Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Will the Texas Racing Commission Stand Up for Crispin the Greyhound?

Yesterday, the Galveston County Daily News reported on the death of Crispins Place, a two-year-old brindle greyhound who died last February.

Crispin was a champion racer. In 2010, he won the Hollywoodian stakes race in South Florida, and was nominated by the National Greyhound Association for the Flashy Sir Award as one of the fastest distance racers in the country.

Sadly, Crispin's success did not protect him from being neglected when he needed help the most.

On Valentines Day, Crispin suffered a broken leg during an unofficial schooling race at Gulf Greyhound Park. When this serious injury occurred, it was the responsibility of trainer Craig Edwards to make sure Crispin received prompt veterinary care. However, according to state records:
"Mr. Edwards failed to seek medical treatment for the greyhound until 2/16/11 thus subjecting the greyhound to unnecessary suffering."
As shocking as this neglect is, what happened next may be even more disturbing. Although the Texas Racing Commission officially ruled that Crispin had been the subject of "inhumane treatment," they only fined Edwards a paltry $500, without suspending his license for even a single day.

This penalty is clearly insufficient, which is why we wrote to the Texas Racing Commission two weeks ago and asked them to reopen this case and consider handing down a stiffer penalty.

Strong regulatory agencies can greatly improve the lives of greyhounds. They are the first line of defense in preventing severe cases of cruelty and neglect, and greyhound advocates owe them a debt of gratitude. However, the system fails every time a regulatory agency shirks its responsibility, or loses sight of the fact that it must be an independent regulator of greyhound racing rather than a promoter.

I am grateful to the Galveston County Daily News for their front page story reporting on this important issue, and also to GREY2K USA Research Director Catherine Vassighi for her work in bringing light to this case.

Now it is up to the Texas Racing Commission to do the right thing. Its response to our letter will send a clear message about whether they take the welfare of greyhounds seriously, or not.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Greyhound Protection Efforts Advance in Alabama, But More Work is Left to Do

Last week, greyhound protection efforts in Alabama took a big step forward when VictoryLand Greyhound Park announced that it is ending live greyhound racing on June 1.

The end of dog racing at the track, which has held races for more than a quarter of a century, is the result of a bizarre sequence of legislative intrigue, State Police raids, and federal indictments. In a few weeks, VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor will stand trial on charges that he allegedly conspired with others to buy and sell votes in an attempt to legalize slot machines. Ironically, the track had already installed thousands of slot machine-like devices it was using to prop up greyhound racing. Now the slot machines have been removed, McGregor faces federal charges, and greyhound racing is ending.

As important as this victory is, there is a tremendous amount of work left to do for greyhounds in Alabama. There are still two tracks left in the state, Mobile Greyhound Park and Birmingham Racecourse.

At these tracks, hundreds of greyhounds endure lives of confinement and suffer serious injuries. Also, in recent years several troubling cases involving drugs have been documented in the Alabama dog racing industry. For example:
  • On October 20, 2009, a greyhound at Birmingham Racecourse tested positive for cocaine. As a result, the trainer responsible for the dog was suspended for 60 days by the Birmingham Racing Commission.
Greyhounds in Alabama are also subjected to a regulatory system that is broken and badly in need of reform. The $50 fine handed down by the Mobile Racing Commission in 2009 for a cocaine positive greyhound is outrageous. Further, the Mobile Racing Commission has refused to make greyhound injury reports available to the public. Unfortunately, these are only two examples of the lack of oversight that is frequently demonstrated by Alabama track regulators. In particular, Mobile Racing Commission executive director Kip Keefer has repeatedly proven that he views his job as representing dog track owners, rather than the general public.

A former dog track executive himself, Keefer has repeatedly dismissed any legitimate criticism of Alabama's dog tracks. When media reported on the Mobile cocaine positive in May 2010, Keefer told greyhound breeders in an on line forum that the news story was an "8 month old pile of garbage." In another message, he gave greyhound breeders specific directions on how they should respond to greyhound protection groups like GREY2K USA:
"Anytime this industry is attacked the response must be swift and non-defensive in nature."
In response to this message, greyhound breeder Wendy Brotherton told Kip that he was doing a "good job," and said that the greyhound racing industry needs "to get real 'cozy' with the media in areas in order to get them to contact us FIRST before publishing anything detrimental" to the racing industry.

