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.