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.