by Christine Dorchak for The New Barker dog magazine.
History awaits the Greyhounds this fall. On Election Day, Florida voters will have the opportunity to turn back the hands of time and end dog racing in its most established state. As many as 8,000 lucky greyhounds stand to receive the second chance they deserve, closing out nearly 100 years of exploitation and cruelty.
The first recognized commercial greyhound racetrack in the world was opened in 1919 in California. By 1930, sixty-seven dog tracks had opened all across the United States – none legal. No state would authorize this new business, even during the height of the Great Depression.
But Florida was different. It became the first jurisdiction to allow dog tracks to operate legally – as long as it received a piece of the action. In 1931, Sunshine State lawmakers passed a racing bill over Governor Doyle E. Carlton’s veto. By 1935, there were ten licensed tracks in operation in the state, some controlled by known criminals such as Meyer Lansky.
Dog racing sought to promote itself as elite and glamourous, but the truth about this so-called “sport” has now been revealed in state documents, financial reports and testimony from track workers themselves. Kept in warehouse style kennels, in rows of stacked metal cages for 20-23 hours a day, the dogs are fed a diet based on raw, diseased meat. When let out of their cages to race several times a month, they face the risk of serious injury. Broken legs, crushed skulls, snapped necks, paralysis and heat strokes are common. Some dogs have even been electrocuted while racing. According to information gathered by the state’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, a greyhound dies every three days at Florida’s eleven racetracks.
Cheating is another hallmark of this industry. Over the past decade, there have been more than 400 greyhound drug positives, including 70 cocaine positives. Greyhounds have also been found with pain killers like novocaine and oxymorphone in their systems. Females are routinely given anabolic steroids to build muscle and prevent loss of race days during their heat cycles, a practice which prompts both animal welfare and race fixing concerns.
Thankfully, dog racing is now illegal in 40 states, and since 1990, the amount of money wagered on dog racing in the Sunshine State has plummeted by 74%. Tax revenue has declined by 98% and the tracks themselves now lose a combined $34 million. If it were not for a state mandate requiring racetracks to offer a minimum number of races as the platform for other, more popular forms of gambling, this antiquated activity would have ended long ago. Until it does, the state will continue to waste as much as $3.3 million per year regulating this dying industry.
Statewide polling shows that Florida voters will vote yes to end dog racing if they are fully informed about its humane and economic problems. You can help the greyhounds by learning more about Amendment 13 and by spreading the word that it’s time to set the greyhounds free.
About the author Christine Dorchak is one of the drafters of Florida’s Amendment 13. As president and general counsel of GREY2K USA Worldwide, she works to pass laws to protect greyhounds and promote the adoption of ex-racers across the globe. Since its formation in 2001, GREY2K has helped to close down dozens of American dog tracks and prevented the expansion of commercial dog racing to countries such as South Africa and the Philippines. For more information, go to grey2kusa.org/greyhoundhistory Visit GREY2K USA on Facebook or Twitter.
About Amendment 13 If approved, Amendment 13 will phase out commercial dog racing in Florida, prohibiting the activity by December 2020. The measure has no effect on other forms of gambling. Greyhound adoption groups across the country are standing by to bring the greyhounds into loving homes. Learn more about the campaign at protectdogs.org.
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