Monday, September 11, 2017

In Florida Crisis, Greyhound Racers Fail a Moral Test

Devastation from the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926, which destroyed a greyhound kennel

By Carey Theil, Executive Director of GREY2K USA Worldwide


Hurricane Irma has thankfully been downgraded to a tropical storm, and it appears that Florida greyhound race kennels dodged a big bullet. Thousands of greyhounds were in peril due to Irma, after kennel operators chose to ride the storm out instead of evacuate.

The storm hasn't yet passed, but already dog race promoters are hard at work trying to rationalize their reckless decision. Let's set the record straight. It's true that one track reportedly gave kennel operators financial assistance in the days before Irma struck. That's good, and should be applauded. Also, there is no doubt that the greyhound trainers who stayed behind and hunkered down with dogs were brave. Neither of these, though, are actual solutions to a cataclysmic threat.

Some of the Florida greyhound kennels, holding hundreds of dogs, are wooden. If any of these had suffered a direct hit the loss of life would have been enormous. Further, the trainers who stayed behind would have been helpless against a large storm surge. Many Florida kennels were in direct peril of flooding, including the Derby Lane kennel compound which is located only a few hundred feet from Masters Bayou.

One of the essays circulating today claims GREY2K USA is the "face of evil" for raising concerns about the lack of an evacuation plan for greyhounds. The dissertation is disjointed and strange, but does include one self-revelatory paragraph:
"The face of evil told you there was no plan for the greyhounds to be evacuated and they were partially right. There was never a plan to evacuate the greyhounds because the real protectors know you can't evacuate 6000 greyhounds. There was always a plan and that was plan to do what has been done for 90 years. Keep the greyhounds in place, hunker down with them and hope what has worked for so many years works again."
The writer is correct that hunkering down and hoping for the best is what the dog racing industry has always done. It is a deeply irresponsible choice that has caused many dogs to suffer.

In September of 1926 a powerful Category 4 storm commonly referred to as the Great Miami Hurricane devastated South Florida. According to Florida's Hurricane History the greyhound kennels at the Hialeah Race Track were completely destroyed, allowing racing greyhounds to escape. So much life was lost that when the storm passed it pushed water and debris back into Biscayne Bay creating a "huge health problem with all the dead bodies and animals" according to meteorologist Neal Dorst.

Ninety-one years have passed since the Great Miami Hurricane, and the greyhound industry still has no evacuation plan. This is another example of how the industry fails in its most basic obligations to protect the health and welfare of the dogs it uses to make a profit. If people are going to ship thousands of dogs to a state with a long history of cataclysmic hurricanes, they have a moral imperative to come up with a plan for when the storm clouds gather. That plan must be in place months or years in advance. It's not good enough to ignore weeks of warnings, throw up your hands at the last minute, and say an evacuation isn't possible. Nor is it good enough to hunker down and just hope for the best.

On a related note, the handful of people who are defending the greyhound industry should ask themselves if there is any bad act they would not defend. Note that there is no industry discussion today about doing better. There is no self reflection, and no urgency about coming up with a plan for the next time a hurricane hits. Instead they are busy convincing themselves that their reckless approach was somehow justified, while attacking the animal protection community in the process.

It appears that the greyhound industry has another chance. While dog racing continues in Florida, which hopefully will not be for long, the industry must solve this problem. They have had ninety-one years to solve it up to now, yet so far have utterly failed.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Case For Direct Language

Greyhounds at a US racing kennel
A greyhound kennel in West Virginia

By Fred Barton, GREY2K USA Worldwide Board Member 


Recently I’ve been involved in an online argument with members of the greyhound racing industry over my use of the word abandoned referring to dogs they surrender for adoption. They like this word about as much as they like the word rescue because it strips away the carefully constructed veneer of caring the people in this so called sport work so hard to maintain. In fact, a well known racing spokesperson once posted an almost 700 word attack on the word rescue. The gist of the argument was it shouldn’t be called rescue because they don’t kill as many greyhounds as they used to.

But back to abandoned. My New Oxford American Dictionary defines abandon as “give up completely (a course of action, a practice or a way of thinking).” Historically greyhounds have had three options when their careers are over: be sold for medical research, be killed outright, or be adopted. Some few are returned to the farms for use as breeding stock, and occasionally one will stay with its owner, but compared to the large number of dogs bred for racing these numbers are insignificant. 

