I am not an animal rights activist, per se. To my daughter’s great disappointment, we do not even have a dog. I was just another Tallahassee lawyer when I accepted the job running the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which regulates greyhound racing and gambling in Florida. Despite my lack of preconceptions on day one, it quickly became clear to me that the dog racing industry has a major problem.
I now believe that the industry will never change, unless Floridians decide to change it.
Here’s what I mean: there’s been a disturbing trend of mistreated greyhounds in the Sunshine State. Over the past ten years, state records reflect 15 cases of greyhound abuse, 11 cases of neglect, 7 welfare-related cases, and 47 vaccination violations. These cases include allegations of abuse and inhumane treatment, flea and tick infestations, poor kennel conditions, and repeated failure to provide adequate veterinary care.
There has also been a flood of drug positives in greyhound racing. Fiscal year 2016-17 had the highest number of greyhound drug positives since 2003, representing a 350% increase over the previous year. Hundreds of dogs tested positive for serious drugs over the past decade, including 70 positive results for cocaine metabolites. The opioid crisis has sadly reached the dog track, with dogs testing positive for Oxycodone and Oxymorphone. As if that wasn’t enough, greyhounds are also being found with other substances like caffeine, Lidocaine, Novocaine, and an industrial solvent called DMSO floating in their blood.
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Keep in mind that the state’s drug testing program is random and that state investigators cannot be everywhere at once. That means that the violations cited above are just the ones that we know about. While state officials continue to diligently investigate and prosecute violators, by the time the state knows about harm to a racing animal that harm has already occurred.
While there must be some conscientious greyhound trainers and owners operating in Florida, unfortunately, they have allowed their industry to be taken over by bad actors. Just last year, the president of the association that represents this industry was charged with failing to inoculate multiple greyhounds for infectious diseases. The state also alleged “conduct that resists, obstructs, or opposes a division employee in the performance of his or her duties and responsibilities...” in that case.
This is a dirty game, and the status quo is not good enough.
The dog racing industry has consistently demonstrated that it is unwilling to adequately protect their animals. Rather than look for ways to be part of the solution, greyhound racers and their representatives do everything they can to avoid responsibility. They have attacked the state drug testing program and circulated draft legislation that would have legalized certain amounts of cocaine in a racing greyhound’s bloodstream. Meanwhile, industry participants muddy the waters by circulating laughable conspiracy theories on social media. I will inevitably be personally attacked for my observations here, but that comes with the territory.
The industry also aggressively fought bills to end the doping of female greyhounds with anabolic steroids. This absurd practice, prohibited for human athletes in any credible sport and for racing greyhounds in Great Britain, New Zealand, and Australia, is still allowed in Florida thanks to lobbying by trainers and owners. While doping is probably great for profits, it cheats the betting public and endangers the health of the animals.
This industry and its appalling practices are casting an unnecessary shadow over Florida. The only way to solve this problem is to vote yes on Amendment 13, which will end commercial dog racing once and for all.
Tony Glover is an attorney in Tallahassee. He previously served as Director of the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, the agency that regulates greyhound racing in Florida.