Floridians to Vote on Greyhound Racing Ban

greyhound racing

Story at-a-glance -

  • In April 2018, Florida's Constitution Revision Commission approved a constitutional amendment that would outlaw greyhound racing in the state; it will go to the Florida state ballot in November 2018, where it will need at least 60 percent approval to pass
  • Florida remains at the center of a greyhound doping controversy, as state and court documents show racing dogs tested positive for cocaine or its metabolites 230 times in the last two decades
  • Trainers for greyhounds with 24 positive test results for cocaine metabolites are seeking to change Florida’s greyhound drug-testing rules and have received two court victories to date
  • Greyhound racing is a cruel and inhumane practice that involves confining the dogs for up to 20 hours a day and subjecting them to risk of injury and death

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Dog racing is illegal in 40 U.S. states,1 but not in the state of Florida, which still has 13 greyhound racing facilities in operation (more than any other state).2 Florida also remains at the center of a greyhound doping controversy, as state and court documents show racing dogs tested positive for cocaine or its metabolites 230 times in the last two decades.3

Trainers looking to give their dogs an edge come race day may feel they have great incentive to administer the drug, which, as a stimulant, can increase heart rate, excitation, blood flow and oxygen delivery to the muscles, possibly making the dogs faster and improving their short-term performance.

But aside from being illegal, the drug poses an extreme risk to the animals, as it may lead to high blood pressure, seizures, rapid heartbeat or death. Fortunately, dog racing in Florida may soon become a thing of the past — if a ballot measure passes come November 2018.

Positive Drug Tests Lead to License Suspensions for Trainers

The Racing Laboratory at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine analyzed more than 700,000 urine samples from greyhounds on race days dating back to July 1998. One-fifth of the violations involved cocaine and two of its metabolites — benzoylecgonine and ecgonine methyl ester.

If drug tests come back positive, greyhound trainers often claim the results were due to some type of environmental contamination, such as helpers using the drugs around the dogs, not the direct administration of the drug to the dogs.

But this argument becomes harder to defend when spikes in violations occur repeatedly under just a few trainers. Such was the case with Charles F. McClellan, a trainer whose greyhounds tested positive for cocaine and its metabolites 18 times at one track in 2017. McClellan’s fellow trainer, Natasha L. Nemeth, also had multiple positive tests (six) since October 2016. The state suspended their licenses, but now the two trainers are fighting back against the drug-testing rules.

“An administrative law judge … sided with McClellan and Nemeth in a late December 2017 ruling that Florida officials had failed to adopt the drug-testing rules through the official process, and the procedures used to collect and test urine samples from greyhounds were invalid,” according to a report in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) News.4

On March 7, 2018, a second ruling also sided with the trainers, stating that Florida officials violated state statutes by failing to adopt laboratory screening limits or maximum allowed concentrations for the drug and its metabolites. Further, the ruling states the rules that were used to revoke the trainers’ licenses were invalid.5 “The trainers for greyhounds with 24 positive test results for cocaine metabolites won two court victories that could overturn Florida's drug testing rules,” JAVMA News noted.6

Cocaine Is but One Cruelty of Greyhound Racing

Exploiting dogs for the “sport” of greyhound racing is unethical and cruel. Grey2K USA, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting greyhounds and ending dog racing, has detailed the top inhumane issues surrounding greyhound racing, and drugs are but one of them. Confinement — to the tune of up to 20 hours a day — is another. Racing greyhounds spend the majority of their time in metal kennels, often stacked on top one another.

They’re let out to compete (a few times a month) and a few times a day to relieve themselves (for a cumulative period of three to five hours a day). Injuries, sometimes fatal, are another reality for greyhound racing dogs. Nearly 14,500 injuries were documented to the dogs from January 2008 through July 2017, most of the time a broken leg but also sometimes head trauma, electrocution or a broken back. According to Grey2K:7

“Investigative reports … reveal the existence of the Florida industry’s own internal injury reporting system and death investigations. An examination of these records alone identified 251 greyhound injuries between 2008 and 2017, including at least 86 dogs that died or were euthanized prior to state-mandated death reporting in 2013.”

Cases of cruelty and neglect also occur regularly, with dogs being subjected to physical abuse and starvation or denied veterinary care. Even when greyhounds are transported between racetracks they’re often subjected to extreme temperatures, lack of water and unsafe conditions in makeshift vans and trailers.

Some of them die en route. Further, the races take place year-round, regardless of soaring temperatures, with some dogs dying from heat stress. In addition, they’re typically fed a diet of 4-D meat, for instance, which is meat from dying, diseased, disabled and dead livestock, adulterated with charcoal to discourage human consumption.8

Florida Greyhound Racing to Get Its Day in Court

In April 2018, Florida's Constitution Revision Commission approved a constitutional amendment that would outlaw greyhound racing in the state. It will now go to the Florida state ballot in November 2018, where it will need at least 60 percent approval to pass. If passed, the ban would take effect December 31, 2020 and ban dog racing as well as betting on dog races.9 If you live in the state, please be sure to vote to end this archaic “sport,” which is already facing steep declines.

According to Grey2K, gambling on live racing at Florida dog tracks brought in only $87,000 in fiscal year 2016, which is a nearly 57 percent decline since 2006.10 If you’d like to get involved in protecting greyhounds, in addition to not supporting dog racing of any kind (including simulcast or advanced-deposit wagering), consider helping retired greyhounds in need by providing a foster or permanent home for one (or two) of these loving animals.

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