* In the Spring of 2005 nineteen dogs at Wonderland Greyhound Park died from a mystery illness that was later proven to be a form of horse flu that had never before jumped species.
* To reduce costs, dogs at these tracks are fed meat that has been deemed unfit for human consumption.
* Because this meat is fed to the dogs raw, it can cause dogs to be exposed to serious pathogens such a Salmonella.
* In late 2003 and early 2004, a dog tested positive for cocaine twice at Wonderland Greyhound Park.
* Efforts to protect greyhounds through the legislative and regulatory processes have failed. Voters have no choice but to seek relief through the initiative process.
* Commercial dog racing is a dying industry in Massachusetts. Between 2002 and 2006, the total amount gambled at Wonderland Greyhound Park and Raynham Park declined by 57% and 35%, respectively.
In what strikes me as a very smart move, the information presented in the report comes either from the racing industry itself (via reports filed with the state and otherwise), or from news articles, and it’s all specific to Massachusetts. There’s relatively little editorializing; it’s pretty much “just the facts,” leaving readers to make of it what they will. As the authors explain:
In compiling this report we have kept to strict guidelines:
1. All information is specific to Raynham Park and Wonderland Greyhound Park.
2. All information is recent and the majority of data relates to ongoing practices.
3. All information is sourced to state records, industry statements, and/or reports
by mainstream news organizations. All photographs provided were taken by the Massachusetts dog tracks themselves.
There was a ballot question in 2000 to end dog racing. It lost by about 50,000 votes out of over 2.5 million cast (48.6% no to 46.7% yes), one of the closest margins ever for a MA ballot question. There was supposed to be another dog racing question on the 2006 ballot, but it was axed by a hypertechnical interpretation of our already hypertechnical laws regarding ballot questions. Not the SJC’s finest hour, but so it goes.
In any event, the issue is back. Today the Attorney General certified a question (actually, two versions of the same question) for the 2008 ballot to end dog racing in Massachusetts. Signature gathering will begin in a couple of weeks.
One of the more interesting aspects of this issue is how it relates to the ongoing debate over casinos. Today’s Globe story reports:
The report is being released as Governor Deval Patrick considers whether to support casino gambling, a measure animal rights advocates are concerned could jump-start dog racing. “If there were no casino-style gambling permitted, it would just be a matter of time before greyhound racing stops, because the fan base is limited and aging,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the national Humane Society.
But it could cut the other way too. I heard on the radio this morning (no link, sorry) that one of the dog track owners has suggested that if he were able to install slot machines, he might shut down the dog racing. And dog racing does appear to be a dying industry. The total amount wagered from 2002 to 2006 has declined by 35% at Raynham and 57% at Wonderland. And those numbers include forms of gambling other than dog racing — such as simulcast horseracing. If you just look at the dog racing numbers, the decline is even more dramatic: a drop of 42% from 2002 to 2006 at Raynham, and a staggering 84% at Wonderland. In fact, in October 2005, Wonderland went from year-round racing to a “seasonal” (half-year, roughly May to October) schedule, presumably because they felt that year-round racing was no longer economically sustainable. (In case you’re wondering: the decline in amount wagered on dog racing at Wonderland from 2002 to 2004, the last full year of racing there, was 42%. And the drop from 2004 to 2005 was over 50%, even though there was racing for 10 months in 2005.)
No one, by the way, is claiming that we’re talking about an industry of Michael Vicks here. It’s just that it’s unavoidable that dogs will be hurt during races, and inescapable that, with over 1,000 dogs at each facility, they’ll be living in, well, less-than-ideal conditions. It’s hard for me to see any good reason to keep propping this industry up (as the lege did back in 2001 with a multimillion dollar bailout package whose returns have been far less than promised — a 2006 MetroWest Daily News article reprinted in the report says that, although the promise was that the state would receive $5 million a year, the returns were $3.1 million in 2002, declining to $2.1 million in 2005).
Our state has already gotten one national black eye recently when it comes to dog treatment. Let’s try to make up for that. Look for a volunteer signature gatherer in a supermarket parking lot near you in the coming weeks!