Friday, July 11, 2014

Report Reveals Stark Conditions at Macau Dog Track

In late June, a trade group for the Australian racing industry, Greyhounds Australasia, released a review of greyhound exports. This report includes new details about the Canidrome dog track in Macau, where hundreds of greyhounds die every year. According to the review:
"Construction of the kennels is almost entirely concrete and metal. Each individual kennel is numbered and has a raised bed with some bedding ... the entire facility can house up to 900 greyhounds."
"The kennels are 50 years old and appear dark and uninviting but were clean and cool."
"There were no runs' or outdoor yards for exercise ... many of the greyhounds chose to lie on the concrete floor of their kennels."
The report also indicates that as many as half of all greyhounds that race at the Canidrome are killed annually:
"Macau management confirmed that close to 50 per cent of their racing stock were euthanized each year due to serious injury."
The greyhounds that aren't killed instead live the rest of their life in dismal conditions. This is partly because greyhounds are imported to Macau under a working dog license, and not allowed to be pets. This means that Brooklyn the greyhound may still be alive, and being kept in a concrete kennel with hundreds of other dogs. According to the review:
"At the end of a greyhound's career, its owner decides on what will happen to the greyhound. Some continue to pay their kennel fees and the dogs are simply housed at the Canidrome until old age - GA delegates met a number of these elderly residents during our visit."
Regarding injuries, the review indicates that "many" of the Canidrome greyhounds were previously hurt in Australia before being sent to Macau. It also states that there are serious problems with the Canidrome track surface, including issues that cannot be resolved:
"The track has two parallel straights with quite tight turns at either end ... there is no possibility of the track shape being able to be modified due to the other land uses both inside and outside the track."
What does the future hold for the Canidrome?
"The track surface appears to be too dry and too hard most of the time and the manual methods of preparing the racing surface is likely to lead to inconsistent race surfaces ... it is not possible for the track shape to be altered."
Incredibly, after documenting all of this cruelty, Greyhounds Australasia was still predisposed to defend the Canidrome. According to the review, group representatives found it "extremely difficult to be overly critical of the greyhound racing operations in Macau." Further, although the group has suspended greyhound passports to the track, their decision has not prevented Australian greyhounds from being shipped there.

It's now clear that the greyhound racing industry will take no serious action to address the problems in Macau. The government has no choice but to close the track, and we are asking it to do so when the Canidrome's lease expires at the end of 2015.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

NGA Tells Sheriff Not to File Charges, Instead Tries to Profit from Greyhound Neglect Case

A greyhound puppy at the Vonderstrasse
farm in Kansas, 2012
Last week the National Greyhound Association (NGA) announced it was revoking the membership of Shane Vonderstrasse, after an inspection at his Arkansas breeding facility found greyhounds "not receiving proper care and adequate shelter." The NGA is a lobby group that represents greyhound breeders.

In its statement, the NGA indicated that it was "accompanied by local law enforcement" agents during the inspection. It also quoted Executive Director Gary Guccione, who claimed this incident is proof the industry effectively polices itself:
"This was an unusual case that required NGA's immediate action and full attention ... NGA representatives and members responded to the situation swiftly and effectively." 
As usual, the NGA is only telling the public part of the story. The full truth is shocking, and proves that the NGA's top priority is protecting greyhound breeders, even those who have committed acts of serious animal neglect.

According to an official Incident Report from the Izard County Sheriff's Office, a large number of dogs were in distress when the Vonderstrasse inspection occurred. Citing a witness, the Report states:
"There was 141 dogs that were alive and 2 were deceased (sic) ... some of them had to be nursed back to health ... the dogs that were dead had died from lack of food and water. He said Mr. [redacted] only had financial ability and means to house 50 to 60 dogs."
NGA Executive Gary Guccione,
photo from Facebook, 2013
The report also indicates that Vonderstrasse had at least one previous incident involving animal welfare, and the NGA "had a problem with [name redacted] a short time back in Abilene concerning greyhound dogs and had to pick up a number of the dogs at that time." This previous incident has also been mentioned in recent industry discussions.

