolic steroids have always been classified as Class 3 illegal drugs according to ARCI’s Uniform Classification Guidelines for Foreign Substances. While they are still classified as such, ARCI rule 018-020 (16), which was quietly added on December 8, 2017, states, “Any usage of anabolic steroids involving racing greyhounds is prohibited, except that the administration of oral, or as otherwise prescribed by a licensed veterinarian, testosterone shall be permitted for the control of estrus in female racing greyhounds provided it is validly prescribed and properly labeled.” Only the greyhound industry would be so bold to both prohibit and allow a serious narcotic in the same set of guidelines.

The duplicity of the ARCI Guideline is symptomatic of the priorities of the greyhound racing industry; an industry that puts profits above all else. As long as greyhound racing continues, those who participate in it will try to cheat the system.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Tactics Of Desperation

Caged greyhounds at the Sanford Orlando Kennel Club in Florida
By Fred Barton, GREY2K USA Worldwide Board Member

Recently state Senator Tom Lee proposed a Constitutional amendment that would end greyhound racing in the state of Florida. While the proposed amendment still has several legal steps to go before it reaches the ballot, some early polling suggests it would be approved by more than the required 60% of voters.

Predictably, the greyhound racing industry has reached into its tired rhetorical grab bag in an attempt to muddy the waters on what is a straight forward effort to end the unnecessary suffering, injury and needless deaths of innocent greyhounds. Their basic strategy has always involved the following: change the subject and/or, predict economic catastrophe while at the same time engaging in personal attacks.

The proposal is still in the initial stages of development and we have already seen racing proponents question the motivations of those supporting it as well as attempt to move the discussion away from greyhound welfare to topics like no kill shelters. It would seem if anyone’s motivation needed to be questioned it would be those who stand to make a profit from the continued exploitation of helpless greyhounds trapped in racing gulags across the state. With depressing regularity we read stories of greyhounds being drugged, abused and abandoned. Who could honestly argue for the continuation of this situation? What are their motivations? Another tactic the industry employs is to point the finger at other aspects of animal cruelty, for example the number of strays put down in shelters. Certainly no kill shelters are a good idea and should be pursued, but that is a separate conversation — especially since greyhounds seldom end up in shelters — which has nothing to do with ending racing. What are the motivations of those who would attempt to sideline the discussion of Senator Lee’s amendment for a different topic altogether?

Every time the racing supporters perceive a threat they clamor that there will be massive unemployment and commercial devastation because of the indirect impact the industry has on local economies. The truth is most jobs are part time, low wage and offer few if any benefits. The real money is made by those at the top. For example, in West Virginia a study found that nearly half of the $15 million the state pays out in subsidies goes to 10 individuals. Certainly if greyhound racing ends in Florida some will lose their jobs, but the same thing happened in Iowa when the state withdrew its support, yet made sure that those who were adversely affected received a soft landing to help them transition. There is no reason to think the same wouldn’t happen in Florida. And while the industry does have an indirect effect on the economies around it, that effect is mitigated by the fact that it has to be propped up with subsidies from states and local casinos. In 2013, Florida spent as much as $3.3 million more regulating the so called sport than it took in through taxes.

We predict that as this amendment moves through the process Senator Lee and those who stand with him will come under increasing personal attacks. Actually, it’s already started. I commented on an article about the amendment and I’ve been called a con man and a white collar criminal, accused of working for a ponzi scheme and challenged to meet “face to face” for what I imagine would not be a rational discussion of the issue. Verbal intimidation and name calling are common industry responses and are another attempt to change the subject. 

Florida political observer Joe Henderson gives the proposal no more than a 2 in 5 chance of success, but regardless of the odds it’s a sure bet the industry will pull out all the stops in its campaign of distraction, dissembling and character assassination. We cannot let this happen. Those who favor greyhound racing should be forced to account for the institutionalized cruelty, the callous disregard of health and welfare and the unnecessary pain and suffering endured by the helpless dogs in their so called care. The central question is this: Does a business that relies on the heartless exploitation of innocent living creatures for profit, and then abandons those creatures when they are no longer profitable have a place in Florida society today?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Matter of Differing Perspective

A caged racing greyhound in New South Wales, Australia

By Fred Barton, GREY2K USA Worldwide Board Member

In 2015, when the Australian television show Four Corners—the equivalent of 60 Minutes—broke the live baiting scandal it looked like it was a devastating, perhaps fatal blow to the greyhound racing industry. Even though the practice of using live possums, piglets and rabbits to train greyhounds was already illegal, the investigative report found numerous examples of it in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. 

