Thursday, May 30, 2013

Help Us Remember a Greyhound Named Fortune Teller

Fortune Teller died at Gulf Greyhound Park in January 2012
This afternoon, we released a new video that documents greyhound injuries and deaths at Gulf Greyhound Park in Texas.

The footage, which was taken by the track itself, shows the final races of three dogs who died at the facility. It also also contains new data on greyhound injuries at Gulf, and documents an ongoing problem. In 2012 a total of 291 greyhound injuries were reported at Gulf Greyhound Park, including dogs that suffered broken legs, dislocations and puncture wounds.

Further, during the year eleven greyhounds died or were euthanized after racing at Gulf. That is why we should all take a moment to watch this video. It represents the final chapter in the lives of greyhounds Fortune Teller, Lawnmower Man and Bob's Skeeter.

These dogs deserve to have their stories told. For example, Fortune Teller was a 73-pound fawn greyhound who died when he was just two years old. During a race at Gulf on January 11, he was bumped by other dogs, rolled, and broke several bones in his back right leg before being destroyed.

Reading over Fortune Teller's official injury report, it makes me wonder how many dogs like him will have to die for a form of gambling that is no longer popular. That is why we are working so hard at GREY2K USA to end greyhound racing.

Please help us fight for greyhounds by watching this video today, and then share it with everyone you know. Even though Fortune Teller will never have a loving home, the least we can do is bear witness to his untimely death. He died needlessly, the inevitable result of a cruel industry that used him as nothing more than a number to gamble on.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dog Track Lies to Newspaper About Injury Policy

Last month, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported on the death of a 23-month-old greyhound named Raiders Uncle Mo, who died at Sarasota Kennel Club after he fell into the racetrack rail during a February race and was apparently electrocuted.

During its work on this report, the Herald-Tribune spoke to track Director of Racing Thomas Bowersox. To our great surprise, Bowersox told the newspaper that Sarasota Kennel Club's injury reports were open to public inspection. According to the story:
"Bowersox said SKC's injury reports are open to public inspection. 
'We don't announce injuries or deaths -- you can understand that,' Bowersox said. 'We do have accidents, just like horse racing and auto racing. But we're not trying to hide anything.' 
'I would prefer not to send (injury reports) to (Theil), but he's welcome to come down and take a look.'"
Within days, GREY2K USA President Christine Dorchak wrote directly to the track and accepted its invitation to inspect these documents. In part, she wrote:
"I am happy to arrive at the track at whatever time you prefer, and look forward to hearing from you so we can make arrangements. If you do not respond to this letter, I will plan on arriving at approximately 11:00 AM."
However, only two days before we were scheduled to inspect the Sarasota injury reports, Director Bowersox called our office and said that he needed to reschedule due to an unspecified personal issue. We complied with this request, and informed him that we would instead inspect the documents on May 29. This provided the track with more than three weeks advance notice.

Can you guess what happened next? A week later Bowersox called Christine again, and stated that he had absolutely no intention of allowing us to inspect the track's greyhound injury reports. He also stated that he felt "threatened" by the possibility that this injury data might be published in the Herald-Tribune.

In hindsight, it's now clear that Bowersox simply lied to the newspaper. The track never had any intention of allowing greyhound injury reports to be inspected by GREY2K USA or anyone else. Director Bowersox told the Herald-Tribune a feel-good story about track policies that had absolutely no basis in fact.

The bottom line is that citizens have a right to know how many greyhounds are being injured at these tracks. When Florida lawmakers consider this issue next year, they should keep in mind the extreme lengths to which dog race promoters have gone to hide this important data. When it comes to injuries, they will apparently say anything to keep the public in the dark.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

National Greyhound Association Pushes Plan to Protect Animal Abusers

One of the greyhounds neglected by Ronnie Williams in 2010
Last week the National Greyhound Association (NGA) came out in favor of "ag gag" bills, proposals that have been introduced in several states to criminally charge whistleblowers who record evidence of animal cruelty. In doing so, the group not only launched a bizarre attack on greyhound advocates, but also sided with extreme factory farm interests and animal abusers.