Keefer also publicly defended track owner Milton McGregor as recently as October 2010, authoring a letter in the Birmingham News in which he wrote:
"I have had the privilege of working for and with Milton McGregor off and on over the past 20 years. I cannot think of anyone who possesses more honesty and integrity."
Thankfully, there is reason to hope that the future is bright for greyhounds at Birmingham and Mobile. In recent years, new allies have spoken up for these dogs.

Most notably, GREY2K USA Vice President Jennifer Krebs has become the most prominent voice for Alabama's greyhounds. A former adoption volunteer who rescued greyhounds from Birmingham, Jennifer has personally seen the cruel and inhumane treatment dogs are subjected to, and writes frequently about greyhound protection issues in Alabama on her blog, Living the Greyt Life.

The greyhounds are also fortunate to have allies like Joe Godfrey of the Alabama Citizens Action Program and Mindy Gilbert, State Director for the Humane Society of the United States. In fact, greyhound protection efforts in Alabama are picking up steam every day, with more opinion leaders, bloggers, and humane advocates joining the fight.

With allies like these, I am convinced that our best days in Alabama are ahead of us, and the closure of VictoryLand is just the beginning.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Looking Forward for Florida's Greyhounds

Last week, a bill to decouple greyhound racing from other forms of gambling (House Bill 1145) stalled when it was not brought up for a vote on the final day of the Florida legislative session. This lack of action defeated the bill, despite the fact that it had already been approved by both the state House of Representatives and Senate.

This was an important proposal that would have significantly decreased greyhound injuries in the state and reduced the number of greyhounds that endure lives of confinement. Because it would have done so much good, its defeat is heartbreaking.

However, the progress we made in this campaign should also give us reason to hope.

Our decoupling bill stalled due to purely technical reasons, after greyhound advocates had decisively won the policy debate. In the House, the greyhounds won by an overwhelming 86 to 31 margin, while the Senate similarly supported greyhound decoupling by a solid vote of 25 to 14. Newspapers from across the state editorialized in favor of greyhound decoupling, including the Orlando Sentinel, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Naples Daily News, Tampa Tribune, and Panama City News Herald.

Thousands of grassroots activists in the Sunshine State called, e-mailed, and visited with their lawmakers on behalf of the greyhounds. These grassroots supporters were the heart of our effort, and our success was due in large part to their participation and commitment.

Through this effort we also discovered new allies for the greyhounds, including compassionate lawmakers who are committed to fighting for the dogs. Most notably, State Representative Dana Young proved herself to be a powerful advocate of this common sense bill, and the greyhound protection community owes her a debt of gratitude for her hard work.

I am also grateful for the work of the Greyhounds First Coalition, a joint effort by animal protection groups and adoption organizations including Greyhound Adoptions of Florida, USA Defenders of Greyhounds and the National Greyhound Adoption Program. While greyhound breeders were using scare tactics with lawmakers, these groups demonstrated true leadership. They let legislators know that greyhound decoupling is an opportunity to help even more dogs find loving homes, and they were prepared to step up and participate in the transition.

Despite this temporary loss, it is inevitable that greyhound racing end in Florida. Since 1990, tax revenue from live dog racing has declined by nearly 97%, and many tracks are losing money on dog races. At these tracks, greyhound racing only exists because the state mandates that a set number of live races be held in order to offer other forms of gambling. This mandate has effectively become a state subsidy for greyhound breeders, creating an artificial market for their failing businesses.

Greyhound racing will also end because it has lost public support. More people know about the cruelty of greyhound racing than ever before, and lawmakers are responding to this increase in public awareness.

The question has become when, not if, greyhound racing ends in Florida. So while I grieve the dogs that could have been helped by this year's decoupling bill, I also know that as greyhound advocates our best days are ahead of us.