Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Every Dog Deserves a Home

Darren Rigg with his greyhound York
By Darren Rigg, GREY2K USA Worldwide Board Member

I love dogs, especially greyhounds. Caring for them has been my passion for more than three decades. I am motivated to help these dogs by collaborating with people who share the passion, the love of greyhounds, and a belief that each dog deserves a quality home. 

My thoughts and feelings about greyhound racing may surprise you. You might assume that I despise all people who are “pro-racing.” I don’t. I’ve collaborated with dozens of racing greyhound owners, breeders, kennel operators, track workers, dog haulers and countless adoption organizations. I have yet to encounter anyone who got into the business of greyhound racing with deliberate intention to cause suffering to the dogs. What I have encountered, however, is a collective culture within greyhound racing to accept and normalize the cruel circumstances in which racing dogs live and die.

Greyhound racing may seem like an innocent sport, and greyhounds love to run, right? Not true. Greyhound racing is NOT a sport; it is a for-profit business and the greyhounds themselves are simply commodities. The quality of daily life for each dog is dictated by economies of scale. The dogs are “produced” on farms – yes, greyhound farms where, I suspect, they are treated without much individual nurturing, in other words -- less like dogs, more like cattle. They are often ear-tagged, like cattle. Suffer parasite infestation, like cattle. Are taken to auction, like cattle. Housed in smelly barns, like cattle can be on some farms, and worst of all, many greyhounds have to endure lives of extreme confinement in cages. So no, I am not so much against the actual running of dogs around a track during greyhound racing — as if that is not bad enough; what keeps me awake at night is the thought of all those dogs suffering because of an industry that has normalized cruelty. (And why do we treat cattle "like cattle" - a bigger question for another day!)

Fortunately, public opinion is now turning against the cruelty of betting on the dogs. People who want to gamble have many places from which to choose, and most choose not to frequent dog tracks.

I know for a fact that the greyhound-racing industry within the Western world is in rapid decline. This is largely due to so many motivated dog lovers who are stepping into the political effort to end greyhound racing, as well as to discourage new dog racing in developing nations, and both these efforts are being spearheaded by the amazing, hard-working people at GREY2K USA Worldwide.

Which is the reason I recently joined the board of directors of GREY2K USA Worldwide. I am also still serving on the board of Greyhound Adoption Center. While this is a personal collaboration between me and GREY2K USA Worldwide, I remain 100% dedicated to GAC and will always be mindful to avoid conflicts of interest.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Greyhound Racing: A Bad Bet For Kansas

By Fred Barton, GREY2K USA Worldwide Board Member

There’s an old saying attributed to Alfred Einstein that goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” It’s a saying that should be put on a big banner and hung in the Kansas legislature because lawmakers there are considering bringing greyhound racing back to the state.

House Bill 2545 would use casino gambling profits to subsidize greyhound racing. The fact that the legislature knows greyhound racing will need to be subsidized to survive should send up red flags. Why would they want to bring back an industry they know can’t make it on its own? Surely some of the legislators must remember Kansas’ previous experience. Greyhound racing started there in 1989 with two tracks, Wichita Greyhound Park and The Woodlands. A third track, Camptown Greyhound Park, opened in 1995, but went out of business in only six months. Things weren’t much better for the other tracks and by the time they closed in 2008 revenue from greyhound racing had shrunk 95% from when they started.

Hence the need to prop up racing with subsidies. But the reality is that subsidies don’t work. They have failed in every other state that has tried them. Every. One. In Rhode Island the Twin River Casino complained that racing cost them $9 million in annual subsidies, but only brought in $1.75 million. They ended racing in 2009.

In Iowa the casinos subsidized racing to the tune of $14 million a year while betting at the two tracks combined had shrunk to just $5.9 million by 2012. The Iowa legislature allowed the casinos to walk away from racing in 2014.

In West Virginia betting has declined 55% over a ten year period forcing lawmakers to make up the difference with annual handouts. Betting there is still trending down putting more pressure on the state’s breeding and purse fund accounts to carry the weight of a failing business. A bill has been introduced to sever this arrangement moving forward.

In Arkansas the legislature mandated a giveaway for the one track, Southland, in 2006. Since that time betting has dropped from a high of $212 million in 1989 to a little over $18 million by 2013 in spite of this arrangement.

