The sight of dogs at play in a grassy field is a happy image. Humans watch their companions with delight and a desire to visually participate in the innocent play as the “pups” run freely and jump and bow and roll and collide in a carefree way.
And as we watch, we become intrigued when one dog tends to lead the pack, or another is involved in fending off or initiating rough-housing, or another has boundless energy to run, or another tends to jump higher than his or her doggy play pals.
Innocent dog play, however, is violated when self-centered, manipulative people turn a playful run into a wagered dog race, or rough-house play into a wagered dog fight.
Giving it all he had at the Raynham greyhound dog racetrack on September 30, 2004, a young greyhound named “FTK Sherman Tank” dropped dead at the finish line from a heart attack. Most likely, the heat was too much for him. His playful innocence was not protected. Those who saw him as “money machine” wanted him to win at all costs.
Dog racing evolved from a barbaric activity called coursing in which a dog – typically a greyhound – was set-up to run after a live animal – usually a rabbit. Coursing originally involved a single dog chasing and catching an unfortunate animal. As time went on, coursing sometimes became a deadly competition between two dogs who were racing for the same unfortunate animal. The connection between the ancient Roman spectacle of watching lions chasing after a fleeing, fearful Christian in the arena and greyhounds coursing after a fleeing, fearful animal is remarkable.
Greyhounds were introduced into the United States shortly before 1848. They were used in the California goldrush region for coursing contests that used antelope. Greyhounds were also kept by U.S. Calvary officers in midwest around the late 19th Century because they were helpful in catching game and detecting native American Indian movement.
Farmers used greyhounds in the midwest after the American Civil War to help protect crops from jackrabbits. During this period, coursing meets, usually between two competing dogs chasing after a live rabbit, were held.To alleviate some of the brutality, a mechanical rabbit was introduced around the turn of the 20th Century. Eventually an affluent boxing promoter turned the mechanical rabbit course into a gambling operation.
After a series of failures and bankruptcies, the operation was set up in Florida where dog racing took a strong hold.
With an on-going history of dog tracks opening and failing, there are presently dog tracks in thirteen (13) States with about a third of the dog tracks located in Florida. Two dog tracks exist in Massachusetts.
Both dog racing and dog fighting are forms of opportunistic slavery. Civilized societies are usually highly vigilant against such things, especially when they perceive the protection of children or other dependents are in jeopardy from people who would use them for their own repugnant satisfaction.
In 2006, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled to throw out a ballot question concerning the protection of dogs, despite the backing of the ballot by greater than 100,000 registered voters who had signed to put the question on the ballot, the SJC failed to be vigilant against opportunistic enslavement. The SJC felt that the combination of dog fighting and dog racing on the same ballot question would be confusing to the voters. The SJC regarded the dogs used for dog fighting as dogs and the dogs used for dog racing as “commodities necessary for the operation of the industry.” The SJC recognized that dogs are enslaved in dog fighting, but failed to recognize that dogs are equally enslaved in greyhound dog racing. They also failed to realize that Dogs in both industries are injured as a result of the spectatorderived activity.
Between January 1, 2002 and June 30, 2008 there have been 832 reported injuries sustained by greyhounds at the two Massachusetts tracks. Over seven dogs out of ten who suffered injuries had broken bones. One dog out of ten for which an injury was reported experienced a dislocation. Other reported injuries included seizures, ruptured organs, cardiac arrest, head trauma, sudden death, paralysis and broken necks and spines. An average of 128 injuries have occurred per year – that amounts to an average of more than 10 injuries per month. According to the American Greyhound Council’s guidelines the vast majority of the reported injuries are considered “career ending” to “fatal.”
Behind the sterilized curtain of statistics that effectively provides a broad, desensitized view of dog racing injuries are segments of the real-life stories of the greyhounds who experienced the trauma
One dog, Hibbert, cracked his skull during a 2005 New Year’s Day race and died as a result of that injury. It wasn’t a happy new year for Hibbert.
A dog named “RHF No Doubt” snapped her neck after getting bumped hard on the track on July 18, 2006 and died.
Another greyhound, Starz Voice, who appears in a podcast made from a June 25, 2007 R a y n h a m greyhound race track video, shows the 61- p o u n d , 2 – y e a r – o l d g r e y h o u n d surging out of the gate with seven other dogs. She is p o s i t i o n e d farthest from the center of the race track. She is seen picking up speed as she nears the first turn. Then a calamity happens when she is bumped. Starz Voice and another dog are seen tumbling off the track and slamming into a wall. Starz Voice broke two bones in her right front leg. As a result Starz Voice was put to death. Starz Voice’s injuries are not unique; they are a peculiar injury that is common only to dogs that race at dog tracks.
