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.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Injured Greyhound Denied Care at Pensacola Track

Two weeks ago I sent a letter to Pensacola Greyhound Track to express my outrage over the neglect of a dog named Starring Act, who was injured in a dog fight on January 3. After the incident Starring Act was taken back to his cage by a kennel helper, who then tried to reach James Viles, the trainer responsible for the dog. Meanwhile, a second greyhound was fatally wounded and died within moments.

After consulting with track officials, the racing kennel decided against taking Starring Act to a local clinic and instead waited for a track veterinarian to arrive. The dog waited in his cage for more than five hours before being examined.

When a veterinarian finally saw Starring Act, she found that he had "received serious injuries to the neck, right front leg, and left rear leg." She euthanized Starring Act in the racing kennel because "due to the extent of the injuries ... she feared that moving the dog to her office would cause pain and suffering."

Starring Act should have received immediate care. He was failed by his trainer, his kennel, and Pensacola Greyhound Track. In my letter to the track's general manager I wrote:
"As a result of poor decisions that morning by Viles, in consultation with track veterinarian Dr. Hofmesiter and track racing officials, Starring Act was left in his cage for more than five hours before receiving veterinary care. There can be no doubt that Starring Act suffered as a result of these mistakes and was failed by your facility."
I also offered to assist Pensacola Greyhound Track in creating an emergency veterinary care policy, to ensure similar mistakes do not happen again. As of today, I have not received a response.

Finally, it's worth noting that trainer James Viles has a long history of state violations. He has been investigated 28 times for drug positives, animal deaths, and other issues. He has been fined by state regulators 15 times and formally reprimanded.

Starring Act suffered because the commercial dog racing industry puts profits ahead of animal welfare. He raced over 100 times for the gambling industry, but in the end wasn't even worth a trip to a local veterinary clinic when he needed immediate help.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Simulcast Gambling on Dog Races is Dying

Gina is Happy That Greyhound Simulcasting is Dying
As the greyhound industry slowly dies, nineteen remaining tracks are being partially propped up by states that don't host races but allow gamblers to bet remotely on dog racing. As a result of this simulcast betting, states that have already outlawed greyhound racing, like Massachusetts, are unfortunately supporting animal cruelty.

Thankfully, greyhound simulcasting is withering. It is falling in virtually every state, with several experiencing catastrophic declines in just the past five years:
This is good news for greyhounds. It also refutes false claims that have been made recently by the industry. Just last month, National Greyhound Association Executive Secretary Gary Guccione told Kansas lawmakers that greyhound racing isn't dying at all because simulcasting is so successful. Obviously his claim is pure fantasy.

Even though greyhound simulcasting is dying, along with the rest of the dog race industry, it is still a problem that needs attention. These states shouldn't support greyhound cruelty, and it's time for them to get out of the dog racing business altogether.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Greyhound Racing Has a Drug Problem

Kiowa Try Thelma tested positive for cocaine in February 2015.
Photo by the Greyhound Breeding and Racing Database.
Over the past two years there have been 75 documented drug violations in the American greyhound racing industry, including violations in every racing state. The vast majority of these drug cases resulted in fines or suspensions.
These are powerful drugs that can harm greyhounds, and we should all be concerned about this constant drum beat of drug positives. These drug violations also call into question the integrity of dog race bets being made across the country.

Greyhound racing in the United States has a drug problem that just won't go away.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Irish Board Encourages Breeding as Greyhounds Die

Emily the abandoned greyhound. Photo by the Irish Sun.
For years Ireland has been at the epicenter of a massive greyhound welfare problem. Thousands of greyhound are bred each year in the Republic, and many are sent to compete at British racetracks. Nearly 54,000 Irish bred greyhounds were shipped to British racetracks between 2006 and 2013, and the ultimate fate for many of these dogs is unknown.

In Ireland itself, a large number of dogs are discarded by the racing industry each year. The issue was summarized in 2010 by Michael Watts of Society of Greyhound Vets and Countryside Alliance Ireland:
"We have a large number of young greyhounds that, in the nature of things, are perhaps not handled much, not very socialised and not house trained. In many cases, they do not make good pets. There are a large number of them, and what are we to do with them?"
Similar concerns were raised only months ago by Irish Times Racing Correspondent Brian O'Connor. In a well-reasoned column, O'Connor called for a culture change within the racing industry and specifically highlighted the challenge of greyhound overbreeding:
"The question of overproduction is a particular issue for greyhound racing. A horse produces a single foal every year; a dog can produce a litter of pups every two months. It is much cheaper to maintain a dog until establishing if it can run fast, so the more produced, the more chance of a good runner ...  They can’t all run fast, and the slow ones, and old ones, aren’t all rehomed. So where do they end up? Some will tell you plenty of animals don’t make it to registration in the first place. Of those that do, some are sold and exported, and some unwanted animals get rehomed. Others are, to use the anodyne phrase, 'euthanised' in a proper and professional manner. But those involved in welfare still talk of thousands 'disappearing' each year, with all the sinister connotations implicit in that word."
There certainly are greyhounds that suffer greatly in Ireland after being discarded by the racing industry. In January, an emaciated dog named Emily was dumped in a ditch in County Tipperary after having her racing tattoos burned out with acid and her tailed hacked off. Incredibly, she survived her ordeal.

Enter the Irish Greyhound Board (IGB). Rather than address this serious problem, the industry promoter has released a plan that will make things worse. It has earmarked 250,000 Euros in new funding for a "breeders incentive scheme" as part of a a total industry support plan worth 700,000 Euros. Meanwhile, no new funding whatsoever has been allocated for greyhound welfare. Ironically, this new breeders incentive scheme was announced shortly after a legislative report identified problems with the current Irish stud book, including "ongoing issues concerning the breeding of greyhounds with dogs which were dead for two years or more."

This is a serious miscalculation by the Board. It will not only cause the death of dogs, it will harm the industry in the long run. Rather than ramp up breeding, industry promoters in Ireland should follow their colleagues in Australia, who are decreasing breeding as part of an overall animal welfare plan.