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Fired Greyhound Trainer Speaks to Media

Last week, we broke you the news that a woman arrested on felony animal cruelty charges was still working as a greyhound trainer in Florida. In 2002, Ursula O'Donnell sent greyhounds in her care from Palm Beach, Naples, and Orlando to an Alabama man who shot and buried them, according to a state investigation. On the property of Robert Rhodes, police found a mass greyhound graveyard with the bodies of more than 2,000 dogs. The National Greyhound Association said that when it came to Ursula, the group's hands are tied.

Sunday, O'Donnell gave an interview to Max Turnier of the WINK television station in Fort Myers in which she denied ever knowing Rhodes.

Ursula denied comment when I spoke to her on the phone yesterday afternoon.

In the TV interview, she says that she was cleared of all charges in 2005 and that she was wrongfully dismissed when owners of the Naples track asked her to step down as trainer of record from the independently owned and operated Free Spirit Kennel. According to the state's investigation, which includes a copy of a check from O'Donnell to Rhodes for $230, O'Donnell told authorities that she was unaware her dogs were being killed in such a way. She said that she had no knowledge, that her employees made all the arrangements themselves.

She also sounds as if she has dirt on some of the other trainers in Naples and that she might be willing to spill. "Out of the kennels they have racing at Naples," she said in the interview, "every one of them has a past."

It will be interesting to see what kind of allegations unfold. As someone who's covered the greyhound industry, I think it's safe to say that even racing abolitionists would probably be OK with O'Donnell working as a trainer if she were willing to become a whistleblower against some of the worst characters in racing.

Local sources in the greyhound community have asked me to point out that in the history of the industry, there were far more hideous methods of getting rid of old racers. Like dumping them in the swamp or in the ocean. And if Ursula did send 20 or so dogs, that's still a very small percentage of the more than 2,000 dogs Rhodes killed. Surely there are other trainers who sent dogs to Rhodes who are still working on tracks across the state.

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Michael J. Mooney

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