Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Greyhounds Run Into the Ground at Mexico Track

Three weeks ago, GREY2K USA Board member Charmaine Settle inspected Agua Caliente, the only greyhound racetrack in Mexico. Her inspection follows similar visits to greyhound tracks in Macau, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia and Argentina.

Caliente is owned by Jorge Hank Rhon, the controversial former major of Tijuana. Throughout his life Rhon has been plagued by scandal. He has been accused of having links to organized crime, being connected to the murder of an investigative reporter, and participating in the trade of illegal wildlife.

Agua Caliente races dogs that are bred in the U.S. and shipped across the border by American greyhound breeders. Julia Ward, the current President of the National Greyhound Association, is one of the largest owners of dogs currently racing at the Tijuana track.

Here are some of Charmaine's thoughts about what she saw:
"Caliente is a very large, modern facility which houses a casino and simulcasts of various sports, with dogs racing outside. Flamingos and white swans greet you when you approach the massive entrance and when you get inside, large paintings adorn the walls on  your way to the casino."
"The kennels, which are within steps of the casino on the same property, are run down and neglected. This juxtaposition was striking, and unsettling. It continued to bother me long after I had left."
"If you walk out of the track and continue down a ramp to the left you begin to hear all the dogs barking and can see, through trees, a shantytown where the dogs live."
"The kennels looked terribly old, crumbling and dilapidated with some of the roofs looking like they were about to cave in. The kennels appeared to have no windows letting in any light or fresh air. With temperatures approaching a hundred degrees, I can't imagine how hot and miserable the poor dogs must be while they suffer in the confines of their cells."
"I asked questions, and was told that about eighty dogs were used for the matinee that day, and each dog races about three or four times per week."
Sadly, the information Charmaine was provided about race frequency at Caliente appears to be accurate. According to an analysis by GREY2K USA Research Director Matt Read, greyhounds routinely race on little rest at the Mexico track. For example, a dog named Coach Hero has entered in a shocking 413 races since 2011. Nearly half of his races occurred after he received only a single day of rest, and nearly three-quarters of his racing starts occurred after he received two days or less. An examination of other dogs competing at the track shows that Coach Hero isn't the exception. When it comes to racing on little rest, he's the tragic rule.

Coach Hero also highlights the fact that Caliente is a place where American greyhound breeders dump dogs. Even though he's racing in Mexico, Coach Hero is owned by Greg Geter, a top recipient of state dog race subsidies in West Virginia.

A photo Charmaine took of the Caliente kennel compound
Racing dogs on little rest is inhumane and irresponsible. It increases the risk of injury, and can cause a disorder named exertional rhabdomyolysis, in which skeletal muscles begin to break down. According to industry handbook Care of the Racing and Retired Greyhound, this disorder appears in overworked greyhounds, which it defines as "two to three races or trials per week."

The American greyhound breeders who are sending dogs to race in Mexico, including NGA President Julia Ward, should be ashamed of themselves. The very existence of this low end track, where greyhounds are run into the ground, is another reminder that this cruel industry routinely places profits before animal welfare.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Vet Missing in Action When Greyhounds Suffer Injuries

Hamici was allegedly absent for Atascocita Tofu's injury
Under Florida state rules, greyhound tracks are required to hire a veterinarian who must "observe the condition of all racing animals immediately prior to, during, and after a race." This provision is intended to ensure the health and welfare of all racing dogs. Of course rules are only as good as their enforcement.

Consider the case of Dr. Hakim Hamici, the primary track veterinarian at Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track. Since 2013, Dr. Hamici has apparently been absent on at least five occasions when a serious greyhound injury occurred:

  • On February 22, 2015, Hamici was absent when a dog named B.L. Rumble collapsed and died after a schooling race. A trainer tried to call Hamici on his cell phone after the dog collapsed, but the call "went directly to voice mail."
  • On December 12, 2013, Hamici was absent when a greyhound named Koothrappali was "badly injured" during a race and had to be carried off the track.

These repeated regulatory failures call the current greyhound vet law into question. Rather than require tracks to employ private veterinarians, other states like Iowa provide state vets who are present during every race. Mandating tracks to hire private vets creates an obvious conflict of interest. It's also a burden on private businesses that are already being forced to conduct races they are losing money on.

Add this to the long list of reforms that Florida should pass to help greyhounds. The dogs need independent regulation from state veterinarians. In the meantime, any vets who fail in their oversight responsibilities should be severely penalized.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dog Track Group Tries to Muzzle Adopted Greyhounds

In Australia, adopted greyhounds must be muzzled at all times in public because of antiquated laws. This government mandate is nonsensical, and makes it more difficult to find homes for greyhounds leaving the racing industry. With an estimated 18,000 racing dogs dying each year across the country, repealing these muzzling laws must be a priority.

