By Michael LaChance
A dying industry from the 1920s, greyhound racing seems to be on its last legs in the United States; a victory for the dogs and the organizations fighting for them.
When you think greyhound, you probably first think of racing. After all, chances are the only time you’ve ever seen one of these dogs has been on a racetrack (even if it’s watching beloved race-dog-turned-pet, ‘Santa’s Little Helper’ on The Simpsons). Invented in the 1920s in the United States, by 1930, the sport had sixty-seven dog tracks across the country (none legal). It has faced severe criticism, with animal rights organizations working long and hard to see to its demise. Since 2001, greyhound racing in the country has seen a 70% decline in gambling amounts, which is good news. It is now more or less illegal in forty-one of fifty states in the United States.
Greyhounds make great pets (they’re friendly, lazy, and endearingly mischievous), but they’re more often than not used as betting tools. The renowned racers make great sprinters, due to their deep chest cavity, which stores an abundance of oxygen. But, their lives as racing dogs have been far from glamorous.
The industry has been described as a “heap of dog mess” by Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., who stands firmly on the side of ending the practice. As he told us, “For animal lovers, ending greyhound racing is about the welfare and protection of man’s best friend. Dogs shouldn’t be forced to run for human entertainment and the quick thrill of gambling to make a few bucks. They shouldn’t be kept in the warehouse-style kennels, rows of stacked metal cages barely large enough for them to stand up or turn around in where trainers confine them to for 20 to 23 hours a day. It’s an enterprise whose time has passed.”
Christine Dorchak, Esq., President and General Counsel of greyhound protection group GREY2K USA Worldwide informed us that “when first invented in the United States in the 1920s, it could not be foreseen that thousands and thousands of dogs would suffer and die.” Of course, major issues include abuse, neglect, and cruelty. A problem that you probably may not have even considered is the issue of drugs.
GREY2K’s Dorchak tells us that racing greyhounds have repeatedly tested positive for dangerous, often banned substances. “Five racing countries have regulatory frameworks in place to handle drug screening — Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.” She told us in detail about the drugs that these dogs have tested positive for, including EPO, amphetamine, codeine, caffeine, cobalt, and a range of other unusual substances with potentially lethal consequences.
Several of these drugs overlap, but here’s a quick run-down from Dorchak, to give you an idea of what these dogs are forced to ingest: In Australia, they found Desvenlafaxine, a drug typically used to treat depression (not used in veterinary medicine), and Fertagyl, a drug used in cows to control estrus cycles. The Irish Greyhound Board found pentobarbital, a performance-reducing drug that, in large doses, has been used for euthanasia and appears in nearly 25% of all IGB drug positives. In New Zealand, dogs tested positives for morphine (used as a masking agent in greyhounds to make dogs less aware of any injuries they may have). In the U.K., the Greyhound Board of Great Britain found Stanozolol, a synthetic anabolic steroid, and barbiturates, central nervous system depressants that are performance-affecting drugs. In Scotland, Dorchak said, a trainer even admitted to giving his dog valoids to slow him down, waiting for a few races until the betting odds became favorable, then taking him off the drugs to result in a faster race pace. In the United States, GREY2K USA documents violations. They found positive tests for cocaine, ractopamine, anabolic steroid metandienone, and industrial solvent dimethyl sulfoxide.
Why not just ban the drugs? Dorchak explains, “Efforts to combat the drugging of greyhounds have been stymied by racing officials who fail to take this issue seriously by ignoring transgressions and issuing light penalties.” Marty Irby agrees, saying that as late as 2016 and 2017, thirty cocaine positives were reported at two Florida greyhound racetracks. “The industry has had plenty of time to reform and end doping, but they haven’t. So we’re now past that stage and focused on banning the existence of this archaic enterprise in the U.S.,” he adds.
THE SITUATION ACROSS THE GLOBE
Greyhound racing is a dying industry all over the world. Animal rights activists are usually on the same page about how cruel it is for the dogs. And, there’s good news across the board. As Dorchak tells us, “In the United Kingdom, all three dozen London dog tracks have closed and re-purposed for mixed housing and retail operations. Two Irish stadiums have announced their closure this month [May 2020]. Jamaica refused to legalize dog racing in 2009, and South Africa followed in 2010, citing both the poor economics and humane problems associated with the activity. In 2016, Argentina banned dog racing, Uruguay followed in 2018, and a similar law is under consideration in Chile. The trend is definitely with the greyhounds and follows a love of dogs that truly transcends all cultures.” As we go to press, Peterborough Stadium in Great Britain has closed ending 75 years of operation, though locally the closure is seen as a loss to the “sport,” there is a groundswell of support calling for the end to greyhound racing globally.
