Friday, October 14, 2016

Florida is Focus of Global Fight to End Dog Racing

This weekend, Palm Beach County in Florida will become the focus of the global effort to end greyhound racing. Two dozen top animal welfare experts from across the world are joining together in Delray Beach to hold the first ever international conference on greyhound advocacy, named Greyhounds Around the Globe.

Commercial dog racing is now conducted at 146 racetracks in eight countries. Greyhounds routinely suffer racing injuries at these tracks including broken legs, broken necks, dislocations, torn muscles and paralysis. Some dogs die while racing while others are put down due to the severity of their injuries, or simply because of their diminished value as racers. More than 12,000 injuries have been documented in the U.S. alone since 2008, and in Florida a racing greyhound is dying every three days, on average.

In New South Wales, Australia, recent governments report shows that thirty-nine dogs were killed while racing in just over two months, and that 70% of all racing dogs may have been destroyed over the last dozen years, as either puppies or failed racers. At the Canidrome in Macau, the only legal dog track in China, greyhounds receive little or no veterinary care and are routinely killed at a rate of thirty per month. Because there is no adoption program, no dog gets out alive. In the countries of Great Britain, Mexico, Ireland, Vietnam and New Zealand, records are still not publicly disclosed, so the number of greyhound injuries and deaths remain an industry secret.

A worldwide movement has emerged to fight this cruel industry, and we are gradually winning. Grassroots advocates have linked arms with established animal protection groups like The Humane Society of the United States, RSPCA Australia, Animals Australia, Animals Asia, Anima Macau, the British RSPCA and the ASPCA. This coalition is fighting for a phase out of commercial dog racing, while also advocating for key industry reforms.

GREY2K USA Worldwide lobbyist Michael Preston Green declares victory in Arizona
Just in the last year, we have won stunning greyhound protection victories. In May, Arizona became the 40th American state to outlaw greyhound racing. The largest Australian state, New South Wales, voted to prohibit dog racing in August. Although the government has since decided to allow a small remnant of the industry to temporarily survive, dozens of tracks are still slated to close. Also in August it was announced that the last dog track in London, iconic Wimbledon Stadium, is permanently closing. Meanwhile, the Macau Canidrome is in the process of shutting down after the government refused to extend its land lease.

Florida has become the epicenter of this global fight, and humane advocates are starting to win victories in the Sunshine State, too. In March, lawmakers passed a budget proviso requiring the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to report greyhound injuries to the public for the first time. The dogs won again this summer when Seminole County Commissioners approved the Greyhound Protection Act, a local citizens initiative to require greyhound injury reporting, require reporting on the ultimate fate of racing dogs, and eliminate a loophole that exempted greyhounds from County licensing and inspection laws.

We realize our historic conference is taking place only twenty miles from Palm Beach Kennel Club, the preeminent commercial dog track in the world. To its credit, Palm Beach has directed its attention to some humane issues and recently announced a series of adoption events in the month of October. Nevertheless, it is not immune from the culture of cruelty that permeates the greyhound industry. According to state records, 25 dogs have died at Palm Beach since 2013. To ensure the track has a ready supply of racers, hundreds of greyhounds endure lives of confinement, kept in cages barely large enough for them to stand up or turn around for long hours each day.

At the conclusion of our conference, our coalition will send a letter to the heads of states of the eight countries that still host commercial dog tracks. We will urge them to support legislation to end greyhound racing and tell them that dogs deserve better. It is time for this cruelty to end in Florida, the state where it started, and worldwide.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Our Grief Must be Turned Into Action for Greyhounds

Across the world, greyhound advocates are frustrated and hurt by the announcement that New South Wales, Australia will severely reduce dog racing rather than prohibit it altogether. There is a growing sense that the dogs have not only been failed by the New South Wales government, but the political process itself cannot be trusted. We must reject that assessment.

We are all living through history, playing a part in a global debate that will inevitably end with a complete prohibition on commercial dog racing. Our victory is certain, because the greyhound industry contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. To operate as a profitable commercial enterprise, it must utilize practices that go against our mainstream values about the humane treatment of animals. The entire industry lacks a social license, and will inevitably be outlawed.

Unfortunately, the change we seek will not happen on our desired timeline. It will be a slow, gradual process that unfolds over decades or even generations. That may sound unbearable, but in the grand course of history a generation is barely a blink of the eye.  In fact, I'm amazed by the progress we have already made.

Just in the fifteen years since GREY2K USA Worldwide formed, we have seen seeds of compassion grow into a global movement to end the cruelty of greyhound racing. The American industry has been reduced to a mere 18 operational tracks in only five states, with roughly $500 million bet on races nationwide. At its peak, nearly $3.5 billion was bet on races held at nearly sixty tracks in nineteen states. The industry is also economically collapsing in the United Kingdom, where the last dog track in London, iconic Wimbledon Stadium, is set to close. The worst dog track in the world, the Macau Canidrome, is teetering after having received a government ultimatum to close or move.

In Australia, the last twenty months represent a tectonic shift in the history of greyhound racing. The plan that has been floated by the New South Wales government includes the closure of dozens of commercial dog tracks, a vast reduction of greyhound breeding, bonds for each dog born into the industry, track restructures aimed at reducing injuries, and other major reforms. These changes reflect a political victory, not a defeat. They are also a huge step towards the day when greyhound racing is prohibited everywhere.

Finally, every time we speak up for greyhounds we become political actors. We should be grateful for the democratic mechanisms that allow us to oppose and even abolish injustice. Rather than blame the political process for the New South Wales reversal, we should instead accept the fact that the greyhound industry deftly used politics to temporarily salvage a small remnant of itself. Dog race promoters flexed their political muscles, and threatened to pull the government apart if they didn't get their way. Using media surrogates, they engaged in a campaign of misinformation and bullying, and didn't stop until they won.

Because the animal advocacy community is committed to justice, we must never allow ourselves to use these underhanded tactics. We can, however, become more effective at using the democratic mechanisms ourselves. The solution is not to reject the political process, but to become better at it. This is one of the goals of this weekend's Greyhounds Around the Globe conference.

We are holding a winning hand, and must stand together in solidarity as we fight for the freedom of these gentle dogs. Today is about our frustration and grief over a bad government decision that will harm greyhounds. But tomorrow must be about our resolve, and a commitment to be even stronger advocates for greyhounds.