Thankfully, a coalition of humane groups led by the Greyhound Equality Society is fighting for the end of greyhound muzzling in the state of Victoria. Their campaign has made tangible progress and has a good chance of success.

Enter Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV), a group that both regulates and promotes commercial dog racing. Although GRV acknowledges the need to reform other parts of the racing industry, it has doubled down on the failed policy of muzzling adopted greyhounds. In a submission to the Victoria government, GRV claims that it is necessary to muzzle adopted greyhounds because they are inherently dangerous:

"Greyhounds are large, strong, extremely fast and can kill ... Unfortunately, instinctive behaviour is very resistant to the influences of training and behaviour modification."
The submission also rhetorically asks whether "all greyhounds are suited to being family pets" and states:
"The short answer is NO."
To justify these ridiculous positions, GRV refers to a behavior assessment program created in America by Dr. Amy Marder, who it refers to as "one of the leaders in the field of Shelter Medicine." However, Dr. Marder has submitted her own testimony to the government which refutes many of the claims made by GRV. Her submission points out that the behavior assessment program she created does not apply to predatory behavior at all:
"The evaluation part does NOT include a test for predatory behavior ... I have seen predatory behavior in a number of dogs, but never in a greyhound."
Finally, Dr. Marder weighs in on the government mandate that adopted greyhounds be muzzled in Australia:
"I do not support compulsory greyhound muzzling both because I do not think it is necessary to protect the public, but also because it may be preventing the rehoming of very nice animals."
On this point, Dr. Marder is in good company. Every major animal protection group is opposed to this flawed policy, including RSPCA Australia. Its position is clear, concise, and on point:
"There is no evidence to show that greyhounds as a breed pose any greater risk to the public compared to other dog breeds or mix of breeds ... [T]he misconception that greyhounds need to be muzzled has major ramifications for greyhound rehoming, preventing many greyhounds that are discarded by the racing industry from finding a new home. Removing muzzling laws would significantly help improve the image of greyhounds and thus increase rehoming rates."
GRV is trying to start a new chapter when it comes to commercial greyhound racing in Victoria. Its position that the government should mandate the muzzling of adopted greyhounds is a serious misstep, and one the group should reconsider.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Epic Failure for New Iowa Dog Track

Harley raced at Dubuque Greyhound Park
Last year, the Iowa legislature passed a law to phase out dog racing at one track and permanently end millions of dollars in annual subsidies for greyhound breeders. Unfortunately the Iowa Greyhound Association (IGA), which represents the dog racing industry, was able to win major concessions in the law.

In the coming years, greyhound breeders will receive an outrageous golden parachute worth a total of $72 million. Half of these golden parachute funds can be used to operate a dog track in Dubuque. The law gives the IGA the exclusive right to operate this track, under a sweetheart deal that grants them a five-year property lease for only a single dollar per year. In addition to this waste, the IGA was given yet another $2.4 million state handout in March.

After receiving one special favor after another, the new dog track in Dubuque is still a failure. We now have data for the first three months at the newly minted "Iowa Greyhound Park," and dog race gambling is down across the board when compared to a year ago.

Gambling on live races at Iowa Greyhound Park is down a staggering 25%, as the Des Moines Register reported yesterday in a front page story. If we take a deeper dive into the numbers, the picture becomes even more bleak for the IGA. Remote gambling on the races held in Dubuque is down by 32.1%, and total dog race betting for the track has decreased by 26.2%.

Of course, the IGA is trying to put the best possible face on this epic failure. In the Register, IGA lawyer Jerry Crawford acknowledged the the track is losing money, but still claimed that things are just wonderful:
"What we are trying to do is make racing special, not make it a 24/7 activity because that model doesn't work. Our approach is succeeding."
Meanwhile, the IGA has refused to make a single meaningful reform to improve greyhound welfare. In November I laid out four key changes the IGA could make to help greyhounds: a new system of housing, halting the use of anabolic steroids in female dogs, ending the use of "4-D" meat, and providing funding to ensure that every injured greyhound receives veterinary care.

None of these changes have occurred. Instead of proving to the world that it is capable of reform, the dog racing industry has again put its personal profits ahead of animal welfare. Sadly, this new Iowa track can probably limp along for a while because the vast subsidy dollars the IGA will receive. Let history show that its Dubuque experiment was an economic failure on day one, and amounted to nothing more than another facility where dogs suffer and die.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Dogs Die While Greyhound Trainers Threaten Lawsuits

In our meetings last month, leaders of the Australian greyhound racing industry repeatedly emphasized the need to reduce greyhound breeding and increase adoption. Today, according to an estimate by Animals Australia, as many as 18,000 healthy greyhounds are killed by the racing industry each year.

