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Wednesday October 22nd 2014

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Viewpoint: Decoupling can take dogs out the dog tracks

On June 20 a greyhound named Royal Runner died at Palm Beach Kennel Club. The dog was entered that day into a training event, and had never officially raced. In the final moments of his life, the greyhound collided with other dogs, fell into the racetrack rail, and was electrocuted.

The risk of serious injury is just one of the many humane problems with commercial dog racing. Throughout the racing industry, standard practices are used to secure the highest financial return from dogs while incurring the least amount of cost. Greyhounds are confined in small cages for long hours each day, because each track requires hundreds of dogs to operate. Similarly, greyhounds are fed raw “4-D” meat from downed and diseased animals, and female greyhounds are given anabolic steroids to prevent estrus. These practices go against our values, but are used because of the economic pressure to squeeze a profit out of every dog.

Since May 31 of last year, at least 92 greyhounds have died at Florida tracks. A racing greyhound dies in the state every three days, from injuries and other causes. Industry leaders have spent the last decade fighting proposals to require public reporting of all injuries. Florida and Alabama are the only two states, that don’t report this information. When lawmakers debate gambling this session, they should pass a greyhound injury reporting law and insist on a greater level of transparency.

At the same time, legislators should reexamine the state dog-racing mandate. Under a misguided law, gambling facilities are required to lose money on dog racing to make a profit on other forms of betting. This racing mandate is effectively a subsidy for greyhound breeders, most of whom live out of state.

According to an independent study commissioned by the Legislature, greyhound decoupling will reduce gambling in the state by an estimated $23 million. It will also create a net benefit for the state treasury. Florida is losing money on dog racing, because revenue no longer outpaces regulatory costs. The same study found that the state lost as much as $3.3 million on greyhound races in 2012.

Animal protection groups across the state support decoupling, because it will reduce dog racing. That means fewer greyhounds like Royal Runner will die.

When the Senate Gaming Committee asked for public input this winter, nearly 80 percent of the comments they received were from citizens calling for the passage of greyhound decoupling and injury reporting. This is the only issue before the committee for which there is a true groundswell of grassroots support.

This support was further highlighted in October, when a coalition of sixteen animal protection groups urged lawmakers to support greyhound decoupling and injury reporting. The coalition includes the Florida Association of Animal Welfare Organizations, Florida Animal Control Association, SPCA Tampa Bay, Jacksonville Humane Society, Humane Society of Vero Beach & Indian River County, Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control and the Greyhound Adoptions of Florida.

Greyhound breeders have claimed the passage of decoupling will somehow harm dogs. This is a scare tactic the industry has used in other states, and has repeatedly proven to be false. When greyhound decoupling is approved, dog racing will not immediately end.

It’s time for lawmakers to cast a few votes for the dogs. They should approve greyhound decoupling and injury reporting, and continue the state’s proud tradition of leadership when it comes to the humane treatment of animals.

Carey M. Theil is executive director of Grey2K USA, the nation’s largest greyhound advocacy and protection organization.