Undercover video and video coverage at the two Massachusetts dog tracks give some indication why greyhounds do not do well at the racetracks. Walls, turns, the ground surface, the electric rail, and the other dogs can quickly cripple, if not kill a dog on any given day.
Raynham Park owner George Carney has responded to such tragedies by saying, “As far as I’m concerned, I can’t make any apologies. Accidents do happen.” Adding, “It’s part of racing.”
It’s time to end the wasting of dogs’ lives. It is time to end dog racing.
If the Dog Protection Act question had made it to the 2006 ballot, and Massachusetts voters had overwhelmingly voted to end dog racing in Massachusetts, then Starz Voice, and 152 other greyhounds like her in 2007 and the first half of 2008, would not have sustained injuries in Massachusetts.
Moreover, had there been no dog racing in Massachusetts after the 2000 elections, when a ban on dog racing in the State lost by a narrow 51 to 49 percent vote, then more than 832 dogs would not have suffered debilitating injuries at the tracks.
The injury record is terrible enough, but equally upsetting are the conditions under which the dogs exist. Kept in warehouses the dogs live for up to 20 hours a day in cages that, in some cases, are barely large enough for them to lie down or turn around in. The cages do not allow the dogs to properly stand up without them abrading their head or their back on the cage housing. In true warehouse fashion, dogs are stacked in cages one on top of the other.
And since the Wonderland kennel compound is listed as a warehouse, the law requires no sprinkler system. Fire has hit Wonderland’s kennel compound four times in a thirteen-year period. In total, more than 120 dogs have died in fires at the compound. The worst fire occurred on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1992. It claimed the lives of 87 greyhounds when flames swept quickly through the shredded paper and wooden crates that held the greyhounds. Adding insult to injury, the fire department eventually determined that the Valentine’s Day fire was an insurance job.
The dogs are fed the raw meat of diseased, dead, downed or dying animals to reduce costs. This exposes the dogs and the people who are in contact with the dogs to Salmonella and other potentially deadly diseases.
A flu jumped species from horses to greyhounds in Florida. It was transported with the greyhounds to locations all over the country. One outcome was that in the Spring of 2005 nineteen dogs at the Wonderland race track died from a “mysterious” illness. The Massachusetts greyhound racetracks claimed the deadly disease was “kennel cough.” And even after the Massachusetts Racing Commission acknowledged that the dogs were suffering from a far more serious disease, there still was no mandatory quarantine imposed at the tracks. Is this any way to treat man’s best friend – someone who trusts us to treat him or her with compassion?
According to Carter Luke, Vice President for animal protection at the MSPCA, “In the greyhound industry, animals are commodities that are bred and kept and disposed of for all things financial. There is nothing related to companionship in that at all. From breeding – to care – to use – to end of use, it is for one purpose: speed and earning money. When this use is no longer viable, the animal is disposed of.”
All greyhounds eventually become a fraction of a second too slow to be money-making winners. For most greyhounds that day arrives by the time they are four (4) years old. At four years old greyhounds have experienced a little less than about half of their natural life. Prior to animal advocates raising awareness about the fate of greyhounds and creating opportunities for their adoption, the dogs were passed to lower and lower grade tracks until the majority of the dogs were either dead or put to death. Very few were sent out for adoption. Shamefully, in Massachusetts a law still exists that allows, among the list of ways to dispose of a racing greyhound, the delivery of the greyhound to a laboratory that performs life-ending experimentation.
When people became educated about how great a companion animal greyhounds make, local greyhound rescue and adoption groups began to form. Caught in an indefensible guiltridden position, the greyhound racing industry unloaded ex-racing greyhounds onto these local adoption groups. As part of the assurance that the local adoption groups would continue to receive greyhounds when the dogs were no longer useful to the tracks, the adoption groups had to maintain their silence about the poor condition in which the dogs were received. When an adoption group did reveal how malnourished, or flea infested, or dehydrated, or physically injured, or psychologically deprived the ex-racing greyhounds were received, the tracks stopped supplying dogs to that adoption group. It is no wonder that some of the better-known greyhound adoption groups were hardpressed to say anything negative about the greyhound racing industry.
Yet, even with the existence of the adoption groups, the greyhound industry nationally still kills an estimated 9,000 greyhounds a year because their bone structure as a 6 month old puppy makes them incapable of being competitive at the track, or because they are too smart to go around the track, or because they are too slow to successfully compete, or because they sustained injuries that cut into potential profits.
