|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.