Typically, greyhounds are completely given up by their owners, and this is the standard industry practice when a dog can no longer make a profit. Racing supporters like to point to the rising number of adoptions as an example of their caring and thus make a virtue of necessity. It is true that more dogs are finding homes today thanks to the tireless work of an army of volunteers, but it should be pointed out that adoption is due to the rising awareness on the public’s part of the inherent cruelty of greyhound racing and in no way affects the fact that these innocent animals would be, and will be discarded regardless because, as I mentioned, that is standard industry practice.


Greyhound puppies at a Kansas breeding farm

It is not surprising the pro-racing crowd plays up adoption because it diverts attention from the puppies that disappear before they are ever registered, the rising number of dogs that are injured and killed as money dries up for track maintenance, the increasing number of dogs forced to race with less rest because of dropping breeding rates, the increasing use of illegal drugs and the still unconscionable number of greyhounds who are simply killed, sometimes in very inhumane ways, when their careers are over. 

There can be no argument that adoption is a necessary element in the fight to end this abuse and until legislators in racing states find the political courage to stop this travesty it will remain so. There can also be no argument that those who make their living by exploiting helpless greyhounds will continue to abandon them to whatever fate awaits when they are no longer able to earn money.
 
I would argue that we stop letting the industry and the legislators who enable them hide behind euphemistic language that obfuscates the barbarity of this so called “sport.” By confronting them with words that more honestly identify their actions and attitudes we take one more layer off that caring veneer they like to present to the public and expose the true horror in which racing greyhounds are trapped.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Futility Of Regulation

Guest Blog by Fred Barton


The doping scandal in Jacksonville is but the latest tear in the already thin fabric of lies the greyhound industry has woven to keep people from seeing the heartless cruelty that is the center of this barbaric “sport.” There have been 24 positive results for Benzoylecgonine (BZE) a metabolite of cocaine at Orange Park Greyhound Track and as of this writing two trainers have had their licenses suspended by the state as a result.

Of course the industry trots out the usual excuses and obfuscations to explain yet another instance of how these dogs who are supposedly so well cared for could have been abused. Jamie Shelton, president of the Orange Park track, said the cocaine reports had been “sensationalized” by the press. He suggested that the drug positive tests may have come from inadvertent exposure, or from environmental contamination. This is an example of the classic industry tactic of trying to change the subject. It’s not about giving illegal drugs to innocent living creatures so they might run a little faster and make their owners more of a profit; it’s about drugs in society.

No one is buying it. In West Virginia, Senate President Mitch Carmichael was alarmed by the link between the doping of greyhounds in Florida and the president of his state’s Kennel Owners Association. In a letter to the state Racing Commission he wrote, "West Virginia's possible ties to alleged drug abuse in the greyhound racing industry is obviously very troublesome. As you know, the reputation of the greyhound racing industry is lackluster to say the least." 


Over 200 racing greyhounds have tested positive for cocaine since 2001
Kiowa Amage Me is one of over 200 racing greyhounds who have tested positive for cocaine since 2001

“Lackluster” is being kind. As the money dries up and the industry contracts towards its final collapse, the pressure to win will intensify and the ultimate victims of that pressure will be the innocent greyhounds. In the past, dogs who didn’t finish in the money were dumped and replaced, but breeding of racing greyhounds has dropped over 60% since 2001. This means there are fewer dogs around to replace slow ones, hence the temptations to augment their effort with drugs. 

Of course this is illegal and the state agency that oversees greyhound racing in Florida quickly responded to what is turning out to be one of the most egregious violations of regulations since the Ronnie Williams scandal. We may be tempted to take some comfort in that fact, but don’t let the promise of regulatory enforcement lead to a false sense of security. First of all, these departments are woefully underfunded for the job they are asked to do and cash strapped states are loath to open their pocketbooks to fund the money losing activity that pari-mutuel betting has become. In Arizona for example, the state may defund the Department of Gaming altogether. Second, to think that regulations—even if they were enforced vigorously—would guarantee the lives and welfare of the greyhounds is naive. 

The greyhound racing industry rests on two fundamental core principles: profit and exploitation. No amount of regulation will change that, and no increase in oversight can change the mindset of those who seek to live off the backs of the dogs. An English trainer named Rob White was perhaps most honest about that when he replied in a Facebook comment, “Greyhounds are livestock, like it or not.”

From the industry perspective, like livestock, greyhounds are brought into this world to make money for their owners, and this is their sole purpose and the only thing that makes their lives valuable. Regulations may limit how that mindset manifests itself from time to time, but it is impossible to regulate away the cruelty of racing.