The public outcry was immediate and intense leading to the banishment or suspension of numerous trainers and other officials as well as an outright ban on racing in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory (the ban was later rescinded in New South Wales). The scandal also resulted in increased public scrutiny of the industry as well as a raft of new regulations and increased enforcement of existing ones.

New people were brought in to oversee racing, and there has been movement in a positive direction on some fronts. For example, according to the latest Greyhound Racing Victoria Annual Report, adoptions in that state have increased by 57%, kennel inspections have jumped a whopping 191% and breeding is down 35%. Yet even after the scandal illegal doping, illegal export and euthanasia  of helpless greyhounds continues. 

One of the best examples of the industry’s reluctance to thoroughly clean itself up and resistance to those who try is an exchange among  racing insiders in a chat room concerning a questionnaire sent out by the Greyhound Racing Board in New South Wales, a state which, as I said, came very close to ending racing permanently. 

A user named Nicholas Arena wrote that “Survey after survey - there is nothing that has not already been stated on numerous occasions over the past 2 years.”  And then, the really telling comment: “The solutions are obvious - stop pretending a greyhound's welfare is above that of a participant…” It’s a remark that needs no explanation and puts the lie to industry protestations that the care deeply for their dogs and those who abuse them are merely a few bad apples.

Paul Wheeler, who is one of the top trainers in the country agreed, writing, “I am not filling any more surveys to be ignored, it’s waste of time. Nick Arena summed it up perfectly.” It’s becoming clear that the industry simply doesn’t see what’s wrong with the continued exploitation, abuse, injury and deaths of the greyhounds in their care. In their eyes it’s simply a cost of doing business.

Another user, Simon Moore, echoes this sentiment when he posts that, “i've (sic) never heard of such a campaign to crush a group of people who have done nothing wrong.” There can be no clearer example of how blind those in greyhound racing are to the atrocities that occur right before them than Mr. Moore’s comment. Is it any wonder that they resist and resent increased oversight and enforcement of greyhound welfare regulations? 

The short answer to that question is no, it is not. When you believe that exploitation for profit is really doing nothing wrong, despite the collateral pain, suffering and death you cause those you exploit, no real attempt at regulation will come from inside, and those who attempt to impose oversight from the outside will be ignored. It’s like the evangelical and the atheist arguing about the Bible. Since the former believes it is the unaltered word of God and the latter believes it is a historical document fraught with human frailties, the argument is going nowhere since each participant approaches it with an entirely different perspective.

And so it is with greyhound racing. Those who are shocked and appalled by the inhumanity of it, the casual callousness, barbarity and cruelty of it, will try to communicate their horror to those who see only profit and loss. And they will fail to have an effect because, as Mr. Arena so truthfully put it, participants’ welfare will always come before greyhounds. The only regulation that will work is putting an end to racing.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Dogs And Drugs

Racing greyhound Me Me Me tested positive for cocaine at the Hollywood dog track in Florida

By Fred Barton, GREY2K USA Worldwide Board Member

It seems like every time I look at a news feed lately there is another story about greyhounds being drugged, usually with cocaine. As a result of a great deal of initial research done by GREY2K USA, the Washington Post recently ran a story on the burgeoning drug problem in Florida. The dog the story used as an example, WW’s Flicka, had tested positive for drugs five previous times. The problem is by no means isolated to American greyhound racing. In New South Wales, Australia authorities raided a breeding farm and found Steroids, among other drugs;  in Ireland champion Irish greyhound Clonbrien Hero tested positive for cocaine three times in two months, and in New Zealand drugging seems to bring small punishment to those caught.

I believe this is an aspect of greyhound racing slowly collapsing in on itself. As the purses shrink and the pressure to win increases, dog welfare slips farther down the list of industry priorities. Since the illegal use of drugs has been around almost as long as racing itself, it’s hard to tell whether the practice has recently increased, or if more people are being caught. Tests have become more sophisticated, but so have attempts to elude them. The internet and the development of so called designer drugs have combined to open a whole new potential for chemically enhancing performance while avoiding detection. Dr. Rick Sams, laboratory director at LGC Sport Science in Lexington, Kentucky said, “We can't tell here from the analysis of the sample, whether it came from environmental contamination or the tail end of intentional administration. There are no tags that tell us one way or another.” He was talking about the horse racing industry, but it would be naive to think that those drugs aren’t also making their way into dog racing.

And what about the drugs’ effect on the dogs? Has anyone taken that into consideration? The short answer from those who profit from racing is no. Actually, in the case of cocaine the jury is still out on whether it does in fact make a dog faster. Shelly Flagel, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan Medical School who studies the effects of cocaine said, “We do have evidence that with this increased activity comes increased velocity of movement as well.” However, “ trainers can’t hope to elicit that same cocaine high from dogs every single time. Not only do individual animals — whether they’re dogs, rats, or humans — respond differently to different cocaine doses; they also become “sensitized” to the drug at different rates as they are repeatedly exposed to it.”

