Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A High Water Mark for Greyhound Advocacy in Florida

Penrose Jake died after racing at Orange Park in August 2013
Last Friday, the Florida House of Representatives adjourned without voting on a proposal to require greyhound injury reporting. The measure, Senate Bill 742, had passed the Senate on a unanimous 40-0 vote earlier in the day. When the House neglected to consider this humane bill, it died. A few weeks earlier, a greyhound decoupling proposal had failed due to a legislative technicality.

I am heartbroken over the defeat of these common sense proposals, which would have saved the lives of countless greyhounds. Nonetheless, I know that for the greyhound advocacy community our best days are ahead of us. Let me explain.

The Sunshine State is home to a majority of all remaining dog tracks in the United States. At these twelve facilities a greyhound dies every three days, and since May 31 of last year at least 107 racing dogs have died. We also know that Florida tracks are losing tens of millions each year on greyhound racing, and are only continuing this archaic practice because they are required to do so by law.

In response to this problem, a real movement has emerged for the dogs. Over the past year, a coalition of humane minded citizens and organizations has fought for greyhound decoupling and injury reporting in Florida. Lawmakers, newspaper editorial boards, columnists, and grassroots citizens have all spoken up. Together, they have given the greyhounds an unprecedented voice. This chorus of support represents all aspects of civic life: conservatives, progressives, and everyone in between.

State lawmakers and elected officials who fought for the dogs include Senate President Don Gaetz, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Senator Eleanor Sobel, Senator Maria Sachs, Senator Garrett Richter, Representative Jared Moskowitz, Representative Matt Gaetz, Representative John Wood, Representative Ray Pilon and Representative Dana Young. These leaders may diverge on other issues, but they all agree that greyhounds deserve to be protected. Perhaps the most outspoken elected official for greyhounds is Representative Matt Gaetz, who rightly called greyhound racing "barbaric," and added:
"This is an activity that very few people watch, even fewer people bet on ... that erodes our collective humanity."
Newspaper editorial boards from across the state also stood up for the dogs, including the Sun-Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times, Orlando Sentinel, Panama City News Herald, Daytona Beach News-Journal, Jacksonville Times-Union, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Lakeland Ledger, Ocala Star-Banner and Bradenton Herald. On January 31, the Herald-Tribune wrote:
"Requiring facilities to offer racing that the public no longer supports doesn't make sense. Eliminating the requirement won't hurt anyone, but it will help greyhounds avoid a fate they don't deserve."
The greyhounds were also supported by opinion leaders and columnists from across Florida, including Doug Lyons, Tom Lyons, Sue Carlton, Gary Stein and Mark Lane. Our humane campaign was summarized well by Sue Carlton only days before the end of the legislative session, when she wrote:
"Remember how we did things before we knew better? ... for at least another year, the dogs will be run as before, even though the world has moved forward, even though we have options, even though by now we should be better than this."
Finally, a vast grassroots network called for change. This included thousands of people from all over the state, and notable community leaders Vicky Gaetz, Ann Church and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Kate MacFall and Wayne Pacelle from The Humane Society of the United States, Marc Reichelderfer, Greyhound Rescue and Adoptions of Tampa Bay, Greyhound Adoptions of Florida, the National Greyhound Adoption Program, Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys, the Humane Society of Vero Beach & Indian River County, the Florida Association of Animal Welfare Organizations, the Florida Animal Control Association, SPCA Tampa Bay, Humane Society Naples, Jacksonville Humane Society, Palm Beach Animal Care and Control, First Coast No More Homeless Pets, Alaqua Animal Refuge, the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, the Student Animal Legal Defense FundRetired Greyhounds as Pets, and Cat Depot. Throughout the session Vicky Gaetz tirelessly fought for the dogs, and on April 8 told the Miami Herald why she was working so hard:
"In a civil society, it doesn't seem right to have these noble animals be caged and forced to race when they don't have to be."
Whitney lives with a loving family in Kansas
Even anti-gambling group No Casinos, which has reservations about greyhound decoupling, spoke out for the greyhounds:
"We agree greyhound racing should end. Let's use gambling tax $ to buy back greyhound track permits."
Our coalition grew into a true army of compassion, and our hard work resulted in the unanimous passage of injury reporting in the Senate. This was a high water mark for greyhound advocacy in Florida, and a glimpse into what the future holds on this issue. In the end, greyhound decoupling and injury reporting failed because of the influence of special interests and powerful lobbyists, and due to industry infighting. But our movement is not going away. We will be back, and next time our coalition of compassion will not be denied.


  1. Jeroen van KernebeekMay 7, 2014 at 7:58 PM

    With dog racing having ended in almost all US states, Florida is isolating itself more and more. It's putting on a very poor 'show' by continuing to allow greyhound racing at the expense of the dogs and against the community's will.

  2. not only do we need to pressure our legislators, we need to educate our tourists and retirees to STOP viewing dog racing as a form of entertainment!

  3. You should start a petition on Change.org. It is far reaching and powerful. This is too important to continue as is.

    1. Change.org is great! We already have several good petitions there. See http://www.change.org/organizations/grey2k_usa