Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Dog Days of Summer

The past few weekends, I have taken my adopted greyhound Zoe to a local beach to cool off. She likes laying on a blanket and rubbing her nose in the sand, although she is afraid of the waves.

Sadly, summer is not this kind to all greyhounds. At dog tracks throughout the country greyhounds continue to race, even on the hottest days of summer.

For example, greyhounds raced last night at Tucson Greyhound Park, despite the fact that it was 104 degrees when the races began. In doing so, the track and the Arizona Department of Racing ignored a letter we sent to them in which we asked that they cancel the night's races. To underline our concerns, we included a Heat Advisory that had been issued by the National Weather Service.

On the previous night, the track only held four races before cancelling the remainder of races that had been scheduled. That was the right thing to do, but it raises an interesting question: why would the track do the right thing one night, but then turn around and put greyhounds in peril a day later?

It is also mysterious that the management of Tucson Greyhound Park has removed the official results for June 27, the day in which they did cancel some races, from their website. We have filed a public information request for state records related to those races, and it will be interesting to see what documents we receive.

I am disappointed that state regulators and track officials opted to go ahead with a full racing schedule last night in Tucson. Once again, they proved that the greyhound racing industry puts profits ahead of the health and welfare of its canine participants.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Language of the Dog Racing Industry

"Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.

Watch your habits, for they become character.

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny."

-- Anonymous.
I have always believed that the fight over greyhound racing ultimately boils down to a very simple disagreement over how we perceive dogs. Most of us see dogs as living beings, companions and members of the family. On the other hand, the greyhound racing industry views dogs as commodities, or numbers to gamble on.

That is why greyhound breeders use terms like "producer" to describe breeding dogs. It is also why they refer to greyhounds in terms that relate solely to their financial value. For an example, look at this blog post published today by the Australian website The Dogs. In this post, The Dogs reports on a greyhound named Blue Lorian, who is being retired due to a shoulder injury. His owner is obviously sad about this turn of events, because Blue Lorian was a big money maker:
"Brendan and I thought he could have gone on for another 12 months, but at three-and-a-half years of age it’s the right thing to do ... We want him on all fours before we start breeding with him."
The blog post then reports that Blue Lorian has a nickname:
“The gift that keeps on giving”
Blue Lorian was given this nickname because he was a Christmas present, and also because he won $375,000 in prize money during his career. According to his owner:
“He got my head above water ... we tried to do the right thing with the kids education and whatever else, but we were always paying by credit card and then paying interest on the credit card. Now we’ve paid all the bills and whenever we put something on the credit card we pay it off straight away."
This attitude is typical in the greyhound racing industry. To many greyhound breeders and racetrack owners, greyhounds aren't even dogs at all.

That might sound like an exaggeration, but it's not. Don't take my word for it. Instead, take the word of former dog track owner Kelly Carney, who gave us her perspective on greyhounds during a 2008 debate over greyhound racing:
"Excuse me, but you're not talking about dogs. You're talking about greyhound racing pets right now. You're not talking about house pets."
At the beginning of this post, I quoted an anonymous author. I think this author got it exactly right. We have to watch our words, because they both reflect our thoughts and become our actions.

Friday, June 10, 2011

"The Greatest Producer Ever"

As part of our work at GREY2K USA, we closely monitor the greyhound racing industry. During this process, we frequently learn about industry standard practices and hear stories about past champion greyhounds.

One sad example of a past champion greyhound is the story of Buzz Off. Born on January 15, 1984, Buzz Off was a brindle greyhound who was owned by greyhound breeder Ron Beckner. She was not successful as a racer, but was eventually inducted into the Greyhound Hall of Fame for her work as a brood bitch. During her life, she was bred 11 times and gave birth to 79 puppies. Two of her puppies won more than $500,000 in combined winnings.

In summary, Buzz Off was inducted into the Greyhound Hall of Fame because the racing industry made so much money off of her and her puppies.

Even more details about Buzz Off were recently disclosed in an on line discussion over at American Greyhounds, an internet forum used by the dog racing industry. In this discussion thread, titled "The Greatest Producer Ever," it was disclosed that Buzz Off only raced five times before suffering a broken leg, and was later bred "brother to sister in second generation." Here are a few excerpts:
"This dog was an act of God really. How many dogs would you ever see bred 11 times and produce unreal hall of fame dogs time after time."
"She almost wasn't bred back then. She had five races and two wins at Sarasota then broke her leg."
"In a conversation I had with Ron Beckner years ago, he said he really wanted to breed to Perceive ... He had debated on breeding Buzz Off at all, but when she came in, he said he called to see if Perceive was available out of habit and to his surprise he was. At that point he said he didn't care anymore if this was his worst brood prospect, Perceive was available and he was breeding to him. The funny part was that it was only after he hung up the phone that he thought to look at their pedigrees. He said his heart sank when he saw he was breeding brother to sister in the second generation, but then decided what the hell, he'd waited that long to get Perceive and he was going to go ahead with it."
"I just love reading these kinds of stories. Thanks Martin for all the info and thanks Remo for posting in the first place ... Does anyone know what became of Buzz Off after she was done raising her puppies?"
This discussion underscores the selfish view that greyhound breeders hold when it comes to these magnificent dogs. First and foremost, dogs are judged on their ability to generate a profit. If a greyhound generates revenue, either as a racer or breeder, the dog becomes an "Act of God." Their welfare is always a secondary concern.

