Thursday, March 29, 2012

Give Zoe the Greyhound a Birthday Gift by Adopting a New Friend

On Sunday, my rescued greyhound Zoe will celebrate her tenth birthday. For our entire family, this will be cause for celebration.

A few months ago, we nearly lost our friend when she was misdiagnosed with bone cancer. Thankfully, a good veterinarian discovered her real problem -- a relatively minor neck issue -- and she has since made a full recovery.

I've lived with adopted animals for decades. These friends provide us with more than just companionship, they give us fuller lives. Also, I am constantly inspired by the dedication of greyhounds like DeeDee, the trusted service dog.

Zoe's birthday, April 1st, also marks the beginning of Adopt-A-Greyhound Month. As a birthday gift to her, please consider adopting a new friend. To find out how, contact a local adoption group today.

Finally, if you are unable to adopt a greyhound but would still like to make a difference, please consider helping in other ways. Find a local greyhound adoption group near you, and consider making a donation or volunteering some of your time.

Zoe will appreciate it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

For the Greyhounds, Lawmakers Should Create Alabama State Racing Commission

Last week, the Birmingham News reported on a proposed bill that would give lawmakers a greater role in regulating greyhound racing. This measure is a step in the right direction, but doesn't go far enough.

Under current law the members of the Birmingham Racing Commission, which regulates racing at the Birmingham Race Course, can only be appointed at a special meeting called by the Mayor of Birmingham. In practice, this gives the Mayor almost exclusive authority in determining who serves on the Commission. According to an interview State Senator Jabo Waggoner gave to the Birmingham News, the Mayor has not called such a meeting in decades:
"We've not had a change in the board in 20 years because the mayor of Birmingham has not called a meeting."
Under Waggoner's bill, lawmakers could call appointment meetings for the Commission. This is a small but important change, and I am hopeful it will become law.

However, even if this bill does pass it will not resolve all of the problems with Alabama's racing regulatory structure. The current system is permanently broken and needs to be fixed. Here are the facts:
  • Alabama is the only state that does not have a statewide racing commission to regulate dog racing.
  • When regulators do hand down rulings, they are often inadequate. For example, in December 2009 a greyhound trainer received a paltry $50 fine after a dog tested positive for cocaine.
  • The executive director of the Birmingham Racing Commission has repeatedly proven that he puts the interests of dog track owners and breeders ahead of the public interest. He tells greyhound breeders how to respond to legitimate criticism, has said working for dog track Milton McGregor owner was a "privilege," and called a Birmingham News report about a greyhound testing positive for cocaine an "8 month old pile of garbage."
There is a glaring lack of oversight and transparency today at Alabama's dog tracks. This failure is a direct threat to the health and welfare of greyhounds competing in the state. It also calls into question the integrity of wagers being placed at local racetracks.

For the greyhounds, Alabama lawmakers should pass Senator Waggoner's bill. Then, they should introduce and swiftly approve a new law that creates the Alabama State Racing Commission.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Drug Violations Raise More Questions About Tucson Greyhound Park

With each passing month, the evidence continues to mount that Tucson Greyhound Park is one of the worst dog tracks in the country. The latest proof of Tucson's problems come in the form of state records GREY2K USA recently obtained regarding positive drug tests.

During a span of less than four weeks in early 2012, the Arizona Department of Racing took disciplinary action against five greyhound trainers and assistant trainers for human and greyhound drug violations. Specifically:
  • On January 25, an assistant greyhound trainer was summarily suspended after she tested positive for marijuana and cocaine.
  • On February 15, a greyhound trainer was ordered to return prize money after two greyhounds won races and tested positive for caffeine.
  • On February 16, an assistant greyhound trainer was suspended for 60 days and fined $300 after he tested positive for marijuana and cocaine.
  • Also on February 16, a greyhound owner and trainer was suspended for 60 days fined and $1,000 after state investigators found a hypodermic syringe in his kennel. According to a laboratory report, the syringe was found to be "suspicious" for testosterone. The Board of Judges also recommended that the trainer's license be permanently revoked.
  • On February 18, a greyhound trainer was suspended for 60 days and fined $300 after he refused to submit to a drug test. During his official hearing, the trainer indicated that he refused the test because he would not have passed. He also indicated that he would not have passed a previous drug test if another trainer had not provided him with synthetic urine.
Unfortunately, this is not a new problem at Tucson Greyhound Park. In 2007, the track was forced to close for two days after five licensees tested positive for illegal drugs. Nevertheless, these new records are another example of the sad life greyhounds endure at this low end track.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Study Documents Salmonella Infections at Greyhound Breeding Farm, Link to 4-D Meat

At racetracks across the country, greyhounds are routinely fed raw 4-D meat from animals that are dying, diseased, disabled or dead. This meat is deemed unfit for human consumption and contains denatured charcoal to discourage human use.