These wrongheaded proposals have met a tidal wave of opposition from dozens of organizations including The Humane Society of the United States, the National Press Photographers Association, the National Consumers League, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union. They have also been roundly criticized by newspaper editorial boards from across the country, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Boston Globe. Perhaps the most stinging rebuke came from the Knoxville, Tennessee News Sentinel, which wrote that the ag-gag bill in their state "could help facilitate animal cruelty and is an attack on First Amendment rights."  The newspaper went on to add:
"This bill is about protecting animal abusers."
In its statement, the NGA also made various false claims about our cruelty reporting policies, and told people to tell them about incidents of greyhound abuse rather than contact law enforcement authorities. The fact is, GREY2K USA has a very clear policy of forwarding credible complaints of greyhound cruelty to state regulatory agencies. A few examples of such reports can be found here, here and here.

Meanwhile, we have obtained thousands of state investigative files through public information requests, and have found virtually no evidence of the NGA, or its public relations arm the so-called "American Greyhound Council," providing regulators with information about greyhound abuse. That is apparently why the NGA wants the public to contact it first, so it can ensure that greyhound cruelty cases are covered up rather than reported.

Of course, this shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, this is the same organization that has opposed efforts to report greyhound injuries to the public. It also refused to take action against greyhound trainer Ursula O'Donnell, who was accused of participating in a conspiracy that resulted in the death of thousands of greyhounds. Similarly, no action was apparently taken against former NGA President Dutch Koerner after he admitted hiding ownership in a dog track kennel and working with another man to falsely certify dogs. Koerner continued working in the dog racing industry for years after this incident, and was even given the NGA's first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award.

Incredibly, when Koerner passed away earlier this year NGA Executive Secretary Gary Guccione praised him as a "strong advocate for holding greyhound owners and kennel operators accountable." Apparently this accountability did not apply to Koener himself.

After looking at the record again, the NGA's support of "ag-gag" bills makes perfect sense. Their job isn't to protect greyhounds. Instead, its focus is protecting the dog racing industry at all costs.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Greyhounds Win Major Victory With New Florida Rule

Greyhounds quietly won a major victory last week, when the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering filed a new Animal Welfare Rule with the Department of State. This new rule carries the full weight of law, and will take effect on May 21.

Although this new Florida rule is not perfect, it does contain several important greyhound protections.  For example:
  • For the first time, greyhound trainers will be required to notify state regulators every time a dog dies on the grounds of a racetrack or greyhound kennel. This notification must be in writing, and must occur within 18 hours of the dog's death. This is an important provision that will increase transparency in the dog race industry.
  • Greyhound trainers will now be required to maintain a "roster" which identifies each dog in their kennel. This roster must include the dog's name and tattoo number, the owner's name, the trainer's name, the dog's date of arrival and departure, and the name and license number of the person transporting the dog.
  • Greyhound trainers will now be prohibited from keeping more than one dog in a racetrack cage.
These requirements are the end result of the passage of legislation we supported, followed by a long phase of administrative hearings. Throughout this process, we have fought hard for the greyhounds and encouraged the state to implement the strongest possible regulations.

We are very grateful to the Division and its Director, Leon Biegalski, for demonstrating leadership in adopting this new rule. Thanks to their work, these protections will improve the lives of thousands of greyhounds.

Finally, it's important to remember that every law is only as good as its enforcement, so it will now be incumbent on Florida regulators to ensure that these new greyhound requirements are adhered to. We must also remember that even with this historic victory, our job is far from complete. As humane advocates, we must continue working until the cruelty of dog racing ends completely. You can bet that at GREY2K USA, we will do exactly that.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

GREY2K USA Board Member Reports on Greyhound Racing in Argentina

Charmaine at the Navarro Club races in Argentina
In recent years GREY2K USA Board Member Charmaine Settle has investigated greyhound racing in several parts of the world, including Vietnam, Macau, New Zealand and Australia. This February she explored dog racing in Argentina. Below, you will find excerpts from her report. Please also check out this slide show of photographs she took while she was there.

