As of May 21st, Florida will implement its new Animal Welfare Rules for greyhound racing. They will improve life for thousands of dogs. Had they been in place in 2011 they could have saved the lives of dozens of abused greyhounds.
The new rules require trainers to notify the state whenever a dog dies at a racetrack or kennel. Trainers have only 18 hours from the time of death to make the notification, and it has to be in writing. “This is an important provision that will increase transparency in the dog race industry,” Carey Theil, GREY2K USA Executive Director, writes on his blog.
Greyhound haulers will have to be licensed. This is a mild and possibly ineffectual response to what greyhounds endure in haulers’ trucks. En route between racetracks 60 dogs may be packed into one truck, two to three dogs in each small crate, with no air-conditioning. During the summer they can die from heat exhaustion in the trucks, and many have died this way, just like pet dogs left in cars. But as Theil points out, activists and the general public will know the identities of hauler-licensees, which should create some accountability.
The new rules will promote accountability in other ways. Trainers must maintain a roster identifying every dog in their kennels and listing the dog’s name, tattoo number, owner, trainer, dates of arrival and departure, and the name and license number of the hauler transporting the dog.
At the racetrack, trainers pack multiple dogs into one cage, much like haulers do in trucks. The new rules prohibit trainers from locking more than one dog in a cage. Those cages are small even for one dog, but the rules don’t require anything larger.
Saving the best for last, and quoting Theil’s blog: “Racetrack officials will now be required to ‘complete a weekly documented walk-through’ of occupied greyhound kennels.” This is the provision that, as I mentioned at the top, could have saved dozens of greyhounds a few years ago when some 39 greyhounds were found dead in a kennel at Ebro Greyhound Park. They had suffered starvation, dehydration and asphyxiation. Their trainer served about six years in prison.
Mandatory weekly walk-throughs could have identified problems early on and prevented these painful deaths.
The Evils of Greyhound Racing
Welcome though they are, Florida’s new racing laws do not fix the whole system. Nothing short of abolishing greyhound racing would truly protect these dogs.
According to the ASPCA:
• Greyhound breeders greatly overbreed, and many puppies never make it to a racing career. The unwanted pups, those who don’t measure up to racing standards, are simply destroyed.
• At each track, approximately 1,000 dogs live in cramped conditions at any given time. They live in cages so small that a larger Greyhound can’t even stand up.
• Dogs stay in their cages for up to 23 hours a day. At some tracks, lights are left on all day and night in the Greyhounds’ kennel.
• At some tracks, Greyhounds are forced to wear their racing muzzles at all times—even when they eat and sleep—because it’s just too much work to take them off and put them on again.
• Dogs are sometimes fed performance enhancing drugs, even including cocaine and steroids.
• Thousands of dogs are hurt each year at racetracks, and many are subsequently euthanized. Others are killed racing. These casualties of racing often go unreported.
• Racing dogs eat 4D meat—meat that has been deemed unfit for human consumption.
• Greyhounds often don’t get the veterinary care they need and often suffer from infections and parasites.
• Dogs are forced to run on the hottest and coldest days of the year.
• When the industry has deemed Greyhounds no longer fit to race, usually before the age of six, they face an uncertain fate. While some are retired and sent to rescue groups, others are simply killed or returned to breeding facilities to serve as breeding stock.
Ending Greyhound Racing: Reporting Injuries and Decoupling
Florida could adopt two measures that would help racing dogs significantly and might even lead to the end of dog racing in the state.
One is to require trainers to report greyhound injuries. The new rules require reporting deaths, which is an important step forward. But, as Theil reports, reporting injuries can also help. He cites the example of Massachusetts, which adopted a requirement that trainers report injuries. The public and the state government learned for the first time the physical toll training, racing and poor treatment took on greyhounds. Massachusetts later banned greyhound racing entirely.
The other is to decouple greyhound racing from other gambling. The need for decoupling results from a strange “Florida law that requires dog tracks that have card room licenses, which permit them to run poker games, to run almost as many races — 90% — as they did the year they got the card licenses. Decoupling would sever the connection and free Florida’s 13 dog racing tracks to hold fewer greyhound races,” as I wrote at Care2 Causes last February.
Race tracks are generally losing money on greyhound racing. They make their money from their card room licenses, and in Florida, that means they have to keep racing dogs. Two state committees are considering decoupling dog racing from card room licenses, which would drastically reduce the number of dogs involved and suffering in the racing industry. The earliest they might act is 2014.
What You Can Do
The media, including online outlets and local Florida sources, have generally not reported on the new rules. GREY2K USA, the primary advocate for greyhounds’ welfare, is nearly the only source of information. But these rules should be publicized: they highlight past and continuing abuse in the greyhound racing industry, but they also represent progress. There should also be public attention to the state’s enforcement of the new rules; without that, they are just words on paper and of no use to the animals. The officials responsible for improving the welfare of Florida’s canine racers deserve some acknowledgement, and some positive reinforcement that may help motivate them to enforce the rules.
Photo credit: iStockphoto
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