Friday, September 14, 2012

Help Didn't Come Soon Enough for Isaiah the Greyhound

Photo by FL Dept. of Business and Professional Regulation
A year ago, a Florida proposal to decouple greyhound racing from other forms of gambling stalled on the last day of the legislative session. Even though the measure had passed overwhelmingly in both the State House of Representatives and State Senate, it lost steam in the final hours and did not become law. I was heartbroken, and knew the failure of this important bill would result in the needless suffering and death of more greyhounds.

In fighting for Florida's greyhounds, we assembled a strong and diverse coalition. Supporters included the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to AnimalsThe Humane Society of the United StatesGreyhound Adoptions of Florida, and newspapers across the state. The measure was also supported by racetrack owners who are losing money on live greyhound racing. Our coalition remains strong today, and I am optimistic that we will pass greyhound decoupling into law. This change, however, cannot come soon enough for the dogs now at Florida tracks.

Sadly, some dogs have already needlessly suffered due to the failure of decoupling legislation. For example, on July 10 a four-year-old greyhound named Kiowa JSK Isaiah died at Flagler. According to records we obtained from the state, he collapsed after winning a race and suffered a fatal heart attack. Isaiah's death was completely avoidable. In fact, it's possible that had decoupling become law in 2011 Isaiah would be lounging on a couch somewhere, living with a loving family.

For Isaiah, greyhound decoupling did not come soon enough. I know that greyhound racing will eventually end in Florida, the question now is how long it will take and how many more dogs will become casualties of inaction.

Over the past two years, the only real opposition to decoupling has come from greyhound breeders. Of course, these breeders have a direct financial interest in preventing change. The current racing mandate is effectively a state subsidy for their cruel business, and they will do whatever it takes to perpetuate it. These greyhound breeders have also convinced a small number of greyhound adopters, by using scare tactics, to oppose decoupling. They have made all sorts of wild accusations, including the false claim that decoupling will somehow harm greyhounds.

The truth, however, is that doing nothing in Florida is harming greyhounds. Dogs like Isaiah can no longer wait. It's time for greyhound decoupling to pass, so that thousands of greyhounds can be given the second chance they deserve.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Final Thoughts on Dog Racing in the United Kingdom

Christine Dorchak with Paul Littlefair of the RSPCA
Yesterday, GREY2K USA President Christine Dorchak and I returned from our fact-finding trip to learn about greyhound racing in the United Kingdom. The final days of this trip were perhaps the most hectic of all.

On Thursday we traveled to Horsham to meet with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The RSPCA was the first established animal welfare charity in the world, and today helps animals in many ways. This meeting helped us understand the history of the animal welfare movement in the United Kingdom, and the work the RSPCA is already doing to help greyhounds. Needless to say, this context is invaluable.

On Friday we traveled to Hastings to meet with Kim Stallwood. Kim has decades of experience in the animal protection movement, and is an expert on the subject of political action for animals. He is also working on a new book, titled Animal Dharma.

Poppy and Banana enjoy the 1,000 Greyhounds event
We ended our trip on Sunday by participating in an event in Devon called 1,000 Greyhounds. Organizers set the very ambitious goal of breaking the Guinness World Record for the largest single-breed dog walk, while also raising funds for greyhound adoption. Even though the event fell short of the record, hundreds of rescued greyhounds from all over the country participated. We were honored to help sponsor this event, and meet many wonderful advocates and adopters. Some of the adoption and advocacy groups that also sponsored 1,000 Greyhounds include Action for Greyhounds, Dogs Trust, Greyhound Safe and the Retired Greyhound Trust.

We learned a tremendous amount about greyhound racing in the United Kingdom in just a few short days. We also met many wonderful greyhound advocates who believe that the dogs deserve better. We look forward to working with these humane leaders in future efforts to help greyhounds.

Finally, I'm disappointed that we were not given a meeting with the Greyhound Board of Great Britain even though we requested one. There are many questions we would have liked to ask the industry directly, but for now those questions remain unanswered.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Voice for Greyhounds and a Leader for All Animals

Belle Vue Stadium in Manchester
On Wednesday, our fact-finding trip of the British greyhound racing industry moved to Manchester. There, we met a determined group of grassroots activists who have joined together to form Shut Down Belle Vue.  Belle Vue Stadium is the oldest greyhound racetrack in the United Kingdom.

