Florida voters overwhelmingly came down on the side of dogs Tuesday, voting to ban greyhound racing in the state, a decision that puts in question the future of thousands of racing dogs.
The Committee to Protect Dogs called Amendment 13, which was approved by 69 percent of voters this week, “a knockout blow to a cruel industry that has been hurting and killing dogs for nearly a century.” Florida hosts 11 of the 17 active dog tracks in the United States, but the industry will be shuttered in the state by January 2021, meaning some 6,000 dogs will need new homes.
“Because of the decisions of millions of Florida voters, thousands of dogs will be spared the pain and suffering that is inherent in the greyhound racing industry,” Kitty Block, the acting president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, told the Orlando Sentinel. “We are so grateful to the volunteers, campaign members, coalition partners, contributors and endorsers who came together in support of this historic effort to end the cruelty of greyhound racing.”
Trainers and racetrack workers are among those who will be put out of work by the decision, but greyhound racing has long been criticized for reported abuse of dogs, who are often neglected and subjected to cruel conditions. Now, the task for advocacy organizations and adoption groups is to find homes for the dogs, most of whom race until they around 2 years old.
Adopt-a-Greyhound.org points out that the dogs can make great pets. Trained to chase lures that most often are mechanical, the racing dogs are neither vicious nor predatory. They are sociable and accustomed to being around people because they’ve been handled by trainers, veterinarians and dog walkers as well as children.
“There are groups already mobilizing in other states,” Kate MacFall, Florida state director of the Humane Society of the United States, told USA Today. “We see this as an incredible opportunity to find homes.”
"This is the most historic event for greyhound advocacy and adoption in the world at any time,” Christine Dorchak, the president and general counsel of GREY2K USA Worldwide, told the Miami Herald.
The Amendment 13 fight had attracted powerful figures on both sides, with Grey2K USA, the largest greyhound protection organization in the world, pitted against racing proponents such as NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer. Also aligned with the amendment were Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Lara Trump, daughter-in-law of the president.
“This is a black eye on our state,” Bondi had said.
Groups including the HSUS and celebrities such as Doris Day, a longtime animal rights activist, raised $2.5 million to lobby for the ban, The Post reported this summer, while greyhound racing supporters had raised only $24,000 to defend it.
“We’re going to get squashed,” Norm Rader, a greyhound trainer, said ahead of the vote. “It’s a David and Goliath fight. They’re going to overpower us with TV commercials. We can’t dispute the lies they’re telling about us.”
The industry was targeted, Rader and others argued, because horse racing is too moneyed to take down.
“There’s too much money there, so they’re coming after us. I don’t know what I’m going to do or how I’ll survive,” he said.
During the run-up to the election, each side accused the other of lies and exaggerations. Florida records cited by The Post in August showed 483 greyhounds had died on the track or in kennel properties since 2013, with most deaths directly related to racing. Causes of death included broken necks, heart attacks or electrocution from the high-voltage lures that lead the dogs around the tracks. The industry also has been marred by doping allegations, although trainers typically have disputed such accusations.
“You can’t be unhealthy and run around a track in half a minute,” A.J. Grant, a trainer in Orlando who cares for 120 greyhounds with the help of four assistants, told The Post. “My dogs are athletes. They get . . . meat that could go into a burger patty. I give them Big Macs as treats. They’re treated like kings."
Soon, though, the industry will be closed down as the focus turns to finding new homes for the dogs.
“Everything for years has been about gambling and expansion, and the dogs were just stuck in the middle,” Sonia Stratemann, vice chairwoman of Protect Dogs-Yes to 13, told USA Today. “Voters have shown how they feel.”
Now, it’s dog lovers' turn.
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