To address this issue, industry group Greyhound Racing New South Wales (GRNSW) has implemented new breeding restrictions that took effect on July 1. Key aspects include:

  • Female greyhounds can only be bred three times, unless GRNSW provides specific approval for additional litters.

Although these guidelines are far from perfect, they are common sense measures that will improve the lives of greyhounds used for breeding. According to GRNSW:
"These Rules are aimed at improving the health and welfare of our breeding females, and to minimise the number of greyhounds bred that may not be suitable for racing."
Unfortunately, it appears that Australian greyhound breeders would prefer to ignore the problem, and continue the status quo. According to recent meeting minutes from the Greyhound Racing Industry Consultation Group, an organization that represents greyhound trainers and breeders, it is "concerned" about the new breeding restrictions. The minutes also state that trainers believe breeding is "at a low" and are worried that the industry "may face issues providing sufficient numbers" of greyhound puppies in the years to come. This assessment is wrong and incredibly callous.

In a follow up letter to GRNSW, the Richmond Race Club went even further. After complaining that the new policy will harm "passive breeders," it suggested there may be litigation over the new breeding restrictions:
"Members of the Greyhound Industry have received advice that the new policy is actually a ‘restriction of trade.’ Has GRNSW received legal advice on the possible impacts of this policy and does it meet with legal requirements?"
This sad episode is a great example of why the Australian dog racing industry is doomed. While thousands of dogs die, greyhound trainers complain about their financial bottom line and threaten lawsuits. The next time they wonder why the public has turned against them, they should take a long look in the mirror.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Industry Report Suggests Dog Racing is "Blood Sport"

In Australia, even the racing industry itself has recognized that fundamental change is necessary to improve greyhound welfare. This point was made repeatedly in our direct meetings with industry leaders, who surprisingly acknowledged the fact that dog racing is out of touch with mainstream values.

This disconnect was highlighted again last week, in a report released by the Working Dog Alliance Australia and funded by industry body Greyhound Racing New South Wales. Several of the report's findings have already made headlines, including the acknowledgement that an estimated 40% of greyhound puppies bred for racing never make it to a track.

The most notable finding, however, is the suggestion that greyhound racing may be rightly classified as a blood sport. The report defines these as "activities where the death of an animal is a likely, if not guaranteed, outcome of the entertainment," such as "bull-fighting, dog-fighting, cockfighting, coursing and a number of other sports that are still 'played' in the world today, despite vocal protest against them." The report then points out that although dog races in themselves do not always cause death, "violence and abuse can manifest in different contexts across the lifecycle of the greyhound, including breeding, rearing, training/racing, housing and racing career end-point." Finally, it concludes:
"As such, the physical abuse, risk of injury and culling mean that greyhound racing has a likely, if not guaranteed, risk of death for the participating dog, which means some would classify it as a blood sport."
In the coming years there will be a major push to increase adoption in Australia and end the unnecessary killing of unprofitable greyhounds. We must all support this effort. At the same time, it's unclear whether such a transformation is attainable. Australia has a population that is equal to only 7% of the U.S. population, but a racing industry that is similar in size to its American counterpart. As a result, the number of available homes for rescued greyhounds is far more limited.

Sadly, while industry leaders fight for change, the response from other participants has been abysmal. Just a few days ago, NSW regulators were allegedly shot at and assaulted during a routine inspection. Afterward, former trainer Tony Vass told ABC News that there is widespread anger among greyhound trainers who believe they are being "bullied." These trainers are nothing short of delusional. They are whistling while walking past the graveyard, convincing themselves that somehow they are in the right, while the broader community rejects their cruel blood sport.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

In Macau, an Historic Moment for the Greyhounds

First International Roundtable on Greyhounds, photo by Heather Neil
After meeting with greyhound advocates in New Zealand and Australia, GREY2K USA Worldwide President Christine Dorchak and I ended our marathon campaign trip in Macau. All over the world dog racing is the subject of controversy, and the center of this debate is the Canidrome greyhound track, where every racing dog is eventually killed.

Christine and I inspected the track, a sad facility that reeks of death. Greyhounds with visible bandages and severed tails race before an empty grandstand. Seeing the worst dog track in the world strengthened my resolve to end this animal cruelty.

