Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Greyhounds Run Into the Ground at Mexico Track

Three weeks ago, GREY2K USA Board member Charmaine Settle inspected Agua Caliente, the only greyhound racetrack in Mexico. Her inspection follows similar visits to greyhound tracks in Macau, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.

Caliente is owned by Jorge Hank Rhon, the controversial former major of Tijuana. Throughout his life Rhon has been plagued by scandal. He has been accused of having links to organized crime, being connected to the murder of an investigative reporter, and participating in the trade of illegal wildlife.

Agua Caliente races dogs that are bred in the U.S. and shipped across the border by American greyhound breeders. Julia Ward, the current President of the National Greyhound Association, is one of the largest owners of dogs currently racing at the Tijuana track.

Here are some of Charmaine's thoughts about what she saw:
"Caliente is a very large, modern facility which houses a casino and simulcasts of various sports, with dogs racing outside. Flamingos and white swans greet you when you approach the massive entrance and when you get inside, large paintings adorn the walls on  your way to the casino."
"The kennels, which are within steps of the casino on the same property, are run down and neglected. This juxtaposition was striking, and unsettling. It continued to bother me long after I had left."
"If you walk out of the track and continue down a ramp to the left you begin to hear all the dogs barking and can see, through trees, a shantytown where the dogs live."
"The kennels looked terribly old, crumbling and dilapidated with some of the roofs looking like they were about to cave in. The kennels appeared to have no windows letting in any light or fresh air. With temperatures approaching a hundred degrees, I can't imagine how hot and miserable the poor dogs must be while they suffer in the confines of their cells."
"I asked questions, and was told that about eighty dogs were used for the matinee that day, and each dog races about three or four times per week."
Sadly, the information Charmaine was provided about race frequency at Caliente appears to be accurate. According to an analysis by GREY2K USA Research Director Matt Read, greyhounds routinely race on little rest at the Mexico track. For example, a dog named Coach Hero has entered in a shocking 413 races since 2011. Nearly half of his races occurred after he received only a single day of rest, and nearly three-quarters of his racing starts occurred after he received two days or less. An examination of other dogs competing at the track shows that Coach Hero isn't the exception. When it comes to racing on little rest, he's the tragic rule.

Coach Hero also highlights the fact that Caliente is a place where American greyhound breeders dump dogs. Even though he's racing in Mexico, Coach Hero is owned by Greg Geter, a top recipient of state dog race subsidies in West Virginia.

A photo Charmaine took of the Caliente kennel compound
Racing dogs on little rest is inhumane and irresponsible. It increases the risk of injury, and can cause a disorder named exertional rhabdomyolysis, in which skeletal muscles begin to break down. According to industry handbook Care of the Racing and Retired Greyhound, this disorder appears in overworked greyhounds, which it defines as "two to three races or trials per week."

The American greyhound breeders who are sending dogs to race in Mexico, including NGA President Julia Ward, should be ashamed of themselves. The very existence of this low end track, where greyhounds are run into the ground, is another reminder that this cruel industry routinely places profits before animal welfare.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Vet Missing in Action When Greyhounds Suffer Injuries

Hamici was allegedly absent for Atascocita Tofu's injury
Under Florida state rules, greyhound tracks are required to hire a veterinarian who must "observe the condition of all racing animals immediately prior to, during, and after a race." This provision is intended to ensure the health and welfare of all racing dogs. Of course rules are only as good as their enforcement.

Consider the case of Dr. Hakim Hamici, the primary track veterinarian at Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track. Since 2013, Dr. Hamici has apparently been absent on at least five occasions when a serious greyhound injury occurred:

  • On February 22, 2015, Hamici was absent when a dog named B.L. Rumble collapsed and died after a schooling race. A trainer tried to call Hamici on his cell phone after the dog collapsed, but the call "went directly to voice mail."
  • On December 12, 2013, Hamici was absent when a greyhound named Koothrappali was "badly injured" during a race and had to be carried off the track.

These repeated regulatory failures call the current greyhound vet law into question. Rather than require tracks to employ private veterinarians, other states like Iowa provide state vets who are present during every race. Mandating tracks to hire private vets creates an obvious conflict of interest. It's also a burden on private businesses that are already being forced to conduct races they are losing money on.

Add this to the long list of reforms that Florida should pass to help greyhounds. The dogs need independent regulation from state veterinarians. In the meantime, any vets who fail in their oversight responsibilities should be severely penalized.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dog Track Group Tries to Muzzle Adopted Greyhounds

In Australia, adopted greyhounds must be muzzled at all times in public because of antiquated laws. This government mandate is nonsensical, and makes it more difficult to find homes for greyhounds leaving the racing industry. With an estimated 18,000 racing dogs dying each year across the country, repealing these muzzling laws must be a priority.

Thankfully, a coalition of humane groups led by the Greyhound Equality Society is fighting for the end of greyhound muzzling in the state of Victoria. Their campaign has made tangible progress and has a good chance of success.

