Friday, November 17, 2017

The Tactics Of Desperation

Caged greyhounds at the Sanford Orlando Kennel Club in Florida
By Fred Barton, GREY2K USA Worldwide Board Member

Recently state Senator Tom Lee proposed a Constitutional amendment that would end greyhound racing in the state of Florida. While the proposed amendment still has several legal steps to go before it reaches the ballot, some early polling suggests it would be approved by more than the required 60% of voters.

Predictably, the greyhound racing industry has reached into its tired rhetorical grab bag in an attempt to muddy the waters on what is a straight forward effort to end the unnecessary suffering, injury and needless deaths of innocent greyhounds. Their basic strategy has always involved the following: change the subject and/or, predict economic catastrophe while at the same time engaging in personal attacks.

The proposal is still in the initial stages of development and we have already seen racing proponents question the motivations of those supporting it as well as attempt to move the discussion away from greyhound welfare to topics like no kill shelters. It would seem if anyone’s motivation needed to be questioned it would be those who stand to make a profit from the continued exploitation of helpless greyhounds trapped in racing gulags across the state. With depressing regularity we read stories of greyhounds being drugged, abused and abandoned. Who could honestly argue for the continuation of this situation? What are their motivations? Another tactic the industry employs is to point the finger at other aspects of animal cruelty, for example the number of strays put down in shelters. Certainly no kill shelters are a good idea and should be pursued, but that is a separate conversation — especially since greyhounds seldom end up in shelters — which has nothing to do with ending racing. What are the motivations of those who would attempt to sideline the discussion of Senator Lee’s amendment for a different topic altogether?

Every time the racing supporters perceive a threat they clamor that there will be massive unemployment and commercial devastation because of the indirect impact the industry has on local economies. The truth is most jobs are part time, low wage and offer few if any benefits. The real money is made by those at the top. For example, in West Virginia a study found that nearly half of the $15 million the state pays out in subsidies goes to 10 individuals. Certainly if greyhound racing ends in Florida some will lose their jobs, but the same thing happened in Iowa when the state withdrew its support, yet made sure that those who were adversely affected received a soft landing to help them transition. There is no reason to think the same wouldn’t happen in Florida. And while the industry does have an indirect effect on the economies around it, that effect is mitigated by the fact that it has to be propped up with subsidies from states and local casinos. In 2013, Florida spent as much as $3.3 million more regulating the so called sport than it took in through taxes.

We predict that as this amendment moves through the process Senator Lee and those who stand with him will come under increasing personal attacks. Actually, it’s already started. I commented on an article about the amendment and I’ve been called a con man and a white collar criminal, accused of working for a ponzi scheme and challenged to meet “face to face” for what I imagine would not be a rational discussion of the issue. Verbal intimidation and name calling are common industry responses and are another attempt to change the subject. 

Florida political observer Joe Henderson gives the proposal no more than a 2 in 5 chance of success, but regardless of the odds it’s a sure bet the industry will pull out all the stops in its campaign of distraction, dissembling and character assassination. We cannot let this happen. Those who favor greyhound racing should be forced to account for the institutionalized cruelty, the callous disregard of health and welfare and the unnecessary pain and suffering endured by the helpless dogs in their so called care. The central question is this: Does a business that relies on the heartless exploitation of innocent living creatures for profit, and then abandons those creatures when they are no longer profitable have a place in Florida society today?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Matter of Differing Perspective

A caged racing greyhound in New South Wales, Australia

By Fred Barton, GREY2K USA Worldwide Board Member

In 2015, when the Australian television show Four Corners—the equivalent of 60 Minutes—broke the live baiting scandal it looked like it was a devastating, perhaps fatal blow to the greyhound racing industry. Even though the practice of using live possums, piglets and rabbits to train greyhounds was already illegal, the investigative report found numerous examples of it in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. 

The public outcry was immediate and intense leading to the banishment or suspension of numerous trainers and other officials as well as an outright ban on racing in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory (the ban was later rescinded in New South Wales). The scandal also resulted in increased public scrutiny of the industry as well as a raft of new regulations and increased enforcement of existing ones.

New people were brought in to oversee racing, and there has been movement in a positive direction on some fronts. For example, according to the latest Greyhound Racing Victoria Annual Report, adoptions in that state have increased by 57%, kennel inspections have jumped a whopping 191% and breeding is down 35%. Yet even after the scandal illegal doping, illegal export and euthanasia  of helpless greyhounds continues. 

One of the best examples of the industry’s reluctance to thoroughly clean itself up and resistance to those who try is an exchange among  racing insiders in a chat room concerning a questionnaire sent out by the Greyhound Racing Board in New South Wales, a state which, as I said, came very close to ending racing permanently. 

A user named Nicholas Arena wrote that “Survey after survey - there is nothing that has not already been stated on numerous occasions over the past 2 years.”  And then, the really telling comment: “The solutions are obvious - stop pretending a greyhound's welfare is above that of a participant…” It’s a remark that needs no explanation and puts the lie to industry protestations that the care deeply for their dogs and those who abuse them are merely a few bad apples.