After the dogs were rescued, the Izard County Sheriff's Office asked the NGA if it wanted to press charges against Vonderstrasse:
"I asked [name redacted] if they wished for the state to press charges on [name redacted] for this incident. He told me I needed to talk with Gary Guccione [partially redacted] to see if they wished to press charges."
Incredibly, three days later the NGA responded by telling the Sheriff's Office not to charge Vonderstrasse with animal neglect:
"He stated that he did not wish to pursue charges because he believed they 'got all they were going to get' from [name redacted]. [name redacted] also said he would not be willing to come to Izard County to testify in Court."
As outrageous as that admission is, the next revelation in the Incident Report is even more troubling:
After being rescued, Lady Wire and her four young
puppies are being auctioned off on Friday
"He also stated he did not want people knowing that he was not willing to do so."
Unfortunately, this story has one more sad chapter. After being rescued, some of the Vonderstrasse dogs were given to adoption groups. But at least 23 dogs from the case are being auctioned off to the highest bidder by the NGA on Friday. The auction list includes a nine-year-old fawn greyhound named Gable Eris. Three years ago she was sold to Vonderstrasse for a mere $400, and after everything she has been through she deserves a break.

But there will be no retirement for Gable Eris if the NGA gets its way. She is on the auction block so the industry can make a few more dollars off of her sad life. She is joined by seven other female greyhounds to be used for breeding, including an eight-year-old red fawn greyhound named Lady Wire. Lady Wire is being auctioned off with four young puppies that are only a few weeks old. Her puppies were born nine days after Lady Wire was removed from the Vonderstrasse farm.


Enough is enough. The NGA should be seen for what it actually is: a lobby group that covers up for greyhound breeders, and prevents them from being held accountable for their actions. It puts out press releases, while at the same time actively enabling greyhound cruelty and neglect.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Millionaire Greyhound Breeder Tells Group to Kill Dog

Millionaire greyhound breeder
Brad Boeckenstedt, photo by the NGA
In the next few days, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad will either sign or veto a bill to phase out greyhound racing in Iowa. The measure, Senate File 2362, will permanently end dog racing at one track and discontinue $14 million in annual subsidies for greyhound breeders. Even though the dog racing industry won major concessions, this bill is a big step forward for greyhounds.

Before Governor Branstad makes a final decision on SF 2362, he should take a moment to think about millionaire greyhound breeder Brad Boeckenstedt. Perhaps more than any other individual, Boeckenstedt personifies the problem that has been caused by current Iowa law. Even though greyhound racing is dying, Boeckenstedt has received at least $4.75 million in subsidy payments since 2009.

Since Boeckenstedt's private greyhound breeding business is heavily subsidized, you would think he would ensure positive outcomes for every dog he races. Sadly, that is not the case. Just yesterday, we received state records from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation regarding greyhound deaths in the Sunshine State. One of these documents provides evidence about what really happens to greyhounds bred by Boeckenstedt.

On April 2, 2014 a greyhound named Boc's Velocity suffered a broken leg at Melbourne Greyhound Park. Melbourne is a low-end track where gambling is virtually non existent. The track is only open because it is required to hold races, by law, in order to operate a profitable poker room. A witness statement included in the official record of Velocity's death indicates what happened next:
"Velocity's leg was stabilized and splinted by the track veterinarian, Dr. Richard George."
The dog was then turned over to a local greyhound adoption group. Velocity was "comfortable" and "did not show any signs of pain." The adoption group decided to save the dog, and stated:
"(We) wanted to repair Velocity's leg as we have done hundreds of times before with other greyhounds."
When the group contacted the owner of Velocity, though, they were told to instead have the dog killed:
"The greyhound's racing owner, Brad Boeckenstedt, was contacted and it was relayed to me that he wanted the greyhound euthanized."
Unfortunately, Velocity died on the operating table while undergoing surgery to repair his leg. When he died, he was only two years old.

