Today is the day Floridians decide whether to outlaw an industry that makes a buck off the backs of individuals who don’t have a voice. Moreover, at the expense of their lives. How could it not be a moral obligation for veterinarians to support a Yes on Amendment 13? This constitutional amendment heralds an end to greyhound racing, with 11 of the remaining 17 racetracks existing in Florida; one of the last strongholds for this archaic “sport” that’s been banned in 40 other states deeming it animal cruelty.
This is an industry that accepts as a norm the death of a greyhound every three days on its racetracks; that has had more than 400 drug positives in Florida alone since 2007; that is content to house its allegedly “loved” dogs in warehouse-style stacked cages for more than 20 hours a day; that has a direct conflict of interest in milking these animals for all they’re worth, then discarding them when they don’t meet the speed. What about the thousands bred who don’t even make it to the tracks? In this industry, there is no accountability imposed for each individual living, loving canine life.
Could we as veterinarians – who took an oath to protect animals from suffering – really, in good conscience, accept such atrocities that have been exposed and proven to be routine practice in the greyhound industry? An industry that has been given countless opportunities to play a “clean” sport, yet have time and again proven they cannot adhere to basic regulations? Not to mention, one that vehemently lobbies against proposed reforms to safeguard dogs, because such regulations would impinge on personal profit? Most of all, we must ask ourselves this – would we really allow our private patients and our own pets to be treated the same way greyhounds in the commercial industry are?
It’s no secret that greyhounds die in this “sport”, and not by natural means; fatalities are young, healthy animals whose lives are cut short due to preventable causes. These dogs are literally racing for their lives, and approximately 94% of deaths are 3 years old or younger. The high impact nature of racing subjects dogs to severe fractures (spinal, neck, head trauma) resulting in death, or injuries that warrant surgery costs exceeding the dog’s perceived “racing value”. Euthanasia is deemed more economical than surgical repairs that are unlikely to return the dog to racing form. Even a deep laceration to the thigh has been an excuse for euthanizing a greyhound. Other common causes of death include heat exhaustion, cardiac arrest, and electrocution. Mandatory reporting of greyhound deaths was finally instituted in May 2013, which provided the aforementioned statistics. However, greyhound industry lobbyists succeeded in striking down bills to mandate greyhound injury reporting. Accordingly, no documentation is required for the frequent injuries that occur (aside from Seminole County which passed a local ordinance requiring injury reporting, which earned them a lawsuit from the Central Florida Greyhound Association).
Doping scandals in greyhound racing are nothing new, and have been universally documented. While trainers and racing supporters are well-versed in the “bad apple” excuse, drug positives have plagued the industry for decades. Hence, the more than $1.5 Million that Florida allocates annually to regulatory drug testing. More than 400 positive tests, including cocaine, have been detected on Florida racetracks in the past decade. Yet, despite the independent nature of testing protocols performed at the University of Florida’s Racing Laboratory, culpable trainers filed lawsuits against the violations and ultimately won. Racing industry proponents resort to justifications ranging from environmental contamination of cocaine, to claiming samples are tampered with. However, it was stated by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering (November 1st 2017) that, “The Division finds it much more likely that a prohibited substance is provided to a racing animal purposefully by the animal’s trainer.”
Trainers will furthermore attempt to manipulate the reproductive cycle of female greyhounds with anabolic steroids, to achieve maximal racing days. These known performance-enhancing drugs, such as methyltestosterone, are routinely administered to female greyhounds in the industry to inhibit their heat cycle, thereby preventing a loss of race days. However, the Merck Veterinary Manual specifies, “[L]ongterm suppression of estrus by using androgens [e.g. testosterone] is not advised…The safety and efficacy of injectable testosterone, as practiced commonly in racing Greyhounds, has not been supported by controlled studies and is not advised.” This practice has been outlawed in Australia, New Zealand and Britain, and a bill to restrict usage in Florida was recently proposed and overturned. Anabolic steroid use can cause major side effects, as indicated in the industry handbook, Care of the Racing and Retired Greyhound – including, virilization (development of male characteristics) and aggression, as well as having a detrimental effect on heart, liver, and kidney function, and causing damage to cartilage and the gastrointestinal tract.
Unbeknownst to many, greyhounds are a docile, gentle breed and ideal as companion animals. Despite the claim by industry proponents that they “need” to race and are therefore unsuited to a typical pet’s life, it is common for greyhound adoptees to remark that their athletic pets are unexpectedly “couch potatoes”. These lovable hounds enjoy lounging around the house and, as alluded to, the couch. If the greyhound industry has legitimate concerns about greyhounds needing to stay in the “sport” to expend their athleticism, then it begs the question; why it is routine for greyhounds in the industry to be housed in rows of stacked metal cages for 20 – 23 hours a day? Cages which are barely large enough for muzzled dogs to turn around in, with carpet remnants or shredded paper customarily used as bedding. This reported period of confinement was confirmed by a 2006 state investigative report by the DBPR Division of Para-mutuel Wagering.
Amongst the racetrack fatalities, welfare issues, and drug scandals, the forgotten victims of the greyhound industry are those thousands of dogs bred annually who never make it to the races. Those that simply weren’t fast enough and are therefore of no value. Greyhounds are bred in excess because not every dog is suited for racing, and every trainer aspires for that lottery ticket champion dog. Yet, no accountability is required for each individual born into this industry. Then there are the thousands of “retired” greyhounds whose career ends at a mere 3 – 4 years of age. How many trainers have the means to keep hundreds of retired dogs? Doing so would constitute a hoarding disaster. Disposal of dogs when they’re no longer turning a profit is an accepted norm in this industry. Ironically, racing proponents argue that ending greyhound racing will result in thousands of dogs needing homes. However, Amendment 13 is designed as a 26 month phase-out period, during which there is ample time for the myriad adoption groups to absorb all existing dogs. A phase-out period allows for excessive breeding to cease and a consequent overall reduction in dogs; this is an opportunity for these beautiful dogs to find loving homes. Wouldn’t they need homes regardless of whether racing ends? Or does existing in miserable conditions in a cage constitute living?
Today is Election Day; a rare opportunity to make history and end the cruelty. Despite overwhelming evidence that greyhounds suffer in this industry, these dogs rely entirely on the public’s vote to be heard. For the sake of the dogs’ health and their welfare, I urge the public, and in particular, my fellow colleagues who have vowed to dedicate their lives to bettering the well-being of animals, to make the ethical decision.