With less than three months to go until Election Day, the Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign in Florida is at full throttle, mobilizing public support to phase out greyhound racing in what amounts to the industry’s last redoubt. Attorneys for the state are fighting off “Hail Mary” litigation brought by an industry group to prevent a vote on Amendment 13. But the bottom line is this: it’s still on the November ballot, and we and other supporters of the initiative are pushing toward the finish line, and the passage of a measure to phase out greyhound racing in the Sunshine State.
We’ve heard from defenders of greyhound racing over the years, and especially since the Florida campaign began. They seem to want to overlook something we simply can’t do, given what we know. There’s a dark side—a very dark side—to greyhound racing, one that features cruelty, dog deaths, drugging, and other serious problems. There ought to be a limit to the suffering and misuse of animals that we tolerate in the name of human diversion.
Greyhound racing is like a few other animal-focused entertainments that people have tended to view as innocent, harmless, and even good for the animals. We’ve seen this play out again and again, whether it’s with elephants at the circus, or chimpanzees in films or television commercials, for example. It’s what you don’t see that’s the problem, in the end. The behind-the-scenes abuses and indignities, the cramped quarters and neglect, and the denial of the animals’ most basic biological and behavioral needs, all of these concerns tilt the balance against our further indulgence of these pursuits.
The Humane Society of the United States has been confronting the cruelties of greyhound racing since the 1970s, when our investigator Frantz Dantzler went out into the field to document the training and coursing of greyhounds using live rabbits as lures. But in 1978, when ABC’s 20/20 produced a segment based on Dantzler’s investigations, racing was still a thriving pursuit, with some twenty million Americans betting over two billion dollars at dog tracks in the prior year. With that kind of money in play, it wasn’t a soft target.
Today, however, it’s a complete afterthought on the landscape of American gambling, accounting for less than one percent of all wagers. In Florida, according to a 2013 report produced for the state legislature, greyhound racing’s annual “handle”—or total amount wagered—dropped from $933.8 million in 1990 to $265.4 million in 2012, a 67 percent decline. A racetrack official quoted in the report admitted that no matter what the state or the industry does to prop up the sport, the interest just isn’t there. “We can see it by our live handle,” he told the report’s compilers. “The older folks are not being replaced,” he said. “There are just too many other things to do out there today. Watching a greyhound race is not at the top of most people’s agenda.”
In recent weeks, in addition to the strong support of the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Grey2K USA, and other national and local organizations, the campaign has picked up the endorsements of a number of elected officials and public figures, and a $1.5 million dollar donation from the Doris Day Animal League. This will make it possible to wage a statewide program of outreach that appeals to the better instincts of Florida voters. By every measure, greyhound racing is a dying industry, and it’s time to end the misery it has caused to animals once and for all. By knocking it out in Florida, home to 11 of the nation’s remaining 17 tracks, we’ll be dealing a true death blow to an activity that deserves it.