In Velocity, we see the real face of the Iowa dog racing industry. At the same time that greyhound breeders take millions of dollars in subsidies, they race their dogs at low end Florida tracks. When dogs like Velocity inevitably suffer injuries, they are simply discarded.

Is Governor Branstad going to let greyhound breeders get away with this? Greyhound racing has been a stain on Iowa for years, and the time has come for it to end. A powerful argument for change was made by the Governor himself, only a few months ago on February 26:
"Dog racing is a dying industry all over the country. A lot of dog tracks have closed, the information I've seen is that attendance has dropped dramatically ... we already have one that's closed in Waterloo, and we have two more in Iowa that want to close."
Please contact Governor Terry Branstad right away, and ask him to sign SF 2362. Tell him he should do it for Velocity, and all the other dogs who have suffered as a result of a bad law.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bay State Politicians Endorse Greyhound Cruelty

Greyhounds endure lives of confinement at Florida tracks
Last night, the Massachusetts Senate voted to again extend greyhound simulcasting, a practice that allows local gamblers to bet on dog races from other states. This action follows a similar vote in the state House of Representatives. As a result, it is a near certainty that tens of millions of dollars will continue to be bet every year on dog racing in Massachusetts, even though citizens overwhelmingly voted to outlaw this activity in 2008. Our ballot question was clear, and prohibited "any form of betting or wagering on the speed or ability of dogs."

At the same time, Senate leadership a rejected a proposal by eight lawmakers to finally end greyhound simulcasting and respect the will of the voters. We are very grateful for the courage of Senator Pat Jehlen, who was joined by Senators Jason Lewis, James Eldridge, William Brownsberger, Robert Hedlund, Ken Donnelly, Michael Barrett and Cynthia Creem. These lawmakers gave the greyhounds a voice, and deserve our thanks.

But in the end, the same Beacon Hill politicians who made a backroom deal on greyhound simulcasting in 2009 failed the voters again. They sided with racetrack owners and lobbyists, and their failure in leadership will have real consequences. For example, in Florida a racing greyhound is dying every three days. There are a dozen operational tracks in the Sunshine State, and those tracks remain open in part because gamblers from other states, including Massachusetts, are betting remotely on the races. More than $28 million was bet last year on greyhound simulcasting in Massachusetts, although the activity is dying. In just four years, the amount bet on greyhound simulcasting has declined by 24%, and is at its lowest level in decades.

Greyhound simulcasting has dropped by 24%
Thankfully, an effort is now underway to place a question before voters that will finally outlaw greyhound simulcasting in Massachusetts. The measure will also keep casino gambling out of the state, and is being led by a grassroots coalition named Repeal the Casino Deal. We are supporting this campaign, and are hopeful it will succeed. Although we have no position on casino gambling, their ballot question will now become one of our top national priorities because it also addresses greyhound simulcasting. We will work hard for its passage, and will reach out to other animal protection groups and ask them to also support this important proposal.

Enough is enough. If Massachusetts voters have to speak again on this issue, then so be it. We are confident they will side with the dogs, and finally end all state support for greyhound cruelty.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Drugs, Filthy Conditions Found at Alabama Dog Track

Birmingham Race Course, c. 2012, photo by Ray Wong
According to government records we recently obtained, inspectors documented a myriad of problems at Birmingham Race Course in Alabama in 2013. These issues were documented repeatedly throughout the year. Meanwhile, it appears that virtually no disciplinary action was taken by regulators.

