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.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Case For Direct Language

Greyhounds at a US racing kennel
A greyhound kennel in West Virginia

By Fred Barton, GREY2K USA Worldwide Board Member 

Recently I’ve been involved in an online argument with members of the greyhound racing industry over my use of the word abandoned referring to dogs they surrender for adoption. They like this word about as much as they like the word rescue because it strips away the carefully constructed veneer of caring the people in this so called sport work so hard to maintain. In fact, a well known racing spokesperson once posted an almost 700 word attack on the word rescue. The gist of the argument was it shouldn’t be called rescue because they don’t kill as many greyhounds as they used to.

But back to abandoned. My New Oxford American Dictionary defines abandon as “give up completely (a course of action, a practice or a way of thinking).” Historically greyhounds have had three options when their careers are over: be sold for medical research, be killed outright, or be adopted. Some few are returned to the farms for use as breeding stock, and occasionally one will stay with its owner, but compared to the large number of dogs bred for racing these numbers are insignificant. 

Typically, greyhounds are completely given up by their owners, and this is the standard industry practice when a dog can no longer make a profit. Racing supporters like to point to the rising number of adoptions as an example of their caring and thus make a virtue of necessity. It is true that more dogs are finding homes today thanks to the tireless work of an army of volunteers, but it should be pointed out that adoption is due to the rising awareness on the public’s part of the inherent cruelty of greyhound racing and in no way affects the fact that these innocent animals would be, and will be discarded regardless because, as I mentioned, that is standard industry practice.

Greyhound puppies at a Kansas breeding farm

It is not surprising the pro-racing crowd plays up adoption because it diverts attention from the puppies that disappear before they are ever registered, the rising number of dogs that are injured and killed as money dries up for track maintenance, the increasing number of dogs forced to race with less rest because of dropping breeding rates, the increasing use of illegal drugs and the still unconscionable number of greyhounds who are simply killed, sometimes in very inhumane ways, when their careers are over. 

There can be no argument that adoption is a necessary element in the fight to end this abuse and until legislators in racing states find the political courage to stop this travesty it will remain so. There can also be no argument that those who make their living by exploiting helpless greyhounds will continue to abandon them to whatever fate awaits when they are no longer able to earn money.
I would argue that we stop letting the industry and the legislators who enable them hide behind euphemistic language that obfuscates the barbarity of this so called “sport.” By confronting them with words that more honestly identify their actions and attitudes we take one more layer off that caring veneer they like to present to the public and expose the true horror in which racing greyhounds are trapped.

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.