The Canidrome sits on government land, and has a lease that expires at the end of this year. Nearly 300,000 citizens from across the globe have already signed a petition to Macau Chief Executive Chui Sai On, asking him to let the track close. While in Macau, we were given a high level meeting with the Macau government, and left encouraged that a victory for the dogs is possible.

Our trip to Macau also made history. For the first time, top level animal protection leaders from all over the world joined together, in person, to address the cruelty of greyhound racing. We were incredibly honored to be joined at this meeting by Lyn White from Animals Australia, Paul Littlefair from the British RSPCA, Heather Neil from RSPCA Australia, Nancy Lai from the Taiwan SPCA, Teresa Lee and Chris Cui from the SPCA Hong Kong, Karina O'Carrol and Irene Feng from Animals Asia, Qin Xiaona from the Capital Animal Welfare Association, Kirsten Mitchell from Kirsten's Zoo and others. This all-star panel of animal protection advocates planned a strategy to close the Canidrome, and discussed other greyhound welfare issues.

This historic event was hosted by non-profit group Anima Macau and its dynamic President, Albano Martins. Albano is a true champion for all dogs, and it's a good sign that he is leading the fight to help the Canidrome greyhounds.

Christine and I are now back in the GREY2K USA Worldwide office, catching up on domestic campaigns in Florida, West Virginia and other states. Although the United States will always be our top priority, I see how intertwined the many fights now underway to help greyhounds truly are. This is a global problem, and deserves a global solution.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Greyhound Advocates Confront Cruelty in Australia

Hayley showed us the Noble farm, seen from another property
The final days of our Australian campaign trip were a flurry of activity.

In Sydney, we strategized with three compassionate lawmakers: Greens Member of Parliament John Kaye, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, and Animal Justice Party Member of Parliament Mark Pearson. We also learned about the good work that local animal protection groups are doing, including Animal Liberation and Sentient. Additionally, we were honored to meet Anne Lloyd-Jones from the Animals Asia Foundation in person. Anne is a strong ally who has been working with us for years in a joint effort to close the Canidrome. Finally, we met with several members of the media who are covering the evolving debate over dog racing.

I was particularly impressed with MP John Kaye. He brings a unique mixture of political experience, compassion, and strategic sophistication to the fight to end greyhound cruelty. We are lucky to have him fighting for the dogs.

In Brisbane, we spent an entire day with Hayley Cotton and the greyhound advocates who courageously exposed live baiting. We visited the heart of the industry, farms where live baiting cruelty was recently exposed. We also had dinner with a dozen notable leaders of the humane community, including representatives of Friends of the HoundAnimal Welfare QueenslandGone Are The Dogs and Animal Liberation Queensland.

It's truly incredible how many people are fighting for the greyhounds in Australia. Without a doubt, the pieces are already in place for a real, effective campaign to outlaw dog racing in the country. Although these advocates are working for greyhounds in different ways, they are joined together by their dedication, commitment, and willingness to confront cruelty.

This commitment is personified by Hayley Cotton, who has been nominated for the Pride of Australia Medal. Hayley is one of the most impressive greyhound advocates I've encountered over the past two decades. Thanks to her, John Kaye, and everyone who cares about greyhounds, I'm convinced that the complete end of dog racing in Australia is inevitable.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Change Coming to Australian Dog Racing Industry

Over the last two days, GREY2K USA Worldwide President Christine Dorchak and I held a series of key meetings in Melbourne, Australia, during the second leg of our campaign trek through Australasia and China.
We Meet With the Excellent Animals Australia Team

First, we held a comprehensive strategy meeting with powerhouse humane organization Animals Australia. In many ways Animals Australia reminds me of our key British ally, the League Against Cruel Sports. It is clever, committed, and not afraid to take on a tough fight. The work Animals Australia is doing for greyhounds is one of the most significant new developments in the global fight to end dog racing.

We then met with several top officials from RSPCA Australia, a national non-profit organization that is widely respected and speaks with a powerful voice in advocating for Australian greyhounds.

These visits were followed by a series of meetings with top representatives from the Australian greyhound racing industry, including Greyhounds Australasia CEO Scott Parker. We had a very open conversation, a stark contrast to the bunker mentality we experienced in New Zealand, and have witnessed for years in America. During nearly four hours of talks, it became clear that industry executives in Australia are fully aware that commercial dog racing is out of step with mainstream values on animal welfare, and fundamental changes are necessary.

After these industry talks, we received an informative briefing on the Australian political system from leaders of the Animals Justice Party. The Party recently won its first parliamentary seat, and will no doubt lead the passage of major humane victories in the years to come.