Charmaine's investigation summary begins by giving us a context for these organized races:

"On February 17 I hired a car and driver to take me from a hotel in Buenos Aires into the countryside to the city of Navarro. The Navarro Galgo Club was having a Sunday meet, off a secluded dirt road which proved difficult to find if you didn't already know its location. This was a non-commercial, organized meet in the middle of a field on a small, homemade track. We were told these informal galgo races took place in the countryside year-round on Sunday afternoons, changing geographic locations each week with different galgo clubs involved."
Charmaine then describes the general scene surrounding the races:
"After paying admission, we drove into the event which seemed like a neighborhood barbecue on a sunny Sunday afternoon with family, friends and, of course, galgos. The people were friendly as my husband and I strolled around the grounds, although no one spoke English. Most people had brought a small number of dogs to race in a straight track in the middle of a field. The overall feeling was that these dogs were a simple hobby to the majority of owners, an easy way to make a little extra money on the weekends. The field's surface looked surprisingly good with soft dirt which was sprayed down with water after each race. Around three hundred spectators of all ages stood at the railing and watched the races, which were scheduled to take place between noon and 3:00 PM, with the youngest dogs competing first."
The straight race course uses a stoplight
Next, Charmaine's report documents the races themselves:
"As many as twelve dogs competed in each race. The track had a Stop and Go light on the side of the field and camera box at the end. There was no cable system but instead dogs chased a paper bag on a string. Before each race the dogs were paraded around a small fenced area so people could view them and place bets on their dog of choice. Meanwhile, a man who sounded like an auctioneer was shouting out in a non-stop, strong and loud voice the specifics of each dog who was about to compete. The names and numbers of the dogs were hanging on a chalkboard attached to a tree. Bets were made between people attending the races, or against the Club itself. After the wagers were made, the dogs were taken to the starting boxes."
Charmaine asked participants about the ultimate fate of these dogs, but was not provided much information:
"We were told the dogs raced until they were five or six years old, and some were used for breeding after that. The disposition of the remaining dogs was unclear, and no one would give us a straight answer. We were later told that galgos are highly desired by Argentinian ranchers, who use them for field work."
She was also deeply troubled by owners that she witnessed striking dogs, and also by their general attitude toward the racers:
"In a few cases we saw people who treated their dogs kindly, but many of the owners physically reprimanded the dogs. In response to any behavior they did not like, the owners would raise their hand over a dog's head and strike them with a blow to the face via hand, leash, or muzzle. It appeared the rationale was that a strike on the face would not damage their running body. It hurt me to witness these dogs being struck. In most cases, no affection or attention was shown to the dogs. They seemed to be invisible to the owners, just a thing to hopefully bring in extra money."
A race dog kept in the car trunk
Of all the issues Charmaine documented, perhaps the most disturbing is the way in which dogs are transported to these race events:
"The most troubling behavior was seeing individuals cram their dogs into the trunk of a small car for transport, as opposed to others who at least had makeshift wooden box trailers behind their vehicles, or just let them ride in the backseat of their car. These individuals would transport the dogs from their home to the meet in the car trunk, leave several dogs in the trunk until their race began, then push them back into the trunk after the race was over. The dogs would be left there for hours while the owner went into the crowd to enjoy the barbecue."
Finally, Charmaine writes about race dog puppies she saw for sale, and gives her sad perspective on the future of this activity:
Race puppies for sale
"I also saw puppies for sale in cages, just staring out as they were about to start their new life of misery, neglect and ultimate death. I worry that the outlook here is grim, with these race meets potentially continuing for many years as they are passed down from one generation to the next."
Even though this is not the large-scale commercial dog racing we are most familiar with, these informal races do raise serious questions. It's also important to remember that there is a longstanding relationship between these races and commercial greyhound breeders, with at least some former race dogs being sent to Argentina.

As always, we are grateful for Charmaine's reporting of this important issue. Her work is one of the many reasons why I am proud to serve as Executive Director for GREY2K USA.