Says Marty Irby regarding this latest closure, “the message is quite clear: greyhound racing is a global money-loser, and an unacceptable use of these majestic greyhounds in our modern-day society. It’s time to adopt a global ban on greyhound racing and adopt the greyhounds out to good homes where they can live out their lives in peace and harmony.”
GREY 2K’s Dorchak also tells us about one of the most satisfying campaigns that GREY2K USA Worldwide was personally involved in, in Macau, China. She tells us about the eight-year effort to close China’s only legal dog track, the Canidrome, saying, “Four hundred greyhounds were shipped there from Australia each year and four hundred killed to make room for them. But we formed an alliance with a local shelter. Through lobbying and education and perseverance, we were able to convince the chief executive of Macau to order the closure of this terrible facility.” The poster-child of the campaign, a greyhound, named Brooklyn, actually now lives with Dorchak!
Irby tells us that through all these victories, it is still essential to focus on the issues at home first. “We’ll be focusing on the issue more globally once we’ve eliminated all greyhound racing in the U.S. We need to be able to say that we don’t have active greyhound racing in the U.S. before we start trying to push other countries to eliminate it.”
GOOD NEWS AT HOME
The good news is that it all seems to be slowly coming to a close. Only a handful of states still allow greyhound racing, but it is quickly going down to zero. After pushback from GREY2K, and other anti-racing organizations, even Florida (once a popular racing destination) voted to end the races by the end of 2020.
Irby tells us, “In my home state of Alabama, Kip Keefer, the executive director of the Birmingham Racing Commission, conveyed that over the past few years receipts from live greyhound racing have become ‹embarrassingly low,’ with most of the track revenue generated from simulcasting to other tracks that include horse racing. It’s not a product that was supporting itself.”
The Humane Society of the United States published a piece on May 1, 2020, on their blog, A Humane World, about the victories for this cause in Florida and Alabama. Although this is a significant victory for animal rights, they also stated, “In Kansas, where no operating tracks remain, some outliers are attempting to revive greyhound racing, and there’s now a bill in the statehouse that would do that. Lawmakers in the state should take heed of the fact that spectator interest in greyhound racing is at a historic low. Most Americans recognize now that this is an inherently cruel sport, and anyone who attempts to revive it would be placing a bet on a losing enterprise.”
Dorchak is personally involved in the fight, from authoring the language that appears before voters, to raising a million dollars in a campaign for the dogs. In places such as Arkansas, their negotiations have led to the announcement by Southland Greyhound Park of its closure. GREY2K USA Worldwide was also instrumental in passing Amendment 13 in Florida, by a margin of 69%-31% statewide, in 2018. Dorchak is proud to say,“It is an honor and a wonderful thing to see our twenty-year campaign succeeding!” To quote Bob Dylan, “the times they are a changin’…” Good words, good actions, good news where greyhounds are concerned.
FIND OUT MORE
Want to know more about the plight of the greyhounds, or help out with a contribution to the fight? Take a look at where to get the best information:
GREY2K USA Worldwide: The non-profit organization has all the information you need. They promote rescue and adoption across the world, so wherever you are, log on to see if you can lend a hand or sign up for their adoption referral programs. Sign their petitions, find out more about the greyhounds and everything they’ve done to help, and donate on GREY2KUSA.org.
The Humane Society of the United States: Donate to help them in the fight, read more about what’s happening on their blog (A Humane World) and find the information you need on their website, HumaneSociety.org.
Animal Wellness Action: This is where to go for information about advocacy efforts to prevent animal cruelty, including for the greyhounds. They partner with several wonderful organizations, and you can learn more and stay updated by signing up for their alerts and helping out by donating to their efforts at animalwellnessaction.org.
Adopt a greyhound: Want to adopt a greyhound? Pick from Marty Irby’s recommendations in Alabama, where dogs have recently been released from closed racetracks for adoption: animalwellnessfoundation.org and ohmygreyhounds.com. There is also The Greyhound Project which offers a directory of greyhound rescue groups state by state as well as internationally if you are interested in some of the dogs now retired from the tracks in Great Britain, for information go to www.adopt-a-greyhound.org.