Paul Wheeler, who is one of the top trainers in the country agreed, writing, “I am not filling any more surveys to be ignored, it’s waste of time. Nick Arena summed it up perfectly.” It’s becoming clear that the industry simply doesn’t see what’s wrong with the continued exploitation, abuse, injury and deaths of the greyhounds in their care. In their eyes it’s simply a cost of doing business.

Another user, Simon Moore, echoes this sentiment when he posts that, “i've (sic) never heard of such a campaign to crush a group of people who have done nothing wrong.” There can be no clearer example of how blind those in greyhound racing are to the atrocities that occur right before them than Mr. Moore’s comment. Is it any wonder that they resist and resent increased oversight and enforcement of greyhound welfare regulations? 

The short answer to that question is no, it is not. When you believe that exploitation for profit is really doing nothing wrong, despite the collateral pain, suffering and death you cause those you exploit, no real attempt at regulation will come from inside, and those who attempt to impose oversight from the outside will be ignored. It’s like the evangelical and the atheist arguing about the Bible. Since the former believes it is the unaltered word of God and the latter believes it is a historical document fraught with human frailties, the argument is going nowhere since each participant approaches it with an entirely different perspective.

And so it is with greyhound racing. Those who are shocked and appalled by the inhumanity of it, the casual callousness, barbarity and cruelty of it, will try to communicate their horror to those who see only profit and loss. And they will fail to have an effect because, as Mr. Arena so truthfully put it, participants’ welfare will always come before greyhounds. The only regulation that will work is putting an end to racing.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Dogs And Drugs

Racing greyhound Me Me Me tested positive for cocaine at the Hollywood dog track in Florida

By Fred Barton, GREY2K USA Worldwide Board Member

It seems like every time I look at a news feed lately there is another story about greyhounds being drugged, usually with cocaine. As a result of a great deal of initial research done by GREY2K USA, the Washington Post recently ran a story on the burgeoning drug problem in Florida. The dog the story used as an example, WW’s Flicka, had tested positive for drugs five previous times. The problem is by no means isolated to American greyhound racing. In New South Wales, Australia authorities raided a breeding farm and found Steroids, among other drugs;  in Ireland champion Irish greyhound Clonbrien Hero tested positive for cocaine three times in two months, and in New Zealand drugging seems to bring small punishment to those caught.

I believe this is an aspect of greyhound racing slowly collapsing in on itself. As the purses shrink and the pressure to win increases, dog welfare slips farther down the list of industry priorities. Since the illegal use of drugs has been around almost as long as racing itself, it’s hard to tell whether the practice has recently increased, or if more people are being caught. Tests have become more sophisticated, but so have attempts to elude them. The internet and the development of so called designer drugs have combined to open a whole new potential for chemically enhancing performance while avoiding detection. Dr. Rick Sams, laboratory director at LGC Sport Science in Lexington, Kentucky said, “We can't tell here from the analysis of the sample, whether it came from environmental contamination or the tail end of intentional administration. There are no tags that tell us one way or another.” He was talking about the horse racing industry, but it would be naive to think that those drugs aren’t also making their way into dog racing.

And what about the drugs’ effect on the dogs? Has anyone taken that into consideration? The short answer from those who profit from racing is no. Actually, in the case of cocaine the jury is still out on whether it does in fact make a dog faster. Shelly Flagel, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan Medical School who studies the effects of cocaine said, “We do have evidence that with this increased activity comes increased velocity of movement as well.” However, “ trainers can’t hope to elicit that same cocaine high from dogs every single time. Not only do individual animals — whether they’re dogs, rats, or humans — respond differently to different cocaine doses; they also become “sensitized” to the drug at different rates as they are repeatedly exposed to it.”

One thing is certain though and that’s the deleterious health effects of cocaine exposure on the greyhounds. In an article cited above, Scott Stanley, a toxicologist with UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine said, “exposure to cocaine in dogs can lead to seizures, rapid heartbeat, and elevated blood pressure, among other behavioral anomalies.“  He further stated, “Any amount of cocaine in a companion animal may result in toxicosis.”

The industry’s response has been typically disingenuous. Steve Sarras, a kennel owner in Florida where dogs consistently receive positive tests tried to pass it off as “environmental contamination.” Others claim they did not know how the drugs got there, much as Captain Renault was shocked to know there was gambling going on in Rick’s nightclub.  Even when the allegations are shown to be true, the punishment is often a fine and temporary suspension—a cost of doing business it seems, given the number of repeat offenders. 

The state agencies that oversee greyhound racing are understaffed and lack sufficient funding to make any substantial inroads against this growing epidemic. They do however have occasional success as in the case of Malcolm McAllister, whose license was revoked.  While this is a positive step, if you look at the rising number of drug cases and the usually weak penalties, it is more the exception that proves the rule—and the rule is, the health of the greyhound will always be sacrificed for the chance of profit.

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.