The use of this meat may not be the most egregious practice in the racing industry, but it is a typical example of greyhound breeders trying to maximize their profit margin. With every dog, their goal is to derive as much profit as possible while incurring the least amount of costs. Even the industry handbook Care of the Racing and Retired Greyhound, acknowledges that this meat is used because “it is the most economically feasible for the Greyhound industry at this time.”

Greyhound breeders often argue that 4-D meat is also used for pet foods, and that is true. However, pet food manufacturers cook the meat to remove pathogens. By contrast, greyhound breeders feed raw 4-D meat to dogs. Many breeders even believe that cooking the meat would cause greyhounds to be less competitive.

This is a critical distinction that has ramifications on the health and welfare of greyhounds. For example, a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association examined Salmonella enterica infections at a greyhound breeding farm. According to the study:
"Although such meat is an inexpensive source of protein, it has the potential to expose animals to many pathogenic microorganisms, including Salmonella spp, Campylobacter jejuni, and Escherichia coli, especially when fed raw."
The study was conducted after there was an outbreak of diarrheal disease and death among young puppies at the farm. In total, 133 samples were taken at the facility of which 88 (66%) tested positive for Salmonella enterica. The study concluded:
S enterica infections and environmental contamination were common at this facility. A portion of the Salmonella strains detected on the premises was likely introduced via raw meat that was the primary dietary constituent. Some strains appeared to be widely disseminated in the population. Feeding meat that had not been cooked properly, particularly meat classified as unfit for human consumption, likely contributed to the infections in these dogs.
Feeding dogs raw 4-D meat as a way to cut costs is reckless. Taken together with confinement greyhounds endure, the injuries they suffer, and all of the other problems in the industry, it's clear that dog racing is cruel and inhumane and must end.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

GREY2K USA Board Member Reports on Greyhound Racing in Vietnam

Two weeks ago I wrote about the history of greyhound racing in Vietnam, and an ongoing push to open new tracks in the country and neighboring Cambodia.

GREY2K USA Board member Charmaine Settle just returned from the region, where she visited Lam Son Stadium and a breeding facility used by the track.

Here are some of Charmaine's thoughts on her visit, along with photographs she took:
"On January 30th we took a hydrafoil from Saigon to Vung Tau and were able to get into the racetrack. The track and stadium interior looked run-down."
"We then drove 50 miles into the countryside and found the kennels in the middle of nowhere with a fortress stone wall surrounding it. When I first walked into the kennels there was total silence because I don't believe anyone at any time -- other than the hired kennel help -- ever visits the dogs."
"They all just shut down and lay there on cement floors the entire day with no stimulation. When they did finally realize I was there they all started barking and came up to their individual kennel doors wagging their tails and hoping to be given any kind of attention. It was very powerful to look into their eyes and speak to them. I wanted to pet every dog and let him or her know that someone cared about them."
"There was just so many dogs. The greyhound farm was spread out on a large piece of remote rural property with five or six buildings each holding about 100 dogs. There was a separate breeding facility where we saw adorable greyhound puppies that were about five weeks old."
"At the farm I saw a large bus which transports the dogs from the kennels to Lam Son Stadium to race, about a fifty minute drive each way. The cages are double stacked inside the bus to accommodate all the dogs transported at one time."
"I was told by the kennel caretaker as well as the interpreter -- who phoned 'authorities' regarding our inquiry to adopt -- that there is no adoption program. I asked what happens to the dogs when they finish racing and they said they really didn't know ..."
"I also saw a dog race on television. The stands were full with all age groups coming to see the dogs run. It was a festive event with elaborate gold cups being presented to dog owners at the track. With smiling faces people accepted the cup on behalf of their winning dogs."
I'm extremely grateful to Charmaine for visiting the greyhounds in Vietnam and giving us this report. Based on this first-hand account, it's clear that a further expansion of dog racing in Vietnam would result in an immense amount of greyhound suffering.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The End of the Cruel Greyhound Racing Industry is in Sight

Today, the New York Times reported on the collapse of greyhound racing in the United States. In just a few years the industry has been cut in half, and even racetrack owners are now working to reduce or eliminate dog races.

The reality is that most racetracks are now losing money on greyhound races, but are legally required to subsidize dog racing in order to offer other, more profitable forms of gambling. This dog racing mandate is indefensible and should end.