One thing is certain though and that’s the deleterious health effects of cocaine exposure on the greyhounds. In an article cited above, Scott Stanley, a toxicologist with UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine said, “exposure to cocaine in dogs can lead to seizures, rapid heartbeat, and elevated blood pressure, among other behavioral anomalies.“  He further stated, “Any amount of cocaine in a companion animal may result in toxicosis.”

The industry’s response has been typically disingenuous. Steve Sarras, a kennel owner in Florida where dogs consistently receive positive tests tried to pass it off as “environmental contamination.” Others claim they did not know how the drugs got there, much as Captain Renault was shocked to know there was gambling going on in Rick’s nightclub.  Even when the allegations are shown to be true, the punishment is often a fine and temporary suspension—a cost of doing business it seems, given the number of repeat offenders. 

The state agencies that oversee greyhound racing are understaffed and lack sufficient funding to make any substantial inroads against this growing epidemic. They do however have occasional success as in the case of Malcolm McAllister, whose license was revoked.  While this is a positive step, if you look at the rising number of drug cases and the usually weak penalties, it is more the exception that proves the rule—and the rule is, the health of the greyhound will always be sacrificed for the chance of profit.

Monday, September 11, 2017

In Florida Crisis, Greyhound Racers Fail a Moral Test

Devastation from the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, which destroyed a greyhound kennel

By Carey Theil, Executive Director of GREY2K USA Worldwide

Hurricane Irma has thankfully been downgraded to a tropical storm, and it appears that Florida greyhound race kennels dodged a big bullet. Thousands of greyhounds were in peril due to Irma, after kennel operators chose to ride the storm out instead of evacuate.

The storm hasn't yet passed, but already dog race promoters are hard at work trying to rationalize their reckless decision. Let's set the record straight. It's true that one track reportedly gave kennel operators financial assistance in the days before Irma struck. That's good, and should be applauded. Also, there is no doubt that the greyhound trainers who stayed behind and hunkered down with dogs were brave. Neither of these, though, are actual solutions to a cataclysmic threat.

Some of the Florida greyhound kennels, holding hundreds of dogs, are wooden. If any of these had suffered a direct hit the loss of life would have been enormous. Further, the trainers who stayed behind would have been helpless against a large storm surge. Many Florida kennels were in direct peril of flooding, including the Derby Lane kennel compound which is located only a few hundred feet from Masters Bayou.

One of the essays circulating today claims GREY2K USA is the "face of evil" for raising concerns about the lack of an evacuation plan for greyhounds. The dissertation is disjointed and strange, but does include one self-revelatory paragraph:
"The face of evil told you there was no plan for the greyhounds to be evacuated and they were partially right. There was never a plan to evacuate the greyhounds because the real protectors know you can't evacuate 6000 greyhounds. There was always a plan and that was plan to do what has been done for 90 years. Keep the greyhounds in place, hunker down with them and hope what has worked for so many years works again."
The writer is correct that hunkering down and hoping for the best is what the dog racing industry has always done. It is a deeply irresponsible choice that has caused many dogs to suffer.

In September of 1926 a powerful Category 4 storm commonly referred to as the Great Miami Hurricane devastated South Florida. According to Florida's Hurricane History the greyhound kennels at the Hialeah Race Track were completely destroyed, allowing racing greyhounds to escape. So much life was lost that when the storm passed it pushed water and debris back into Biscayne Bay creating a "huge health problem with all the dead bodies and animals" according to meteorologist Neal Dorst.

Ninety-one years have passed since the Great Miami Hurricane, and the greyhound industry still has no evacuation plan. This is another example of how the industry fails in its most basic obligations to protect the health and welfare of the dogs it uses to make a profit. If people are going to ship thousands of dogs to a state with a long history of cataclysmic hurricanes, they have a moral imperative to come up with a plan for when the storm clouds gather. That plan must be in place months or years in advance. It's not good enough to ignore weeks of warnings, throw up your hands at the last minute, and say an evacuation isn't possible. Nor is it good enough to hunker down and just hope for the best.

On a related note, the handful of people who are defending the greyhound industry should ask themselves if there is any bad act they would not defend. Note that there is no industry discussion today about doing better. There is no self reflection, and no urgency about coming up with a plan for the next time a hurricane hits. Instead they are busy convincing themselves that their reckless approach was somehow justified, while attacking the animal protection community in the process.

It appears that the greyhound industry has another chance. While dog racing continues in Florida, which hopefully will not be for long, the industry must solve this problem. They have had ninety-one years to solve it up to now, yet so far have utterly failed.