Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Two-Faced Report Highlights Greyhound Suffering and Death in New Zealand

A greyhound at Manukau Stadium in Auckland, November 2012 
In February the Greyhound Protection League of New Zealand presented more than 1,500 signatures to the government, and called  for an independent review of greyhound racing. Although this call for transparency has not yet led to government action, it did result in a very unusual response from dog race promoters.

Last week, the New Zealand Greyhound Racing Association released a 56-page report in which they review themselves, while at the same time calling it an "independent" inquiry. Their findings are, to put it mildly, a bit bizarre.

The report begins by announcing on the very first page that the authors found no evidence of  humane problems:
"The review team investigations found little evidence of issues relating to the care of greyhounds during their racing careers."
It goes on to add:
"Interviews with participants in the Greyhound Racing industry highlighted that many owners and trainers are committed to the welfare and safety of their dogs and care passionately about them throughout their lives."
Of course, it is no surprise that the dog racing industry would approve of the way it does business. What is surprising, however, is the rest of the report. Once you get past this blanket dismissal, the remainder of the review represents the strongest case yet for why dog racing should end. In fact, documentation of a serious humane issue is cited in the very next paragraph:
"Our analyses suggest that approximately 35% of greyhounds whelped never make it to the track. Due to a lack of effective reporting the review team was unable to establish what happens to these greyhounds."
In the paragraph after that, the report indicates that roughly seven hundred greyhounds were killed between 2009 and 2012, and that the true number may be much higher:
"30% of the 2,305 greyhounds leaving racing between 2009 and 2012 are recorded as deceased by NZGRA with the potential for this number to be significantly higher due to the lack of effective tracking of retired greyhounds."
The next thirty pages are essentially a long laundry list of one humane problem after another:
"A further issue facing the greyhound racing industry is the incidence of injuries occurring during racing."
"Although there is veterinary attendance and at every race meeting, the practice of recording and monitoring injuries in NZ has been inadequate."
"In the process of the review a culture of non-enforcement and non-compliance of welfare rules was evident."
"There is a need for more responsibility to be taken by greyhound owners for their dogs. There are currently no NZGRA rules that specifically impart this responsibility."
"There are no controls or regulations in place over controlling the numbers or quality of greyhounds bred."
"During our review we asked owners and trainers if they have ever had a healthy greyhound euthanized. The response was that 77% have had a healthy greyhound euthanized."
This extensive recitation of animal welfare concerns is briefly interrupted on page 31, when the report strangely claims again that there are no problems:
"Whilst there will always be exceptions in any diverse community, it is our conclusion that, on the whole, racing greyhounds during their career are well looked after and cared for."
However, this denial is contradicted by the very next sentence, which indicates that "there are no formal minimum standards of welfare in place."
In its closing pages, the report continues to document a myriad of serious animal welfare concerns:
"It is noticeable that 40% of trainers interviewed did not know that NZGRA has an Animal Welfare Policy."
"There is currently no detailed analysis of injury reporting undertaken and there are no analyses in place to establish issues with particular tracks or parts of tracks, particular trainers or particular greyhounds."
"The NZGRA Board formed an Animal Welfare Committee in 2012 ... However, it is noted that there are no independent members on this committee with a detailed knowledge of animal welfare matters."
"The NZGRA Board has not been as pro-active as it should have been with regard to welfare issues."
"There is currently no designated Welfare Officer in place at NZGRA and it is noted that welfare activities undertaken by NZGRA are performed by several management and staff members on top of their standard workloads."
Finally, the review ends by stating that there is a "clear need" for "change in the greyhound racing industry in terms of rules and regulations, education and awareness, and in attitudes towards welfare."

I have to wonder whether such a two-faced report could only come from the greyhound racing industry. To summarize this bizarre review, there are no problems, except there are lots of problems, but there really are no problems, and finally there is a "clear need" to fix the problems that the industry does not have.

