If the racing industry and its supporters have their way, it won’t be anybody who convinced Floridians that the dogs needed saving in the first place. The National Greyhound Association, which registers all racing greyhounds and fought the ban, says it will shun any rescue groups that worked to end the sport in the Sunshine State.
“We had over 100 adoption groups that helped support us throughout this ordeal in Florida,” said Jim Gartland, executive director of the association, which argues that racing is not bad for dogs. “They are all what we call responsible, endorsed adoption groups — and those are the groups, being led by Greyhound Pets of America, that we will be working with to place these dogs.”
The battle for access to what could be as many as 7,000 greyhounds — some of which may end up racing in other states where it is legal — is reflective of a bigger divide that shapes animal welfare politics.
On one side are people who say they stand for improving animal industry welfare practices while acknowledging that the industry will continue to exist. Such groups become bedfellows with the industry, if reluctantly so, because it serves as a source of adoptable dogs. In the area of commercial breeding, for example, some groups that call themselves “puppy mill rescues” buy dogs from the breeders they decry. In the area of greyhound racing, most adoption groups that opposed Florida’s ban have supported or stood neutral on racing.
On the other side of the divide are activist organizations that lobby to end certain animal businesses — including dog breeding, retail pet stores and racing — altogether.
In the case of Florida’s greyhounds, this divide materialized between groups that have long taken in the industry’s “retired racers” for adoption, and forces led by the Massachusetts-based Grey2K. It partnered with the Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA and other groups that say the dogs are treated cruelly while racing, then cast off when they’re too broken and battered to compete.
Now that the ban has passed, some racing industry advocates say pro-ban activists have no business trying to claim the dogs that will eventually need new homes.
“That’s the one thing that really is frustrating,” said Vera Rasnake, head of media relations for Greyhound Pets of America, which opposed the ban. “You have the animal activists: They want a piece of it. They don’t even know this breed. They don’t even know how to transition them the way they should be transitioned.”
Joanne Johnson of South Carolina-based Greyhound Crossroads, which also opposed the ballot measure, echoed that sentiment.
“You’re putting all these people out of business, closing down breeders, closing down tracks, but there are no provisions in that amendment for the dogs and their welfare,” Johnson says. “Those are the last people that you would send your dogs to if you were forced to retire your racing dogs.”
Grey2K — which has worked to enact greyhound legislation since 2001 — does not find homes for greyhounds but instead has a sister organization that makes grants to groups that do. Its president, Christine Dorchak, said the industry’s push to wind down Florida racing by giving dogs only to adoption groups that opposed the ban is nothing new. Whenever a dog track closes, she said, “rhetoric” ramps up from the racing industry and from “adoption groups that they have bullied or are subsidizing.”
“The industry will try to keep a tight wrap on these dogs,” Dorchak says. “It’s quite clear now that they have a list of which groups are on the good list and which are on the bad list. They always say that. We’ll end up getting dogs into our network. We always do.”
For dog lovers hoping to aid or adopt a greyhound, things can quickly become confusing. Myriad groups — real and fake — have said they are trying to raise money to help greyhounds since Florida’s racing ban passed.
Dorchak said she has personally received emails from groups seeking donations after taking credit for Florida’s ban, even though she and the others who lobbied for it have never heard of them.
“They were asking for donations to keep up the work of helping the dogs,” she said, with a sigh of exasperation.
Gartland, of the National Greyhound Association, urges dog lovers to check his group’s website for a list of what he calls “approved” adoption organizations — the ones he says the industry plans to work with exclusively.
If that’s the way things turn out, Dorchak says it’s fine with her. The racing industry’s closure is all that matters, she said.
“It’s the happy ending we’ve all been working towards, but some people who oppose the end of dog racing and lose — they have to color this happy ending with confusion, false information and basically scaremongering,” she said, referring to racing-allied organizations' vow to maintain control over adoptable dogs. “These desperation tactics really frustrate me. They slow down our ability to quickly help the dogs, and that’s what we should all be focused on.”