Florida’s Ban on Racing Starts Scramble to Find Homes for Greyhounds
Posted November 9, 2018 7:52 p.m. EST
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — Animal activists have been trying for years to put an end to greyhound racing in Florida, one of the country’s most popular spots to watch dogs chase mechanical rabbits round and round a track. In their view, the greyhounds were mistreated, subjected to harsh living conditions, then retired with broken bones.
On Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly backed a measure that set greyhound lovers scrambling in a new direction: finding new homes for thousands of dogs with no clear future.
Amendment 13, which proposed banning racing by the end of 2020 and hardened the battle lines between greyhound track owners and animal advocates, passed with 69 percent of the vote.
The industry has long been criticized as abusive to the dogs. Track owners and trainers pushed back, saying the dogs were well cared for and would not race if they were unhealthy or neglected.
But as Florida is home to 11 of the nation’s 17 active dog tracks, there is a concern that the networks of people who find new owners for dogs at the end of their short racing careers will be overwhelmed.
“There is no way to know when the tracks will close or how many dogs are coming into the market, so we are sitting on pins and needles, but also quietly working to try to find new foster homes, calling vets about care packages and looking for people willing to drive vans to Florida to pick the dogs up,” said Carol Becker, president of God’s Greyts, a greyhound adoption group in Orlando that opposed the amendment on the basis that the dogs were already well cared for.
“We are trying to avoid a crisis if too many tracks close around the same time and there are not enough homes lined up,” she added.
As of October, there were about 3,700 greyhounds in Florida, according to the Humane Society of the United States and Grey2K USA, a nonprofit that is working to end greyhound racing. The number of dogs in the state fluctuates depending on which seasonal tracks are open.
“This is a stake in the heart of dog racing nationwide,” said Christine Dorchak, a spokeswoman for Grey2K.
Not all of the dogs will be retired from racing.
“When the ban takes place they’re not all going to be pets,” said Dennis Tyler, the co-chairman of the Greyhound Adoption Action Alliance, a group of 12 adoption agencies. “I’m assuming 1,500 to 2,000 will go to race somewhere else.”
But for those that do become available, some Florida greyhound owners are already stepping up, at least to provide foster homes.
Gene Majka adopted a greyhound that had raced in Iowa about three years ago, as a companion after the death of his husband. He fell in love with Hughey, whom he described as 70 pounds of quiet sweetness. Majka — and Hughey — stood on street corners in Fort Lauderdale and Wilton Manors holding signs in support of Amendment 13.
“I have been telling everyone what wonderful dogs they are,” said Majka, a retired nursing professor. “We have to do whatever we can to make sure these dogs find loving homes.”
For people outside Florida who are interested in adopting, Tyler suggested contacting local greyhound adoption groups. He has been preparing to contact every adoption group around the country to prepare for the “final push” at the end of 2020, he said.
But until then, he added, “most of the big tracks are going to continue to race.”
Florida’s tracks remained in part because of state laws that require them to continue racing in order to keep their lucrative gambling operations. In Florida, only existing “pari-mutuel” facilities like dog tracks and horse tracks could obtain licenses to operate card rooms and slots.
A 2015 report from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Grey2K found more than 11,000 greyhound injuries nationwide and more than 900 deaths between 2008 and 2015. Some are found dead in their cages, others suffer serious injuries while racing or are electrocuted while chasing a mechanical rabbit around the track. In Florida, nearly 500 greyhounds died since the state started tracking deaths in 2013.
“We worked to stop the cruelty,” said Kitty Block, acting president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States.
Becker of God’s Greyts disagreed. “Contrary to what the public might think about dog racing, they are not abused,” she said. “I have been in these greyhound kennels, I have seen how they are living and how they are treated.”
Tracks are still active in Arkansas, Alabama, Iowa, Texas and West Virginia, and several more states allow simulcast betting, in which bets are cast on dog races that are broadcast from elsewhere.
As greyhound racing has declined, so has the number of dogs registered to race. In 2007, there were about 20,000 dogs registered by the National Greyhound Association, said Jim Gartland, the organization’s executive director. By 2017, that number had dropped by more than half to 8,500.
Florida’s amendment will drive that number even lower.
“It’s going to affect greyhound farms and families all over the country,” Gartland said. “Some had cut back 10 or 20 percent of their operation in anticipation of this happening, and that’s not going to be enough now.”