On December 4, inspectors at the track found four drugs along with needles and syringes in the Fine Line Racing Kennel. One of the drugs was an anabolic steroid called Testosterone Cypionate. While it's likely this drug is being used by prevent female greyhounds from coming into heat, it can also be used to enhance performance. According to Steroid.com:
"Testosterone Cypionate is a highly anabolic and androgenic hormone making it a great steroid to use if one is in pursuit of more size and strength."
Incredibly, greyhound trainer Eric Griffin was only fined $100 for possession of this anabolic steroid. This is nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and raises serious doubts about the effectiveness of the Birmingham Racing Commission.

On the same day, inspectors found that the Phat Kat Kennel "had a strong odor" and that multiple dogs in the kennel had "flea dirt" and "live fleas." The official inspection report further states that there has been a "persistent flea infestation in this kennel." As far as we can tell, no disciplinary action was taken.

Months earlier, in September, similar problems were documented at Birmingham Race Course. In the Phat Kat kennel, inspectors found that the food preparation area was "cluttered and dirty" and the refrigerator was "filthy." Inspectors also noted that the kennel compound was in a general state of disrepair.

Going back further, on May 21 the story was the same. A syringe was discovered in the Phat Kat kennel at the track, broken cages were found in the Double G Kennel, and officials were unable to conduct any inspection at all for two kennels.

Alabama is the only state in the country that does not have a state regulatory body to govern greyhound racing, and it shows. Local agencies like the Birmingham Racing Commission are not up to the job of addressing even basic issues, like drug cases and filthy conditions. In the next legislative session the state should create an Alabama Racing Commission, and send a message that it will not tolerate this cruelty.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A High Water Mark for Greyhound Advocacy in Florida

Penrose Jake died after racing at Orange Park in August 2013
Last Friday, the Florida House of Representatives adjourned without voting on a proposal to require greyhound injury reporting. The measure, Senate Bill 742, had passed the Senate on a unanimous 40-0 vote earlier in the day. When the House neglected to consider this humane bill, it died. A few weeks earlier, a greyhound decoupling proposal had failed due to a legislative technicality.

I am heartbroken over the defeat of these common sense proposals, which would have saved the lives of countless greyhounds. Nonetheless, I know that for the greyhound advocacy community our best days are ahead of us. Let me explain.

The Sunshine State is home to a majority of all remaining dog tracks in the United States. At these twelve facilities a greyhound dies every three days, and since May 31 of last year at least 107 racing dogs have died. We also know that Florida tracks are losing tens of millions each year on greyhound racing, and are only continuing this archaic practice because they are required to do so by law.

In response to this problem, a real movement has emerged for the dogs. Over the past year, a coalition of humane minded citizens and organizations has fought for greyhound decoupling and injury reporting in Florida. Lawmakers, newspaper editorial boards, columnists, and grassroots citizens have all spoken up. Together, they have given the greyhounds an unprecedented voice. This chorus of support represents all aspects of civic life: conservatives, progressives, and everyone in between.

