Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dog Track Defense Plan: Deny, Spin and Attack

Marlee raced at Corpus Christi
When Talking Heads founder David Byrne penned the lyric "same as it ever was," he could have been writing about Gulf Greyhound Park general manager Sally Briggs.

In a guest column published today in the Galveston County Daily News, Briggs attempts to criticize a report we recently released with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. However, she doesn't actually deny any of the facts contained in our report. Instead, she verifies many of them and adds a hefty dose of spin. Let's look at her supposed criticism point by point:
"Grey2K USA activsts have created a distorted picture of greyhound racing at Gulf Greyhound Park, as well as other tracks around the country. This is intentional."
This is a nice talking point, but it doesn't address any facts. This kind of generic denial does little more than make greyhound breeders feel better.
"These activists have a radical agenda that has far more to do with politics and fundraising than with animal welfare."
Similarly, this personal attack doesn't address any facts. I do agree that this debate is about values, although I suspect that most Americans view animal protection groups like the ASPCA as mainstream, while they view the greyhound racing industry as out of touch.
"The Grey2K report on greyhound injuries was a collection of statistics that are easy to misrepresent if that's the intention. For example, the report failed to explain that between 2009 and 2012, injuries occurred in fewer than one-tenth of one percent of all racing starts."
Gable Weeman died after suffering a broken leg at Gulf
On this point, Briggs is partly correct. It is certainly true that injury statistics are "easy to misrepresent if that's the intention." In fact, her next sentence is a great example of misrepresenting the data. Her claim that "injuries occurred in fewer than one-tenth of one percent of all racing starts" is intended to give readers the impression that the risk of injury is lower than it actually is. That is why she used "racing starts" as a metric. By comparing the total number of injuries to the number of "starts" rather than the number of dogs, she is able to count the same dogs over and over again dozens of times and pretend like they are all different dogs.

But once again, Briggs doesn't dispute any of the facts our report provided about greyhound injuries. Instead she claims that if you look at the data in a certain misleading way, the problem doesn't appear to be as bad as it really is. Next, she claims that the greyhound injuries reported to state regulators were minor and that deaths were rare:
"The vast majority were minor, permitting the greyhounds to return to racing after treatment."
This is nonsense. According to state records, a majority (54%) of all reported greyhound injuries between 2008 and 2011 involved either puncture wounds, lacerations, torn muscles, torn ligaments or broken bones. In fact, the most commonly reported injury was a broken leg.
"On rare occasions, the most serious injuries require that a greyhound be euthanized."
According to state records, 56 greyhounds died or were euthanized due to injuries suffered at Gulf Greyhound Park between 2008 and 2011.
"Contrary to ridiculous animal rights claims, there is no benefit to be gained from failing in our obligation to provide humane care and treatment. That's because racing greyhounds must be well cared for to perform at their best."
Same as it ever was. After not actually disputing any real facts from our report about injuries, Briggs ends her attempted defense on the subject by making another generic denial. Regarding her claim that greyhounds must be well cared for to "perform at their best," dog racing is a profit driven industry and breeders are always aiming to secure the highest financial return while incurring the least amount of cost. Moving on to the life of confinement that greyhounds endure:
"Industry regulations require that greyhounds be housed in comfortable crates large enough to permit them to stand, sit, lie down and turn around comfortably."
The inside of a Texas greyhound breeding farm, 2012
This sounds nice, but it doesn't actually dispute any of the data in our report regarding confinement. Thankfully, we have facts that we can assess to determine whether Briggs is correct or not. According to Texas regulations, dog track cages must be three feet wide, four feet deep, and three feet high. This cage size is standard throughout the industry. According to the American Greyhound Council, a front group for greyhound breeders, most greyhounds stand between 23 inches and 30 inches tall at the shoulder, and weigh between 50 and 85 pounds. Using these dimensions provided by the industry itself, it's clear that large greyhounds cannot stand fully erect in the cages used at Gulf Greyhound Park.
"Greyhounds must be turned out for exercise four to five times daily to ensure that they remain in top condition."
Our report clearly states that greyhounds are given several daily turnouts. However, these are hardly "exercise" sessions. In reality, dozens of greyhounds are "turned out" as a group in a small turnout pen and allowed to relieve themselves.
"When they're not racing or exercising, they prefer to rest"
I've debated with greyhound breeders for over a decade, and in the end they always argue that somehow the dogs like the life of confinement they are forced to endure. They really don't understand that the general public finds this rationalization both unbelievable and abhorrent. Moving on, Briggs next tries to defend the use of 4-D meat:
"The meat they consume is the same found in most commercial pet foods"
This is true. However, pet food companies cook raw 4-D meat to remove dangerous pathogens. Greyhounds are fed raw 4-D meat from downed animals that have been deemed unfit for human consumption. This statement by Briggs also illustrates another tactic that dog race promoters use. Rather than deny that they use a substandard method, they will instead argue that other industries also use this bad standard practice. Of course, this is irrelevant.
"If this product weren't healthy and nutritious for greyhounds, it would be impossible for these canine athletes to perform as they do."
First of all, whether the use of 4-D meat leads to problems is a matter of fact that is easily resolved. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, raw 4-D meat "may present a potential health hazard to the animals that consume it and to the people who handle it.” Further, the industry handbook Care of the Racing and Retired Greyhound states that the use of 4-D meat can cause dogs to be exposed to pathogenic microorganisms, and also lead to false drug positives. So you can decide who to believe on this issue: Sally Briggs, or the Food and Drug Administration and the industry's own handbook.