Carey Theil and Scott Parker After Hours of Industry Talks
Finally, we had dinner with the Greyhound Equality Society and Amazing Greys Greyhound Rescue and Adoption. The Greyhound Equality Society is doggedly fighting to repeal a wrongheaded requirement that all adopted greyhounds be muzzled in public, a victory that seems inevitable. Meanwhile, Amazing Greys is doing incredible work helping to find homes for rescued greyhounds, with an all-volunteer effort. This meeting provided us with invaluable insights about greyhound adoption in Victoria, and was a wonderful end to our time in Melbourne.

Even though we have only been in the country for a few days, it is breathtaking to see how many different people are working to improve the lives of greyhounds. Mainstream animal protection groups, adoption advocates, political parties and even the industry itself all recognize that the status quo cannot continue, and greyhounds deserve better. Based on these meetings, I am more confident than ever that fundamental changes are on the way Down Under.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Kiwis Speak Up For Greyhounds

Christine and I meet with Lynn Charlton, Bob Kerridge & Lucy
Last week, GREY2K USA Worldwide President Christine Dorchak and I embarked on our most ambitious journey yet to fight for greyhounds, a two-week, four country campaign swing across Australasia and China.

Our trek began in New Zealand. After twenty hours of air flight, we were greeted by dynamic greyhound advocate Lynn Charlton. Lynn is a leading voice for racing dogs in the country, and graciously allowed us to stay with her and her three adopted dogs.

The morning after our arrival, we held a strategy meeting with key greyhound campaigners from across the country, including Saving Wilma and the Greyhound Protection League of New Zealand. Together, we attempted a site inspection of the Auckland Greyhound Racing Club, a visit that was cut short when we were asked to leave a few moments after we asked questions about how the track operates. I was surprised by the level of anxiety we encountered at the track, which bordered on paranoia. In all my years advocating for greyhounds, I have never encountered a track that so clearly has something to hide.

On our second day in New Zealand, we met with Safe for New Zealand, a tenacious animal protection group that fights animal cruelty on many fronts. Safe is dedicated to ending greyhound racing completely, and is a valuable ally.

After meeting with Safe we sat for an interview with barrister, journalist and author Catriona MacLennan. Catriona thoroughly reported on our fact finding trip for greyhounds, and the sad reality that greyhounds in New Zealand face.

Finally, on our way to the airport we visited with Bob Kerridge at the Auckland SPCA. Bob is a titanic figure in the New Zealand animal protection community, and has worked to help animals for decades. The greyhounds have a good friend in the Auckland SPCA, and in Bob.

Even though we were only in New Zealand for less than 48 hours, it's clear to me that the pieces are already in place to secure the passage of significant reforms for greyhounds. Industry insiders should think twice about their current bunker mentality, which will only hasten the end of commercial dog racing in their country.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Greyhound Gambling at Lowest Level in 30 Years

Flak lives with his adopted family in Texas
This week, the Association of Racing Commissioners International released its 2013 Statistical Summary, which reports the amount gambled on greyhound races nationwide from all sources. ARCI is the only reference for this valuable information.

In 2013, a total of $633.3 million was bet on dog races in the United States. Most of this money is returned to gamblers in winnings, with the rest split between track owners and greyhound breeders. Dog track gambling fell by 4.8% over the previous year, and has now declined by 82% since 1991, when the industry economically peaked.

This is the lowest amount bet on greyhound racing in at least thirty years, and further proof that this cruel industry is dying.

It's also clear that GREY2K USA is having a powerful impact on the dog racing industry. In the twelve years since we formed, the rate of industry decline has more than doubled (8.8% annually) compared to the previous dozen years. In fact, gambling on dog racing has dropped by 68%, and nearly thirty tracks have closed or ended live racing, since our formation in 2001.

We are winning the fight to end greyhound racing, against a cruel industry that refuses to change. Now is the time to double down on our advocacy efforts, and continue moving toward the day when dog racing ends completely.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Suspended Greyhound Trainer Has Troubled History

Photo by Pima County Animal Care and Control, 2010.
On Sunday night, television station KGUN reported that a greyhound trainer at Tucson Greyhound Park had been fined and suspended after a dog in her control tested positive for the powerful anabolic steroid Metandionone. According to records we obtained from the Arizona Department of Racing, trainer Nancy Guimond was suspended for 15 days and fined $500 after a dog named Bob's Bess tested positive after winning a race at the South Tucson track on May 9.