There has been a rich history over the past two decades to try to educate and encourage the State legislature and the State Racing Commission to address the greyhound racing industry’s cruel treatment of dogs. The movement in Massachusetts began with the discovery in early 1992 of a greyhound named Shayna. A woman named Greta Marsh became motivated to expose the truth about the dog racing industry after she heard Shayna’s story and adopted her. Shayna had been left muzzled and was abandoned in a snowcovered Hopkinton, Massachusetts cemetery. She was found nearly starved to death.
Greta began educating countless people about the inherent cruelty involved in greyhound dog racing in 1992, but she said it became clear to her that a legislative bill would have to be filed and passed in order to end dog racing in Massachusetts. She collected almost a thousand signatures in support of a legislative bill and approached former Representative Shaun Kelly. Representative Kelly filed three House Bills over the next five years, one in 1994, a second in 1996, and the third in 1999. Each time he and a growing number of people gave extensive and informative testimony to the legislative Joint Committee on Government Regulations on how the greyhounds were improperly treated and how the greyhound industry was costing Massachusetts in economics and community development. Each time, though, the powerful dog racing lobby succeeded in getting the Committee to bury the Bills in study where the Bills would die.
Quotes on record from the track owners themselves give clues as to why government officials would help out the two Massachusetts dog tracks.
“Of course I give money. I’ve got a business to run,” commented Wonderland Greyhound Park owner Charles Sarkis, about the thousands of dollars in campaign contributions he has given to state lawmakers. (Boston Globe, March 8, 2001)
“I’ve been giving money to the Legislature for 40 years,” stated Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park owner George Carney, about the thousands of dollars in campaign contributions he has given to state lawmakers.(Boston Globe, March 8, 2001)
In 1999, with no other recourse, an initiative petition drive was begun to put a question on the 2000 Ballot that would end greyhound dog racing. People from across Massachusetts pulled together and got the question on the 2000 Ballot. After all was said and done, however, the greyhound advocates were out spent and subjected to dubious campaign underhandedness by the tracks. The ballot question to end dog racing lost 49% to 51%.
In 2001, less than half a year later, the dog tracks were asking legislators for a $5 million per year tax break, stating their industry was in trouble. Greyhound advocates unable to move legislators to reject this outrageous request, tacked on clauses to the Bill that would make the industry more transparent, adopt new rules to protect the welfare of the dogs and be made to assist in funding adoption efforts.
The tracks received their tax break in November 2001 and with it the mandate to keep and provide records on the disposition and injuries of each dog. The State Racing Commission under the new law was required to study the effect of hot weather on racing dogs and set minimum standards for all aspects of the proper care of greyhounds.
Despite these agreements, by June 2002 it was apparent that the dog tracks and the Racing Commission were being resistant in meeting their obligations. The Racing Commission had made little headway in its hotweather study and in its drafting of better rules. Instead of compiling documentation and submitting a report, the State Racing Commission sent a letter to lawmakers defending current conditions at the local tracks. And despite the millions of dollars in tax breaks the tracks received, the dog racing business has steadily declined since 2001. The dog tracks are still finding it tough to exist without sucking up more State assistance.
Dog track owners publicly acknowledge that their businesses are failing. Multimillion-dollar bailouts given to the tracks by sympathetic legislators have not stopped the decline of the tracks. Business at Raynham has declined by 37% from 2002 to 2007.
Business at Wonderland has declined by 65% over the same six-year period. Wonderland dog track was even given special consideration over property taxes they were several years delinquent in paying.
State Representative Daniel Bosley of North Adams, who helped push the 2001 bailout legislation package sees little more that the State can do to keep the tracks afloat. Bosley stated, “The fact of the matter is you’re helping a business that’s on life support and you have to determine how much more you need to put into it.”
State Representative David Linsky of Natick was a little more direct. He stated, “The State should stop propping up a dead industry.”
The Racing Commission’s report was finally submitted over a year late. In the Commission’s report, however, the Commission claimed that it was unable to study the effect of extreme hot or cold weather on the dogs that were made to race due to lack of funding.
Solid evidence and some insight into the greyhound racing industry shed light on the fact that greyhounds do not do well at the Massachusetts dog racing tracks and that the tracks are soaking up valuable resources in the State.
To that end, in November of 2008, a ballot question concerning greyhound racing will be put before the voters of Massachusetts. The question will ask if you are in favor of “prohibit[ing] any dog racing or racing meeting in Massachusetts where any form of betting or wagering on the speed or ability of dogs occurs.”
Its intention is to phase out greyhound dog racing by 2010. A “YES” vote on Question 3 will release greyhounds dogs from continuing to be injured and suffer at greyhound race tracks in Massachusetts. A “YES” vote on Question 3 will end dog racing. A “YES” vote on Question 3 is good for the dogs and for you.