Enter Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV), a group that both regulates and promotes commercial dog racing. Although GRV acknowledges the need to reform other parts of the racing industry, it has doubled down on the failed policy of muzzling adopted greyhounds. In a submission to the Victoria government, GRV claims that it is necessary to muzzle adopted greyhounds because they are inherently dangerous:

"Greyhounds are large, strong, extremely fast and can kill ... Unfortunately, instinctive behaviour is very resistant to the influences of training and behaviour modification."
The submission also rhetorically asks whether "all greyhounds are suited to being family pets" and states:
"The short answer is NO."
To justify these ridiculous positions, GRV refers to a behavior assessment program created in America by Dr. Amy Marder, who it refers to as "one of the leaders in the field of Shelter Medicine." However, Dr. Marder has submitted her own testimony to the government which refutes many of the claims made by GRV. Her submission points out that the behavior assessment program she created does not apply to predatory behavior at all:
"The evaluation part does NOT include a test for predatory behavior ... I have seen predatory behavior in a number of dogs, but never in a greyhound."
Finally, Dr. Marder weighs in on the government mandate that adopted greyhounds be muzzled in Australia:
"I do not support compulsory greyhound muzzling both because I do not think it is necessary to protect the public, but also because it may be preventing the rehoming of very nice animals."
On this point, Dr. Marder is in good company. Every major animal protection group is opposed to this flawed policy, including RSPCA Australia. Its position is clear, concise, and on point:
"There is no evidence to show that greyhounds as a breed pose any greater risk to the public compared to other dog breeds or mix of breeds ... [T]he misconception that greyhounds need to be muzzled has major ramifications for greyhound rehoming, preventing many greyhounds that are discarded by the racing industry from finding a new home. Removing muzzling laws would significantly help improve the image of greyhounds and thus increase rehoming rates."
GRV is trying to start a new chapter when it comes to commercial greyhound racing in Victoria. Its position that the government should mandate the muzzling of adopted greyhounds is a serious misstep, and one the group should reconsider.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Epic Failure for New Iowa Dog Track

Harley raced at Dubuque Greyhound Park
Last year, the Iowa legislature passed a law to phase out dog racing at one track and permanently end millions of dollars in annual subsidies for greyhound breeders. Unfortunately the Iowa Greyhound Association (IGA), which represents the dog racing industry, was able to win major concessions in the law.

In the coming years, greyhound breeders will receive an outrageous golden parachute worth a total of $72 million. Half of these golden parachute funds can be used to operate a dog track in Dubuque. The law gives the IGA the exclusive right to operate this track, under a sweetheart deal that grants them a five-year property lease for only a single dollar per year. In addition to this waste, the IGA was given yet another $2.4 million state handout in March.

After receiving one special favor after another, the new dog track in Dubuque is still a failure. We now have data for the first three months at the newly minted "Iowa Greyhound Park," and dog race gambling is down across the board when compared to a year ago.

Gambling on live races at Iowa Greyhound Park is down a staggering 25%, as the Des Moines Register reported yesterday in a front page story. If we take a deeper dive into the numbers, the picture becomes even more bleak for the IGA. Remote gambling on the races held in Dubuque is down by 32.1%, and total dog race betting for the track has decreased by 26.2%.

Of course, the IGA is trying to put the best possible face on this epic failure. In the Register, IGA lawyer Jerry Crawford acknowledged the the track is losing money, but still claimed that things are just wonderful:
"What we are trying to do is make racing special, not make it a 24/7 activity because that model doesn't work. Our approach is succeeding."
Meanwhile, the IGA has refused to make a single meaningful reform to improve greyhound welfare. In November I laid out four key changes the IGA could make to help greyhounds: a new system of housing, halting the use of anabolic steroids in female dogs, ending the use of "4-D" meat, and providing funding to ensure that every injured greyhound receives veterinary care.

None of these changes have occurred. Instead of proving to the world that it is capable of reform, the dog racing industry has again put its personal profits ahead of animal welfare. Sadly, this new Iowa track can probably limp along for a while because the vast subsidy dollars the IGA will receive. Let history show that its Dubuque experiment was an economic failure on day one, and amounted to nothing more than another facility where dogs suffer and die.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Dogs Die While Greyhound Trainers Threaten Lawsuits

In our meetings last month, leaders of the Australian greyhound racing industry repeatedly emphasized the need to reduce greyhound breeding and increase adoption. Today, according to an estimate by Animals Australia, as many as 18,000 healthy greyhounds are killed by the racing industry each year.

To address this issue, industry group Greyhound Racing New South Wales (GRNSW) has implemented new breeding restrictions that took effect on July 1. Key aspects include:

  • Female greyhounds can only be bred three times, unless GRNSW provides specific approval for additional litters.

Although these guidelines are far from perfect, they are common sense measures that will improve the lives of greyhounds used for breeding. According to GRNSW:
"These Rules are aimed at improving the health and welfare of our breeding females, and to minimise the number of greyhounds bred that may not be suitable for racing."
Unfortunately, it appears that Australian greyhound breeders would prefer to ignore the problem, and continue the status quo. According to recent meeting minutes from the Greyhound Racing Industry Consultation Group, an organization that represents greyhound trainers and breeders, it is "concerned" about the new breeding restrictions. The minutes also state that trainers believe breeding is "at a low" and are worried that the industry "may face issues providing sufficient numbers" of greyhound puppies in the years to come. This assessment is wrong and incredibly callous.