It's good that Guimond was sanctioned for this serious offense. However, her case also raises questions about the way dog racing is regulated. According to state records, since 2007 Nancy Guimond has been sanctioned at least thirteen times by state regulators in Arizona, Alabama and Florida, for having dogs test positive for prohibited substances and other offenses. For example:

  • Guimond has been repeatedly disciplined by state regulators in Alabama and Arizona for entering race dogs that were over their set racing weight. Racing weights are closely monitored to prevent race fixing.

Finally, and perhaps most troubling, the official Florida license history for Guimond indicates that she was investigated for animal abuse in 2001. Her license history does not indicate whether she was disciplined, or provide details of what she was specifically accused of.

In light of this long history of violations, the recent suspension of Guimond should come as no surprise. It does, however, highlight a fundamental regulatory problem. Throughout the industry, greyhound trainers are allowed to violate the rules repeatedly, and continue working as if nothing has happened.

Nancy Guimond's suspension has already ended, and she is back at Tucson Greyhound Park. She will be allowed to continue racing dogs, despite her long history of track violations. Out of sight, out of mind.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Dog Track Promoters Go Crazy Over New Friend Gina

Welcome to the family Gina!
Last month, my family added another member when we adopted Gina the greyhound.

Gina is delightful. She is affectionate and gentle, and remarkably patient with our cats. There had been a hole in our lives ever since we lost Zoe to cancer last year, and it's comforting to have a dog with us again.

Predictably, greyhound breeders responded to this happy event with bitterness and hostility. As soon as it was publicly announced that we had adopted her, several dog track promoters began trying to figure out what Gina's racing name was, so they could attempt to remove her. According to greyhound trainer Chris Grieb:
"I've been relentlessly searching for possibilities on her identity. I'll worry about what to do with that information once it's obtained."
Meanwhile, after another dog track supporter suggested taking a "visit" to our office, Beverly Stahlgren Schrecongost wrote that someone should forcibly abduct Gina:
"Then grab her and run like hell!!!"
That message was followed by a joke about a "get away car." Meanwhile, Daytona Kennel Club worker Connie Winkler suggested that Gina's former racing owner should try to remove her from our family by falsely claiming she was stolen.

As usual, the most disturbing comment was made by former National Greyhound Association official Craig Randle, who again referred to the near fatal accident GREY2K USA President Christine Dorchak suffered in 1992:
"Is that dog trolley TRAINed?"
This bizarre death wish was echoed by Bruce Walters, who mistakenly referred to Gina as "Ginger:"
"30 days before Ginger decides she wants to jump in front of a moving vehicle."
For years, we have made it clear that our opposition to greyhound racing is not about individual industry members, or specific acts of animal cruelty. Like every other mainstream animal protection organization, we are opposed to commercial dog racing because the industry uses standard practices that are cruel and inhumane. This is still our position.

At the same time, it's now obvious that the last vestiges of this failed industry have become a safe haven for the most vile, hateful rhetoric. These racing promoters cannot police themselves, and are showing the world who they really are: a handful of bitter, petty people who are fighting tooth and nail to preserve an industry that harms dogs.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain

Reading through state records we just received, I'm reminded of a famous scene from the Wizard of Oz when Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal that the Wizard is just an ordinary man orchestrating a grandiose illusion.

The greyhound racing industry also maintains its own deceptive facade. It claims that it effectively regulates itself, with some state oversight. But the curtain was drawn back last week, with the release of regulatory e-mails by the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission. These files offer a behind the scenes look at how dog racing is actually governed, and provide a frank assessment of several humane problems. They also document attempts by state veterinarians to pass reforms, efforts that were resisted by a recalcitrant industry that fights to maintain the status quo.


The most notable e-mail might be authored by Dr. Jenifer Barker, who previously regulated dog racing at Dairyland Greyhound Park and now works as a Dairy Inspector for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection. In October 2013, she told other regulators that the high frequency of flunixin positives in racing dogs is due to the use of "4-D" meat. According to Barker:
"We had this happen frequently at Dairyland. We had to lower our fines due to so many Flunixin positives from the meat ... The 4D meat comes from sick and downer cows. Farmers will do and give anything to try to get the cow standing so she can go to slaughter ... Most of these cows are dehydrated and half dead so very little flunixen is absorbed ... instead it's essentially pocketed in the muscle. The crooks in the 4D meat business use the dead cows for racing and zoo meat."
Barker was responding to a previous message about 4-D meat from Dr. William Dugger, a longtime track veterinarian at Palm Beach Kennel Club. In part, Dugger wrote:
"We had a 2 kennel outbreaks this week, and when I called them tonight, they both said that they are using that meat. After 46 years with the 'Greathounds' I don't find too many surprises when it comes to the 'nutrition of the racing hound by witchcraft.'"