State lawmakers and elected officials who fought for the dogs include Senate President Don Gaetz, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Senator Eleanor Sobel, Senator Maria Sachs, Senator Garrett Richter, Representative Jared Moskowitz, Representative Matt Gaetz, Representative John Wood, Representative Ray Pilon and Representative Dana Young. These leaders may diverge on other issues, but they all agree that greyhounds deserve to be protected. Perhaps the most outspoken elected official for greyhounds is Representative Matt Gaetz, who rightly called greyhound racing "barbaric," and added:
"This is an activity that very few people watch, even fewer people bet on ... that erodes our collective humanity."
Newspaper editorial boards from across the state also stood up for the dogs, including the Sun-Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times, Orlando Sentinel, Panama City News Herald, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Jacksonville Times-Union, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Lakeland Ledger, Ocala Star-Banner and Bradenton Herald. On January 31, the Herald-Tribune wrote:
"Requiring facilities to offer racing that the public no longer supports doesn't make sense. Eliminating the requirement won't hurt anyone, but it will help greyhounds avoid a fate they don't deserve."
The greyhounds were also supported by opinion leaders and columnists from across Florida, including Doug Lyons, Tom Lyons, Sue Carlton, Gary Stein and Mark Lane. Our humane campaign was summarized well by Sue Carlton only days before the end of the legislative session, when she wrote:
"Remember how we did things before we knew better? ... for at least another year, the dogs will be run as before, even though the world has moved forward, even though we have options, even though by now we should be better than this."
Finally, a vast grassroots network called for change. This included thousands of people from all over the state, and notable community leaders Vicky Gaetz, Ann Church and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Kate MacFall and Wayne Pacelle from The Humane Society of the United States, Marc Reichelderfer, Greyhound Rescue and Adoptions of Tampa Bay, Greyhound Adoptions of Florida, the National Greyhound Adoption Program, Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys, the Humane Society of Vero Beach & Indian River County, the Florida Association of Animal Welfare Organizations, the Florida Animal Control Association, SPCA Tampa Bay, Humane Society Naples, Jacksonville Humane Society, Palm Beach Animal Care and Control, First Coast No More Homeless Pets, Alaqua Animal Refuge, the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, the Student Animal Legal Defense FundRetired Greyhounds as Pets, and Cat Depot. Throughout the session Vicky Gaetz tirelessly fought for the dogs, and on April 8 told the Miami Herald why she was working so hard:
"In a civil society, it doesn't seem right to have these noble animals be caged and forced to race when they don't have to be."
Whitney lives with a loving family in Kansas
Even anti-gambling group No Casinos, which has reservations about greyhound decoupling, spoke out for the greyhounds:
"We agree greyhound racing should end. Let's use gambling tax $ to buy back greyhound track permits."
Our coalition grew into a true army of compassion, and our hard work resulted in the unanimous passage of injury reporting in the Senate. This was a high water mark for greyhound advocacy in Florida, and a glimpse into what the future holds on this issue. In the end, greyhound decoupling and injury reporting failed because of the influence of special interests and powerful lobbyists, and due to industry infighting. But our movement is not going away. We will be back, and next time our coalition of compassion will not be denied.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Florida Greyhound Breeders Tell Lawmakers a Tall Tale

Seamus lives with a loving family in New York
In January, the Florida Greyhound Association distributed a press release which claimed that gambling on dog races is actually increasing. The missive was based on data from a single month, and titled:
"Florida's Greyhound Racing Venues See Revenue, Attendance Rise"
According to the release, dog tracks in Florida are "experiencing steady growth" and are "on an upward trend." There is only one problem with these statements: they are completely false.

According to data from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, betting at Florida dog tracks for the first eight months of the Fiscal Year is actually down by $670,731. Further, several tracks are experiencing declines that are nothing short of catastrophic. Pari-mutuel gambling at Pensacola Greyhound Track, for example, is down by 35%. Similarly, wagering at Ebro Greyhound Park is down by 11%.

In its press release, the Florida Greyhound Association also singled out tracks that it claimed are doing particularly well. The lobbying group claimed that betting is up at Derby Lane and Tampa, because "both tracks have full time racing advocates in marketing and public relations." Once again, this is proven wrong by the facts. According to state data, greyhound gambling at Derby Lane and Tampa is down by 8.9% and 7.6%, respectively. It's also important to note that there is no live racing at Tampa, which essentially operates as an off track betting parlor.

Were these simple mistakes by the Florida Greyhound Association, or an attempt to intentionally mislead lawmakers? Nearly a month before it went out, greyhound breeders were warned that the data they based their press release on was "inflated a bit." This apparently did not deter them from making these false statements, just weeks before the start of the legislative session.

Finally, the decline of dog racing is not limited to Florida. According to data that was released today by the Macau government, gambling at the Canidrome dog track is down by a staggering 23% for the first quarter of 2014. Meanwhile, new data from a racetrack regulator in Alabama indicates that betting on dog races at Birmingham Race Course fell by 8.7% in 2013.

All over the world, greyhound racing is dying. This is good news, and brings us closer to the day when greyhound racing will inevitably end.