One of Ireland’s most successful canine athletes has been banned from dog racing indefinitely after three doping control tests found evidence of cocaine in his system, the BBC reported Thursday. Clonbrien Hero will have some of his prize money and titles withheld, including his winnings from July’s Irish Laurels final at Cork, where he took home the top prize, worth roughly $35,000.
Of course, this is no fault of the dog’s. It’s Clonbrien Hero’s owner, Kay Murphy, and trainer, Graham Holland, who are facing questions. They have denied they intentionally gave the dog drugs and are blaming accidental ingestion instead.
“We feel we are being victimized here for something we haven’t done,” Holland told the Times. “If you know you are going to be tested when you win a race, you are not going to administer cocaine to a greyhound. I’ve been training greyhounds for over 30 years, and now I’m accused of doping them.”
The three failed tests came from samples taken at Cork Greyhound Stadium on June 25, July 1 and July 22, the last date coinciding with the Laurels finding. Holland is not sure how his dog may have ended up with cocaine in his system but has a theory about how a winning dog might come into contact with the illegal drug.
“You can pass traces of cocaine by handling money,” Holland told the Times. “When a dog wins a race, people are walking up to the dog and patting it on the head. If they have cocaine on their hands, they can pass that to the dog, and it can come out in a urine sample.”
That does not seem terribly likely. While a 2007 study showed trace of amounts of cocaine on 100 percent of currency in circulation in Ireland, it’s unclear how probable it is that those trace amounts could be transmitted to a person’s hands, then to a dog’s head and eventually to the dog’s bladder. A 1997 study of U.S. currency by the Argonne National Laboratory said those small amounts were unlikely to rub off on hands because they become embedded in the fibers of the bill.
Clonbrien’s Hero is not the first dog to test positive for cocaine. This year in Florida, at least 12 greyhounds tested positive for the substance.
“The fact that we’re seeing this over and over again indicates the industry has a drug problem,” Carey Theil, executive director of industry watchdog group GREY2K USA Worldwide, told The Washington Post in July.
Theil’s explanation of why dogs are getting popped for cocaine isn’t as innocent as Holland’s.
“To me, this looks like race-fixing. There does seem to be a correlation between dogs testing positive and performance,” Theil said, noting a dog in Florida put up her two best times while on cocaine.
There remains no evidence that cocaine boosts greyhound performance, however. Nor are there any studies that suggest cocaine would help human track and field stars. In fact, it may hurt.
“Competitive athletics increases the potential of cocaine’s powerful adverse cardiovascular stimulating effects,” Dr. Gary Wadler, a New York University School of Medicine professor and lead author of the book “Drugs and the Athlete,” once told ESPN, “namely, life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms and heart attacks … ”
Clonbrien Hero’s ban likely won’t be prolonged. According to the BBC, the Irish Greyhound Board will allow the dog to race again when he “has been passed clear.”