This group is focused on reducing attendance at the iconic dog track, and appears to be having a real impact. Even though they are matched against a powerful, well established track, Shut Down Belle Vue continues to fight because they believe the dogs deserve to have a voice. They are also concerned about greyhound cruelty throughout the country, and would like to see reforms at the national level.

Visiting the League Against Cruel Sports
The next day, we headed to Godalming where we visited the League Against Cruel Sports. The League was founded nearly ninety years ago, and fights for animal protection through investigations, campaigning and lobbying. They are highly effective, and have an impressive record of humane victories.

In many ways, the League Against Cruel Sports reminds me of the work we do at GREY2K USA. Board President Christine Dorchak and I both felt a kinship with this great organization, and look forward to working together to help greyhounds in the years to come.

A greyhound kennel in the UK
The more we learn about greyhound racing in the United Kingdom, the more similarities we see between the UK and the United States. In both countries, the greyhound racing industry lacks transparency. Also, both countries are home to grassroots activists and animal protection groups who believe that greyhounds deserve better.

These similarities remind me of the shared history the racing industry has on both sides of the Atlantic, and gives me hope that change is possible. Perhaps it could start in Manchester, at the same place where greyhound racing was first introduced in the United Kingdom.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

GREY2K USA Investigates Greyhound Racing in the United Kingdom

A Ladbrokes Betting Shop
Over the past few years, our mission at GREY2K USA has been slowly expanding to include international campaigns. This shift is partly due to investigative work by Board member Charmaine Settle, who has made fact-finding trips to Macau and Vietnam. Her research led to the Rescue Brooklyn campaign, and our joint effort with Animals Australia, Animals Asia and ANIMA to push for an adoption program at the Canidrome.

This week, we are starting a new chapter in our international work with a fact finding trip to the United Kingdom. Our goal is to learn as much about the British dog racing industry as possible. GREY2K USA Board President Christine Dorchak and I are meeting with established animal welfare groups, adoption leaders and grassroots activists. We are also documenting as many different parts of the industry as possible. To reduce costs we are staying with advocates, and volunteers are helping us travel across the country. Our schedule is extremely full, and unfortunately we don't really have any downtime. I've always wanted to visit Buckingham Palace, but that will have to wait!

We landed on Saturday morning just after 6:00 AM, and hit the ground running. A few hours later, we visited a Ladbrokes betting shop. We have seen dozens of these betting shops since we arrived, an they are clearly one of the reasons why greyhound racing still exists in the UK. In these shops, gamblers are able to bet on dog races from throughout the country. Horse racing is also offered, along with slot machine gambling. The individual manning the betting shop we visited was gracious and even offered us tea or coffee, which we politely declined.

A trialing race at Henlow Dog Race Stadium
Later that night we visited our first track, Henlow Dog Racing Stadium. I was surprised at how narrow the race course was, compared to dog tracks in the United States. There were about two hundred people attending the races, and the crowd included young people and women. The track also had a hand-written sign about greyhound adoption posted in an area where people purchased food.

Overall, the track was much smaller than the large-scale commercial operations we have documented in America. Only six dogs compete in each race. Christine spoke to a greyhound trainer who had dogs that were being given trails to determine whether they can enter official races. After one of his dogs failed to post the necessary time Christine asked him what would happen to the dog, who is not yet two years old. He told her that he would simply have to get rid of her.
Dr. Caroline Allen

Yesterday we participated in a series of meetings with animal welfare experts, including veterinarian Dr. Caroline Allen, the national spokesperson on animal issues for the Green Party. Dr. Allen has been an outspoken voice for the greyhounds in the debate over Walthamstow Stadium.

Today we are meeting with several grassroots organizations including GreytExploitations, a group that has extensively documented humane problems in the British greyhound racing industry.

I'll try to write as much as possible about this fact finding trip, and share what we learn. So far, I'm very encouraged. It's clear that there are many people in the UK who care about greyhounds, and want to see positive changes.