The e-mails also include a lengthy conversation about the confinement that racing greyhounds endure. In 2009, Dr. Keith Soring of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission sent an e-mail to well known livestock industry consultant Temple Grandin, describing the changes he wanted to implement:
"I believe at a minimum the cages should comply with MINIMUM HSUS standards for large breed dogs, which would be 6ft x 4ft with NO STACKING ... my colleagues in the Greyhound regulatory world have agreed with my proposal."
Soring was responding to an earlier e-mail from Grandin in which she expressed dismay at the way racing greyhounds live:
"I am appalled that dogs are being permanently housed in cages the size of airline crates."
Unfortunately, a message sent five years later, in December 2014, indicates that Soring's proposal died after he couldn't get the industry "on board" with a better housing model:
"The kennel size issue was something I brought up years ago and I couldn't really get anyone on board to configure a way to improve the current layout although the GM of the casino was in complete agreement and understood why stacking dogs is not a good idea."
This is supported by a 2009 e-mail from Dr. Marianne Kirkendall of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, who wrote:
"Of those topics, definitely the most controversial is the kennel issue. Several trainers have come up to me and voiced their irritation at those changes. Most of the complaints seem to boil down to money, as one would expect."
Kirkendall also correctly noted that the current system of confined housing that is used by the industry is out of the mainstream:
"Ultimately, the voters are the ones who will decide the future of this industry, and the industry needs to be reminded of that."
She also offered insightful comments on the problem with confining greyhounds for long hours each day:
"It is my understanding that when greyhounds are being raised, they spend the first several months of their postweaning lives in large, long runs that gradually get larger as they get bigger ... they are only suddenly put into these much more confining crates in racing facilities ... I often marvel at these dogs. How can we expect such amazing athletes to sit confined to a small cage for upwards of 3 hours and then put them on a track to sprint without any warm-up except whatever they get trotting over to the box? ... a very consistent behavior I see in these dogs is, as they are brought out of the lock-out area, is that they jump, stretch and shake very vigorously. This tells me that they are not able to do these things very well in the cages."
These concerns were reflected in similar comments made by Dr. Soring in 2009:
"The industry defends the small cage sizes by saying the dogs get turned out 4-5 times a day for 30 minutes at a time for exercise. I don’t really buy into that as a veterinarian and am concerned about the stress of small confinement as well as air quality in kennels and sanitation concerns from stacking of cages. Currently we have about 72 dogs per kennel here in Iowa."

AMF Preclude was killed after being injured in 2013
On another topic, there are multiple e-mails regarding attempts regulatory veterinarians made to stop greyhound trainers from euthanizing dogs that had suffered broken legs. This thread appears to begin in September 2009, when Dr. Soring asked Dr. Barker how many greyhounds she had euthanized at Dairyland due to broken bones. Barker responds:
"The answer to your question is 'Zero.' ... are they saying that they can not repair some of the fractures? Every fracture that I have sent out even open radius/ulna and open tibia fractures have been repaired successfully ... I can honestly say that the success rate is almost 100%."
On the same day, Soring forwarded an e-mail to IRGC Administrator Jack Ketterer that he had previously received from Dr. Bryce Peckham, the Chief Racing Veterinarian for the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission. According to Soring, Peckham expressed frustration over the number of dogs that were killed unnecessarily in the final years of dog racing in Kansas:
"I can tell you that way to many dogs were put down out of 'convenience' at Kansas tracks due to multifactorial reasons ... since I was not on-site for the last 5-6 years, of GH racing, I was negligent in appropriately addressing this horrific problem. I will tell you that when I sub'd for my vet's and had a FX, I was very reluctant and in several cases refused to kill the dog. The trainers hated me for that."
 Peckham also stated that dogs were killed purely for financial reasons:
"I had to call the local KC adoption groups to orchestrate saving these dogs. It's always about money which invariably pissed me off so that I had some knockdowns with trainers."
Peckham then offered Soring with advice on handling this problem:
"You are going to have to take the lead with your track vet's and be very adament about how these injured dogs can be salvaged. My people became way too complacent (at doing the bidding of trainers) regarding these helpless racers. This is a very hot spot with me and these assholes punched my button too many times." (sic)