Before moving on, however, we should also address the argument Briggs makes that it would "be impossible" for greyhounds to perform if 4-D meat weren't "healthy and nutritious for greyhounds." Again, we can easily consult with Care of the Racing and Retired Greyhound to determine whether this is true or not. The book is very clear on this issue, stating unequivocally that 4-D meat is not used because it is somehow "healthy and nutritious" but instead because “it is the most economically feasible for the Greyhound industry at this time.”

In closing, Briggs again attacks greyhound advocates and gives readers one final generic denial without addressing any facts:
"Grey2K and other animal rights groups benefit financially when the public is deceived about greyhound racing. Good animal care doesn't generate donations. That's why these organizations distort the facts."
Volunteers campaign for the dogs in Massachusetts
For years, dog race promoters have been using this same tired gameplan. They can't deny any of the issues that are raised by the humane community because the problems are real and factual. Instead, they are left with a self-serving strategy that looks something like:
  1. Generically claim, without addressing any specific facts, that animal protection groups are lying about the greyhound racing industry.
  2. When they are forced to address facts, they spin them by using terms like "comfortable crates" to make things sound better then they really are.
  3. Personally attack anyone who speaks up for the greyhounds.
In the end, this strategy will not work. The public can see right through their smoke and mirrors, and are already siding with the dogs.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Texas Greyhound Cruelty Revealed For the First Time

Last week, GREY2K USA President Christine Dorchak traveled to Texas to release a groundbreaking report about dog racing in the Lone Star State.

Greyhound Racing in Texas covers both humane and economic issues, and is based on hundreds of state records, mainstream news reports, and industry statements. Thanks to a generous grant from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), we were able to spend months searching for all information that was available about the Texas dog racing industry. Sadly, the results show an industry that is cruel and inhumane. For example:
  • As many as 700 dogs are kept at Gulf Greyhound Park, in small cages that are barely large enough for the dogs to stand up or turn around.
  • Like other states, dog racing is dying in Texas. The total amount gambled on greyhound racing has declined by 61% since 2007, while dog track attendance has fallen by 52%.
Based on these facts, it's clear that greyhound racing should end in Texas. As difficult as it is to learn about these humane problems, we must turn our grief into action. Already, we are working to defeat legislation that would prop up dog racing with casino gambling profits. Moving forward we will also fight proactively, both by advocating for an end of dog racing and by supporting reforms to make life better for greyhounds. For many years, the Texas Racing Commission has been a leader when it comes to regulating dog racing, and we look forward to working with them to continue improving the state's greyhound welfare rules.

Finally, we are extremely grateful to the ASPCA for their leadership and partnership. As the oldest humane organization in the country, they epitomize our American values of compassion and common sense. Together, I know we can make a difference for Texas greyhounds.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Greyhounds Lose Vote in New Hampshire, But Fight Goes On

Yesterday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives defeated a proposal to limit simulcast gambling to racetracks that report greyhound injuries to the public.

We strongly supported this bill, and were proud to join State Representatives Steve Vaillancourt and Mary Cooney in fighting for this humane law. Other notable supporters included State Representative Catherine Mulholland, State Senator John Reagan, the New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the New Hampshire Animal Rights League.

Representative Vaillancourt was absolutely right when he said on the House floor that this bill was about New Hampshire's values, and that greyhound injury reporting saves lives.  In part, he told his colleagues:
"Suffice it to say that injury reporting, while not eliminating pain and death for dogs, reduces it dramatically. That's why we enacted the law for reporting here in New Hampshire a decade ago. We care about senseless cruelty; that's a New Hampshire value. All this bill does is mandate that simulcast signals we allow into New Hampshire are from states which have similar injury reporting requirements to those we passed a decade ago."
We are disappointed by the defeat of his humane proposal, but are resolved to continue fighting for the dogs. This bill is also a reminder that greyhound protection issues are not only limited to states with active dog tracks. States that let local gamblers bet on greyhound races via simulcast are also participating in this cruel industry, and share some of the responsibility for it.

Finally, we are thankful to the 108 New Hampshire State Representatives who voted for the dogs. We appreciate their vote, and look forward to working with them in the years ahead.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Arizona Dog Track Regulators Again Hide Information From the Public

Photo by Pima County, December 2010.
A year ago GREY2K USA discovered that the Arizona Department of Racing was keeping Daily Stewards Reports, records that document each racing performance at Tucson Greyhound Park. These records contained important information, including the number of dogs that had raced on little rest and whether official hearings had been held at the track.

Citing these records, we reported in March 2012 that it was common for dogs to race at Tucson Greyhound Park on only two days of rest. Specifically, in a single month greyhounds raced with little rest a total of 748 times at the track.

We have now learned that shortly after we reported this troubling information about dogs racing on little rest, dog track regulators changed their official Daily Stewards Report forms. Sometime between July 2012 and January 2013, the Arizona Department of Racing made the following changes:
  • It stopped publicly reporting the number of dogs that had raced on only two days of rest. Instead, the new form contains a check box titled "Dogs on 2 Days Rest Approved."
  • It stopped publicly reporting whether any official hearings had been held at Tucson Greyhound Park.
This is not the first time that Arizona track regulators have tried to hide information from the public. The Department of Racing no longer reports greyhound injuries, and has failed to fully respond to public information requests.

This state agency is out of control. It is failing its duty to act as an independent regulator, and has lost sight of the fact that it represents Arizona taxpayers, not dog track executives. For the greyhounds, change is needed at the Arizona Department of Racing.