The greyhound racing industry has always had considerable influence in Tallahassee. The passage of the 90 percent rule (a rule that allows dog racing tracks to add gambling tables only if they maintain 90 percent of the races the track ran in 1996) might be its greatest feat since greyhound racing was legalized in Florida over 80 years ago.
And the passage of a law in 2010 requiring track operators to report when a greyhound dies might be the greyhound racing industry's biggest defeat -- and a sign that its influence is waning with the advent of more lucrative slot machine games.
The Miami Herald reports 74 dogs died in Florida between May 31, 2013 and December 31, 2013. Because the races have low attendance and low profits, track owners want to minimize their greyhound racing operations almost as much greyhound advocacy groups want them to. The law is a big part of what keeps these races going.
The 2010 law requiring greyhound death reports be sent to the state didn't take effect until last spring, so it's impossible to know how 74 deaths compares to prior years. While an average of one death every three days is arguably very high, more data is needed over time to give these initial reports more significance. That is why Department of Business and Professional Regulation spokeswoman Tajiana Ancora-Brown tells the Miami Herald that the agency is "not ready to crack down on any perceived abuses."
The Florida Greyhound Association claims that changing the 90 percent rule, and reducing the number of greyhound races, will "endanger 8,000 dogs, cause 3,000 jobs to be lost, and cost the state economy $50 million."
However, Spectrum Gaming Group calculated that, even though 13 of the country's 21 greyhound tracks are located in Florida, the Florida gambling industry lost $35 million in 2012 on dog racing alone.
According to the death reports the Miami Herald dug up, $35 million wasn't the only thing the industry lost (17 greyhound deaths were racing-related and 31 greyhound deaths were euthanized from a racing-related injury):
"WS Mellow Yellow, a 2-year-old, died July 15 "while being hauled from Alabama" to the Sanford Orlando Kennel Club
GM's Tiny Momma fractured his left front leg during the 14th matinee race at the Daytona Beach Kennel Club on Oct. 26. "The injury was of a nature that required the track veterinarian Dr. Kevin Eastman to euthanize the greyhound after his post-race examination," the report said.
Year-old TD's Harley died July 16 after he collided with the fence on the first turn and finished last at St. Petersburg's Derby Lane.
At the Washington County Kennel Club, a 2-year-old male named Flying Meteorite was "cooled down" after a race on June 8 but was still panting heavily. Inspectors concluded: "He died when he was put back in his kennel."
A dog named Hallo Spice Key died Sept. 3 after being sprinted -- running before a race -- at 5:45 a.m. at the Jacksonville compound by a helper for the James "Barney" O'Donnell kennel. "It appears the death could have been prevented had the greyhound not been sprinted in the dark," the report said.
A day later at the Pensacola Greyhound track, Tempo Man Eater, a 1-year-old female, died sometime in the middle of the day after being taken out of her crate for exercise. She had not been eating for four days, the report said, so the trainers had tried to force-feed her.
And on Dec. 5, a puppy who hadn't been named yet arrived at the St. Petersburg Kennel Club in bad shape. "We lost a new pup today. He just came off the hauler on Thursday," the track reported. "Trainer said Dr. Gregory was going to do a necropsy, but the Dr. thought it was head trauma."
The Mardi Gras Racetrack and Casino in Hallandale Beach (which only races dogs between December and May) had no reported deaths during the month of December. Mardi Gras Racetrack veterinarian Mel Stein argues that while some trainers do abuse the greyhounds, others don't. "Ninety-nine percent are not abused," Stein tells the Miami Herald. "The way they treat greyhounds is the way some people treat children. There are great trainers and there are others who abuse them -- I don't know which ones -- but there are some who do, and it's a way of making a living."
Grey2k, an organization that fights for the welfare of greyhounds, wants to pass legislation requiring tracks to report when dogs are injured too. The Florida Greyhound Association really doesn't want that to happen. Grey2k argues the group wouldn't be so opposed if it didn't have anything to hide.