Dog Racing Comes to an End in Florida

Dog Racing Comes to an End in Florida

Most often known for being the fastest of all dog breeds, clocked at running 44mph, greyhounds and specifically greyhounds in Florida have been making headlines along with the latest election results.  Florida had the opportunity to phase out the practice of commercial dog racing in connection with wagering by 2020 through the proposed Amendment 13.  A 60% approval was needed at the polls to make this a law and the voters of Florida did just that.  Amendment 13 received more than 5.3 million votes and passed with 69%.  This means the 11 active dog racing tracks in Florida have two years to phase out all racing by the end of 2020, and 5,000-7,000 greyhounds will be retired by that time.

Florida became known as one of the largest hubs for dog racing back in 1931 when the state legalized wagering on the races.  Along with Florida, the only other states that still have active dog racing tracks are Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, West Virginia, and Texas.  Florida runs 11 of the 17 total tracks in the United States. Although dog racing with wagering dates back many years, a significant decline has occurred.  In 1991, wagering was at $3.5 billion and dropped to $500 million in 2014.

This drop could have been from a multitude of circumstances, but some raise the point that through increased awareness about what the racing dogs go through, people are starting to turn away from the industry.  According to the director of state legislation for the ASPCA Southeast region, Jennifer Hobgood, racing greyhounds can suffer severe injuries, including the possibility of dying on the track.  Hobgood stated, “In Florida, on average, a racing dog dies every three days.”

In a report conducted by the greyhound advocacy group GREY2K and funded by the ASPCA, it was found between 2008 and 2015, nearly 1,000 greyhound deaths occurred along with almost 12,000 greyhound injuries.  Injuries can be as severe as broken legs, crushed skulls, broken backs, and paralysis.  This same report, which was released in 2015 as the first-ever national report on greyhound racing in the US, also determined that more than 80,000 young greyhounds had entered the racing industry since 2008.  Furthermore, through investigation, it was found that racing dogs were confined excessively on non-race days, at certain commercial tracks, in cages that were far too small for any larger sized greyhound.

Greyhounds are usually retired from racing between the ages of 18 months and five years old (and on average live to 13+ years).  Reasons for retiring are generally due to injury or that the dog is no longer fast enough to be profitable for races.  It is with hope that all these retired dogs get adopted and end up with a caring owner, but some get returned to breeding facilities or even put down. And it is this issue that has been brought to the forefront since the recent passing of Amendment 13.

Those who were not in support of Amendment 13 have emphasized this potential issue of excess dogs in need of adoption and they’re not wrong.  The Florida Farm Bureau, Florida Cattlemen’s Association, the National Rifle Association, Future of Hunting in Florida, Florida Sportsmen United Political Committee, and Unified Sportsmen of Florida formed a coalition bringing up more points to consider as well, such as the impacts on businesses, food providers, and people’s rights to hunt and fish.

Fortunately, officials from both sides of this ballot are promising to find homes for all the retired greyhounds.  Jim Gartland, Executive Director of the dog racing industry’s National Greyhound Association, says they will do everything possible to make sure every dog gets adopted. One of the drafters of Amendment 13, Christine Dorchak, President and co-founder of GREY2K USA Worldwide, states that dogs are largely rehomed following track closures.  Past closures in other states have seen large numbers of volunteers from all over the country come to help find homes for the displaced racing dogs through adoptions.  Kate MacFall, Humane Society Florida Director, said her phone has been ringing off the hook since the Wednesday after the amendment was passed from prospective greyhound owners.

A less talked about concern brought up by Brooke Stumpf, President of the adoption group GreytHounds of Eastern Michigan, is one that can’t be discounted.  Stumpf is worried about the thousands of young greyhounds currently at breeding farms throughout the South and Midwest.  GreytHounds of Eastern Michigan currently arranges 50-100 greyhound adoptions a year; but with this phase-out now in place, they are aiming for an annual goal of 200 adoptions.  The most significant worry is that dogs who don’t get adopted right away may end up in shelters that are not always no-kill.

It is predicted that actively racing greyhounds will not be cut loose all at once, as both sides believe a gradual shutdown will take place over the next two years.  This at least gives organizations time to tackle increased adoption needs.  Although there are still affairs to undertake from all sides, there is no denying that enough people in Florida had concern for the wellbeing of these racing dogs to get this amendment passed.

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