I don't know what happened to Buzz Off (pictured at right and above), although records show that she was still being used as a puppy "producer" a few months before her tenth birthday. I hope she was given a few years respite on a couch somewhere. She certainly deserved it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Texas Racing Commission Responds to the Death of Crispin the Greyhound

Last week I wrote about the death of Crispins Place, a champion greyhound who died in February after suffering a broken leg at Gulf Greyhound Park in Texas. According to state records, Crispin did not receive veterinary care until two days after his injury, causing him to be subject to "unnecessary suffering." For this "inhumane treatment," trainer Criag Edwards was fined a paltry $500 and not suspended for even a single day.

After learning of Crispin's death, we wrote to the Texas Racing Commission to express our disappointment in the handling of this incident, and urged officials to reopen the case and consider handing down a stiffer penalty. We have received a formal response to our letter, which contains information that is both encouraging and worrisome.

To begin with, Texas Racing Commission Executive Director Chuck Trout states that he does not have the legal authority to reopen the case of Crispin's death:
"Under the Texas Racing Act and the Commission's rules, a decision of the stewards or judges becomes final unless appealed within three days of issuance by the affected licensee. Since Judge's Ruling Gulf 962 was issued on March 18, 2011, it became final on March 21, 2011, when Mr. Edwards did not file an appeal. The Commission therefore no longer has jurisdiction to reopen the case."
The Texas Racing Commission certainly has an obligation to follow the law, even when the law is flawed. But is this really the law? Mr. Trout's position seems to directly contradict Texas Administrative Code RULE §307.69, which reads:
"On its own motion or on request by the executive secretary, the Commission may reverse a decision of the stewards or racing judges, modify a penalty imposed by the stewards or racing judges, or reinstate a person's license and rescind the penalty."
In any event, Mr. Trout then acknowledges that the Commission needs greater authority and "management of field staff":
"While all of the agency's stewards and judges are very capable and experienced, the Commission recognized during Sunset reviews that the Texas Racing Act could be improved by providing for additional management oversight of field staff."
Trout then writes that this "management oversight" will soon be given to the Commission under a newly passed law, and writes:
"While this change would not authorize me to revise past decisions, my ongoing reviews of decisions will be accompanied by the authority to make adjustments where necessary to ensure that the Act and Rules are enforced consistently and effectively."
In other words, Trout claims that the Texas Racing Commission does not have the authority now to reopen the case of Crispin's death, (although the Administrative Rules say otherwise), but it will have this authority soon, and the Commission acknowledges they need this authority to make sure the Rules are enforced "consistently and effectively."

Despite the fact that the Commission does apparently already have the authority to act in this case, it is good news that the Commission is seeking greater legal powers. It is important that dog track regulators have all of the tools available to do their jobs, and improved oversight will undoubtedly help greyhounds.

The next paragraph in Mr. Trout's letter, however, is deeply troubling:
"With their knowledge and experience, the judges are in the best position to determine the appropriate level of penalty that will both punish the individual and deter future, similar violations by the regulated community."
With all due respect, this bizarre set of positions is nothing short of schizophrenic. In one paragraph, Trout states that the judges are in the "best position to determine the appropriate level of penalty," while in another paragraph states that the Commission acknowledges the "Texas Racing Act could be improved by providing for additional management oversight of field staff" and has repeatedly asked lawmakers for the authority to overrule the judges.

There is more to Trout's letter, however. He continues:
"In this case, the fine imposed by the board of judges is the highest monetary sanction imposed at Gulf Greyhound Park in more than two years."
If Mr. Trout and the Texas Racing Commissioners believe this penalty was appropriate, then they are simply out of touch. Here are the facts: a champion greyhound named Crispin Place suffered a catastrophic injury. He did not receive veterinary care until two days later. The Texas Racing Commission officially termed this "inhumane treatment" that caused Crispin "unnecessary suffering." For this "inhumane treatment," greyhound trainer Craig Edwards was fined $500 and not suspended for even a single day.

Finally, Trout ends his letter as follows:
"I have directed the judges to meet with both the kennel and management of Gulf Greyhound Park to verify that veterinary care is readily available at all times and to impress upon all trainers that necessary medical attention may never be delayed for any ill or injured animal. It is my expectation that all parties will take steps to ensure that there is no recurrence of this event."
For the greyhounds now racing at Gulf, I hope the "steps" referenced by Mr. Trout are real and concrete. Regardless of how any of us feel about greyhound racing, the "unnecessary suffering" that Crispins Place was subjected to is inexcusable.

Unfortunately, the Texas Racing Commission is sending mixed signals about its willingness to address this problem. It is good the Commission is seeking greater authority, and asking the track and kennel operators to take steps to prevent this from happening again. At the same time, its defense of this slap on the wrist penalty sends the message that there really is no substantive punishment for greyhound cruelty in the Lone Star state.