In June, seven greyhounds suffered broken legs within a six-day period at Massachusetts’s two racetracks — the Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere and Raynham Park in Raynham — bringing the total number of greyhound injuries at the two parks to 832 dogs since 2002. On Election Day, voters will get the chance to stop this disturbing trend by banning greyhound racing in Massachusetts. The bill — the Greyhound Protection Act, or Question 3 on the November ballot — is sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), and greyhound-protection group GREY2K USA.
Broken legs account for 80 percent of dogs’ injuries while racing; dislocation, head injury, cardiac arrest, paralysis, and seizure during racing have also occurred within the past six years at Wonderland and Raynham. Hundreds of dogs are needed to maintain full racing cards at year-round tracks, as each dog only runs a handful of times any given month. But while the dogs might not be racing all the time, their free time is hardly relaxing. The greyhounds are kept in kennels for about 20 hours a day, with barely enough room to stand and turn around. They are fed 4D-grade meat, deemed unfit for humans. If you’re thinking it’s the same type of meat found in some dog foods, you’d be right, but this meat is served raw, leading to greater risk of pathogens such as salmonella. In spite of New England weather, Raynham’s track remains open all winter; Wonderland has operated a half-year seasonal schedule since 2005, but both tracks race dogs in all temperatures and weather conditions.
Wonderland and Raynham do offer greyhound-adoption programs, but the MSPCA’s Brian Adams warns that, though the dogs may manage to find a good home, previous psychological damage can make proper care difficult. “Plenty are timid or aggressive due to their past,” says Adams. “You may not be aware of the greyhound breaking its leg, but the damage has been done.”
Fans of the sport argue that eliminating greyhound racing will eliminate jobs, which is why the proposed ban will phase out racing over the course of a year instead of calling for its immediate halt (under the plan, all racing in the state would be prohibited starting January 1, 2010). And the Committee to Protect Dogs (CPD) has vowed that, if the bill passes, they will assist workers with relocation as well as help to relocate the dogs.
In 2000, a similar proposal lost in a close vote, by a margin of 51-49 percent. “We didn’t have as strong a campaign in 2000 because we didn't have injury reports for the dogs,” says Adams. “Now, eight years later, we have proof of injuries provided by the opposition; for them to argue against that seems odd.” All information making the case for a ban was provided by state records, and a full 80-page Commercial Dog Racing report can be found on the CPD’s Web site (protectdogs.org). “If it’s not recent, relevant, documented, it’s not part of our campaign,” adds committee co-chairperson Christine Dorchak. “We want to allow the public to make a judgment on their own.”
The public has come around. The greyhound-racing industry has been steadily declining both locally and nationally since people became aware of the dogs’ living conditions. Between 2002 and 2008, annual revenue has dropped 65 percent at Wonderland and 37 percent at Raynham, according to the CPD. On the national scale, GREY2K USA sums it up best: “Over the past two decades, commercial dog racing has experienced a catastrophic economic decline, and now represents less than one percent of all wagers made each year in the United States.” Between the knowledge that these animals are being mistreated and the decline of revenue, why should anyone support greyhound racing come Election Day? “People sometimes shut off their moral compass when they’re being entertained,” says Adams. “It’s surreal, to say the least.”
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