Lawmakers, journalists, and members of the public should read this report thoroughly and draw their own conclusions. Do they really want to support an industry that is responsible for so much greyhound suffering and death?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

State Vet Saves the Life of Injured Greyhound

A photo of Kiowa Dutch Girl taken by Dr. Lori Bohenko
A few weeks ago I wrote about Kiowa Dutch Girl, a two-year-old red fawn greyhound who was denied veterinary care after suffering a broken leg at Wheeling Island dog track in West Virginia. Since then, we have received additional state records about Dutch Girl. These documents raise new questions, and also highlight the role of a state veterinarian in saving the greyhound's life.

According to an official state Record of Incident, West Virginia Racing Commission veterinarian Dr. Lori Bohenko visited the Cardinal Kennel on March 8 to check on Dutch Girl. The day before, state regulators had directed the kennel's owner to immediately transport the dog to a veterinary clinic so she could receive treatment. By that point, Dutch Girl had already suffered for at least three days with an untreated broken leg.

According to Dr. Bohenko, when she arrived on March 8 the dog's life was in jeopardy:
"James Grace greeted me and when I asked him 'what he knew' he responded by telling me that the dog was at K.E.Y. Animal Hospital and it looked like she would was going to be euthanized. I instructed him to call the clinic immediately and inform them not to euthanize 'Kiowa Dutch Girl.' As Jim was on the phone, I entered the kennel to look for 'Girl' and found that her crate was empty."
Dr. Bohenko also asked Grace why he had not contacted her when Dutch Girl was first injured:
"I then asked him why he didn't contact me and ask for help in stabilizing the dog. He had no answer."
Dr. Bohenko then contacted the veterinary clinic where Dutch Girl had been sent, and learned that the dog had broken one of her legs in three places. She asked the clinic when Dutch Girl had been admitted, and learned that Cardinal Kennel owner Bob Mackey had not immediately transported the dog to a veterinary as state regulators had instructed, but instead waited another day.  Because of this delay, Dr. Bohenko indicates that kennel owner Mackey violated state racing rules:
"Since Mr. Mackey had been informed by State Presiding Judge to transport 'Kiowa Dutch Girl' to a veterinary hospital immediately on Thursday, March 7, 2013 he is in violation of West Virginia Rules of Greyhound Racing as outlined below."
Despite this violation outlined by Dr. Bohenko, we have found absolutely no evidence that any disciplinary action was taken against Mackey.  Further, we have received no indication that Grace has been referred to local law enforcement officials for possible prosecution under the anti-cruelty law.

This sad case raises many important questions about how dog racing is regulated in West Virginia. As we move forward and address these issues, one thing is certain: Dr. Lori Bohenko saved the life of Kiowa Dutch Girl. For that, greyhound advocates across the country should be thankful.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Report: Florida Tracks Lost $35 Million on Dog Racing

Shiloh lives with an adopted family in Connecticut
Yesterday, a gambling impact study was released by the Florida legislature as part of an ongoing look at new possible laws. The study was conducted by Spectrum Gaming Group, and will be followed by the release of additional information in October.

In part, the study examined the economic viability of greyhound racing in Florida. Although it is common knowledge that dog racing is a dying industry, these new findings give the clearest picture yet of how dire the situation has become for greyhound race promoters.

The report first addresses the decline of greyhound racing by pointing out that between 1990 and 2012, the total amount gambled at Florida dog tracks declined by 67%. Similarly, between 1985 and 2012, state revenue from greyhound racing dropped by a staggering 99%.

The study also indicates that virtually all of Florida's dog tracks are losing money on greyhound racing:

"It is clear that pari-mutuel operations at greyhound tracks are loss leaders as the tracks sustained a combined operating loss from wagering on greyhounds of $35 million. Only three tracks made a profit."
Finally, the report quotes two racetrack executives who state that greyhound racing is no longer economically viable. Michael Glenn, general manager of Palm Beach Kennel Club told Spectrum that they would shut down their dog track if they could, and added:
"It is a dying sport ... Decoupling will help us in the short run as we would run fewer races which, in turn, will lower our operating costs. Our simulcast revenue will also increase, but there just are not enough folks out there to come to the track and wager on these races. There is not any interest.”
I couldn't have said it better myself. Florida's greyhound tracks have already become profitable poker rooms that happen to have dogs running around in circles while no on watches. The only question left is how many dogs must suffer before lawmakers change this flawed policy.