At some level, even diehard greyhound breeders know that dog racing will soon end. Their angry rhetoric and personal attacks are meant to distract attention from the facts at hand. They would rather attack greyhound protection advocates than debate the merits of dog racing, or acknowledge the economic failure of their cruel activity.

Over the past few years, the public has learned more information about greyhound racing than ever before. For the first time they have been able to see inside the Tucson Greyhound Park kennel compound, and read about the thousands of dogs that are suffering serious injuries at tracks across the country.

As members of the public learn these cruel facts, public opinion is changing. A good friend once told me that the greyhound racing industry contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Today, I think I know what he meant. The standard practices in dog racing go against mainstream values about the humane treatment of animals. As greyhound advocates our job is simply to make these facts available to voters and ask them to make a humane choice.

It's also important to remember that social change takes time. Even though public support for dog racing has collapsed, it could take many years for dog racing to completely end. Greyhound advocates must win multiple legislative victories in order to end this cruelty, and each of those victories will be difficult.

The legislative process can be both complicated and convoluted, and in some cases good public policy can be thwarted by special interests who invest in high powered lobbyists and campaign contributions. This is certainly the case in Iowa, where a handful of greyhound breeders have so far prevented full consideration of a measure to end dog racing. Greyhound racing is a losing proposition in Iowa, but these greyhound breeders are using millions of dollars they receiving in state subsidies to perpetuate this bad policy.

Similarly, I am disappointed that we were unable to pass greyhound decoupling this year in Florida. While I write this post I am watching the final hours of the Florida legislative session, and am frustrated that we were unable to help Florida's greyhounds despite having overwhelming support in both the House and Senate.

My disappointment, however, is tempered by my belief that in the end good public policy will triumph. There is no question that dog racing will end in both Florida and Iowa, along with every other state. If is not a question of if, but when. We are really fighting over how long this humane change will take, and how many dogs will suffer along the way.

Finally, I can assure you that GREY2K USA will not stop fighting until the greyhounds receive the freedom they deserve. It's the right thing to do, and I know in my heart that our best days are ahead of us.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

State Records: Hundreds of Greyhounds Racing at Tucson Track Without Proper Rest

According to state records we recently obtained from the Arizona Department of Racing, dogs at Tucson Greyhound Park are routinely racing on very little rest. Just in the month of January 2012, dogs raced on only two days of rest a total of 748 times at Tucson Greyhound Park. Greyhounds are generally given a minimum of three days rest between starts, but this standard is being ignored at the Tucson track.

Racing on short rest can contribute to dogs being injured, and can also cause a metabolic disorder called exertional rhabdomyolysis, in which damaged skeletal muscles begin to break down. According to Care of the Racing and Retired Greyhound, exertional rhabdomyolysis appears in greyhounds that are "stressed by an excessive frequency of fast work" which it defines as "two to three races or trials per week."

Dog racing supporters often claim that greyhounds receive plenty of rest between races. According to American Greyhound Racing, which used to operate Phoenix Greyhound Park, greyhounds race "no more than three times in two weeks." Similarly, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain claims that greyhounds race "every 5-7 days." The most strident claim that greyhounds receive plenty of rest comes from the Greyhound Association of America, which asserts that dogs "normally race twice a week" and "the other five days of the week the racer will lounge in his kennel."

This is certainly not the case at Tucson Greyhound Park, where on average 24 greyhounds race every single day on only two days of rest. This is a dangerous practice that is potentially harmful to dogs, and must end. It is also another another example of the Tucson track's disastrous record on humane issues.

Thankfully, a bill is now advancing in the Arizona legislature that may finally give greyhounds the relief they deserve. Senate Bill 1273, which was filed by the racetrack itself at the urging of GREY2K USA, will eliminate a state mandate that Tucson Greyhound Park hold races year-round, including on the hottest days of summer and the coldest days of winter. Instead, the new law would require 100 days of racing per year. It also includes a provision that would allow the track to hold fewer races, or even end greyhound racing completely, if it enters into an agreement with kennel owners.

This racetrack proposal is not a perfect bill, but nonetheless its passage would be a huge step forward for the greyhounds. It will significantly reduce greyhound injuries, and also reduce the number of greyhounds who endure lives of confinement. Most importantly, it will move Arizona a step closer to ending the cruelty of greyhound racing for good.

Senate Bill 1273 has already passed the State Senate on an overwhelming vote of 28 to 2, and is now pending in the State House of Representatives. Hopefully the House will soon follow the Senate's lead and pass this common sense bill. Greyhounds have suffered for too long at Tucson Greyhound Park, and deserve a break.