In a follow up letter to GRNSW, the Richmond Race Club went even further. After complaining that the new policy will harm "passive breeders," it suggested there may be litigation over the new breeding restrictions:
"Members of the Greyhound Industry have received advice that the new policy is actually a ‘restriction of trade.’ Has GRNSW received legal advice on the possible impacts of this policy and does it meet with legal requirements?"
This sad episode is a great example of why the Australian dog racing industry is doomed. While thousands of dogs die, greyhound trainers complain about their financial bottom line and threaten lawsuits. The next time they wonder why the public has turned against them, they should take a long look in the mirror.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Industry Report Suggests Dog Racing is "Blood Sport"

In Australia, even the racing industry itself has recognized that fundamental change is necessary to improve greyhound welfare. This point was made repeatedly in our direct meetings with industry leaders, who surprisingly acknowledged the fact that dog racing is out of touch with mainstream values.

This disconnect was highlighted again last week, in a report released by the Working Dog Alliance Australia and funded by industry body Greyhound Racing New South Wales. Several of the report's findings have already made headlines, including the acknowledgement that an estimated 40% of greyhound puppies bred for racing never make it to a track.

The most notable finding, however, is the suggestion that greyhound racing may be rightly classified as a blood sport. The report defines these as "activities where the death of an animal is a likely, if not guaranteed, outcome of the entertainment," such as "bull-fighting, dog-fighting, cockfighting, coursing and a number of other sports that are still 'played' in the world today, despite vocal protest against them." The report then points out that although dog races in themselves do not always cause death, "violence and abuse can manifest in different contexts across the lifecycle of the greyhound, including breeding, rearing, training/racing, housing and racing career end-point." Finally, it concludes:
"As such, the physical abuse, risk of injury and culling mean that greyhound racing has a likely, if not guaranteed, risk of death for the participating dog, which means some would classify it as a blood sport."
In the coming years there will be a major push to increase adoption in Australia and end the unnecessary killing of unprofitable greyhounds. We must all support this effort. At the same time, it's unclear whether such a transformation is attainable. Australia has a population that is equal to only 7% of the U.S. population, but a racing industry that is similar in size to its American counterpart. As a result, the number of available homes for rescued greyhounds is far more limited.

Sadly, while industry leaders fight for change, the response from other participants has been abysmal. Just a few days ago, NSW regulators were allegedly shot at and assaulted during a routine inspection. Afterward, former trainer Tony Vass told ABC News that there is widespread anger among greyhound trainers who believe they are being "bullied." These trainers are nothing short of delusional. They are whistling while walking past the graveyard, convincing themselves that somehow they are in the right, while the broader community rejects their cruel blood sport.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

In Macau, an Historic Moment for the Greyhounds

First International Roundtable on Greyhounds, photo by Heather Neil
After meeting with greyhound advocates in New Zealand and Australia, GREY2K USA Worldwide President Christine Dorchak and I ended our marathon campaign trip in Macau. All over the world dog racing is the subject of controversy, and the center of this debate is the Canidrome greyhound track, where every racing dog is eventually killed.

Christine and I inspected the track, a sad facility that reeks of death. Greyhounds with visible bandages and severed tails race before an empty grandstand. Seeing the worst dog track in the world strengthened my resolve to end this animal cruelty.

The Canidrome sits on government land, and has a lease that expires at the end of this year. Nearly 300,000 citizens from across the globe have already signed a petition to Macau Chief Executive Chui Sai On, asking him to let the track close. While in Macau, we were given a high level meeting with the Macau government, and left encouraged that a victory for the dogs is possible.

Our trip to Macau also made history. For the first time, top level animal protection leaders from all over the world joined together, in person, to address the cruelty of greyhound racing. We were incredibly honored to be joined at this meeting by Lyn White from Animals Australia, Paul Littlefair from the British RSPCA, Heather Neil from RSPCA Australia, Nancy Lai from the Taiwan SPCA, Teresa Lee and Chris Cui from the SPCA Hong Kong, Karina O'Carrol and Irene Feng from Animals Asia, Qin Xiaona from the Capital Animal Welfare Association, Kirsten Mitchell from Kirsten's Zoo and others. This all-star panel of animal protection advocates planned a strategy to close the Canidrome, and discussed other greyhound welfare issues.

This historic event was hosted by non-profit group Anima Macau and its dynamic President, Albano Martins. Albano is a true champion for all dogs, and it's a good sign that he is leading the fight to help the Canidrome greyhounds.

Christine and I are now back in the GREY2K USA Worldwide office, catching up on domestic campaigns in Florida, West Virginia and other states. Although the United States will always be our top priority, I see how intertwined the many fights now underway to help greyhounds truly are. This is a global problem, and deserves a global solution.