In Florida, the largest racing state, the situation is no different. One track in Miami loses $5 million a year because the owner is forced to have racing. In all, Florida tracks lose over $30 million on live racing each year.

If Kansas legislators know racing will need to be propped up with subsidies, they should also know those subsidies will ultimately fail. Even billionaire casino mogul Phil Ruffin, the Wichita man behind House Bill 2545, has seen the writing on the wall. He recently admitted to the state Lottery Gaming Facility Review Board ...”[P]arimutuel is not a viable business anymore anywhere in the country...Parimutuel (horse racing) is dead and Greyhound is even worse.”

Greyhound racing is even worse than dead, and yet the Kansas Legislature is considering bringing it back to the state. How many different ways does an idea have to present itself as bad before legislators see it for what it is?  How many other times does it have to fail before someone says, that probably won’t work here either. It shouldn’t take an Einstein to answer those questions.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Steroids: Putting Greyhounds At Risk For Profit

Steroids are endemic to the greyhound racing industry
By Fred Barton, GREY2K USA Worldwide Board Member

The use of anabolic steroids to interrupt the estrus cycle of female racing greyhounds is a common practice in the greyhound industry. As trainer James “Barney” O’Donnell said in a 2014 interview, “We use testosterone on our females, yes...We’ve been using it for years and years and years.” While not quite as headline-grabbing as greyhounds who test positive for cocaine, the industry practice of using steroids deserves equal attention for its impact on the health and well being of female racers.

A female greyhound’s complete cycle lasts 15 weeks. According to Care of the Racing & Retired Greyhound, a female can only safely race three of these weeks if left untreated. So to avoid the loss of productive racing time, female greyhounds are routinely given anabolic steroids. But what effect does this continued exposure to steroids have on the health of the dogs? The industry will tell you none. It’s just like birth control they say, trying to equate the issue with human contraception. Besides, they argue, the dosages are so small as to be irrelevant to the health of the animal.

However, when you look at the science of what happens when dogs are given these drugs you reach a different answer. The Merck Veterinary Manual states, “[L]ongterm suppression of estrus by using androgens is not advised ... the safety and efficacy of injectable testosterone, as is practiced commonly in racing Greyhounds, has not been supported by controlled studies and is not advised.” According to the racing industry’s own handbook, Care of the Racing & Retired Greyhound, anabolic steroids can cause serious side effects including increased aggression and virilization. Steroid use has also been shown to have a negative effect on dogs’ heart functions, and some studies have even linked steroid use to liver, kidney and cartilage damage, gastrointestinal problems, and shock. In addition to these deleterious health effects, there is some evidence that steroids can affect performance. Dr. Richard Sams of the University of Florida Racing Laboratory, has said that anabolic steroids such as stanozolol would be “excellent” for enhancing greyhound race performance.

Other countries have begun to recognize the dangers of anabolic steroids. In 2014, the Irish Greyhound Board outlawed all steroid use. In Australia, testosterone is considered an illegal substance and in New Zealand all forms of steroids have been banned.

This is not the case in the United States. In the past month, Florida Senator Kevin Rader filed a bill that would formally legalize the use of anabolic steroids in racing greyhounds. Interestingly, Senator Dana Young has filed a bill that would do the exact opposite by outlawing the use of anabolic steroids altogether. Consequently, from a Florida legislative viewpoint the issue remains up for debate.

The greyhound industry knows that anabolic steroids are potentially harmful but uses them anyway. This can be seen most clearly in a recently adopted rule by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, an industry group which writes model rules for the American horse and greyhound industries. Anabolic steroids have always been classified as Class 3 illegal drugs according to ARCI’s Uniform Classification Guidelines for Foreign Substances. While they are still classified as such, ARCI rule 018-020 (16), which was quietly added on December 8, 2017, states, “Any usage of anabolic steroids involving racing greyhounds is prohibited, except that the administration of oral, or as otherwise prescribed by a licensed veterinarian, testosterone shall be permitted for the control of estrus in female racing greyhounds provided it is validly prescribed and properly labeled.” Only the greyhound industry would be so bold to both prohibit and allow a serious narcotic in the same set of guidelines.

The duplicity of the ARCI Guideline is symptomatic of the priorities of the greyhound racing industry; an industry that puts profits above all else. As long as greyhound racing continues, those who participate in it will try to cheat the system.