Unfortunately, a 2014 e-mail from Soring indicates that he was "stonewalled" by the Iowa Greyhound Association when he tried to institute a fund to cover the cost of surgeries for injured greyhounds. His common sense proposal would have required greyhound trainers to pay a measly fifty cents per greyhound start. Another Soring e-mail, from 2011, provides additional details on the industry's failure to accept this improvement:
"We had an initial meeting involving the IGA on this issue and I can’t say they have exactly taken the ball and ran with it ... what’s sad is that we continue to euthanize dogs at the trainer’s request for non-life threatening injuries while running for $10 million plus purse supplements from the casino industry. Our initial meeting was well over a year ago with Iowa State, IGA, Heartland rescue and Harrah’s representatives. No one has reached out for a follow up meeting to this point. VERY disappointing."
In 2009, Soring indicated that regulators are "up against an industry (that is) very reluctant to change or modernization." In yet another e-mail, Soring described industry recalcitrance to common sense reforms:
"As you are already aware - change is difficult for these people and getting them to comply with even a 2 or 3 week vaccination prior to coming may be hard to enforce despite the benefit."
Similar sentiments were echoed in January 2011 by Dr. Lisa Robinson, a veterinarian with the Arkansas Racing Commission who regulates dog racing at Southland Greyhound Park. Responding to a question about greyhounds racing in extreme temperatures, Robinson wrote:
"I am all for some kind of guidelines as a group because this place wouldn't stop racing this past summer when the actual temps were over 100 and the heat indexes over 112!! I was almost ready to call GREY2K myself then."
Dr. Robinson then recounts how the attempt to "placate" her backfired:
"To try to placate me, they put a row of 5-6 water hoses near the escape & made it a judges order to spritz every dog with water as they came off the track. Unfortunately, all the hoses were placed together so close & were all coming out of the same line that water pressure was near zero when more than one person tried to use them. That's Southland for ya!!"
In a similar e-mail that was also sent in 2011, Dr. Lori Bohenko, a veterinarian with the West Virginia Racing Commission, indicated that it is "always a battle with (track) managment" when the state discusses cancelling a race card due to cold temperatures. She also describes a difficult fight with Wheeling Island over the simple issue of replacing "tattered" and "torn" winter blankets for the dogs.

Like the Wizard of Oz, the greyhound industry tries to distract us from seeing what is really behind the curtain. Unfortunately, it seems to be a great deal of suffering and death.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Great Bend Towards Justice

Nearly two centuries ago, abolitionist Theodore Parker gave voice to the idea that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice. Although I believe this to be true, change can also be disappointingly slow.

Saving Greys has been silent for several months, because I have been deeply engaged in fights to help greyhounds in several states. The legislative season is almost over, and the greyhound protection community did win important victories, including a $2 million reduction in dog race subsidies in West Virginia.

At the same time, I'm deeply disappointed by the work that has been left undone. Although the Florida Senate unanimously passed a greyhound injury reporting law, the House never followed suit. Greyhound decoupling passed three Florida committees, but never advanced to the floor of either chamber. Meanwhile, Lawmakers in Oregon and Connecticut neglected to vote on proposals to outlaw dog racing.

Of course, not ever year can be like 2014, when we helped pass multiple major pieces of legislation to help greyhounds and end dog racing. Still, it's easy to be frustrated when we see greyhound continue to suffer while change is delayed.

It's important to keep in mind that commercial greyhound racing has existed for more than eight decades. After its introduction in Florida in 1931, it took the industry a full sixty years to peak. At its high point, dog racing was legal and operational in nineteen states, and roughly $3.5 billion was bet on greyhound races nationwide.

Today, the industry has shrunk to only 21 tracks in seven states. In the two decades between 1991 and 2012, the most recent year we have data for, gambling on greyhound racing fell by 81%. Similarly, since 2012 betting on dog races in Florida, where twelve tracks are located, declined by a further 6.5%.

It's also very notable that the movement to end greyhound racing has gone global. There are now active campaigns to reform or end greyhound racing in Great Britain, Australia, Macau and New Zealand. Just last week John Kaye, Greens Member of the New South Wales Parliament, introduced the first ever bill to outlaw dog racing Down Under. He has launched an informative web page and petition, and deserves our support.

Every year, we grow stronger while the commercial greyhound racing industry grows weaker. GREY2K USA now has more than 100,000 supporters worldwide. We have an expanding team of researchers and advocates, and have established key relationships with allies like the ASPCA, Humane Society of the United States, League Against Cruel Sports and Animals Australia.

Meanwhile, dog race promoters have added nothing substantive to the debate. Their cynical strategy of personal attacks has failed, and their cruel industry is slowly slipping away one day at a time.

The moral arc of the universe does bend towards justice, and we are winning the fight to end greyhound racing. Although it pains us to see the daily suffering of racing dogs, we must be patient and stay the course.