Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Politics

Carlton: No break for greyhounds, thanks to Tallahassee

There's this classic 1960s scene from an episode of Mad Men: The Drapers, out on a family car trip, finish an idyllic roadside picnic under the trees.

Dad takes his last gulp of beer — and then throws the can as far as he can wing it. Mom shakes out the picnic blanket. With the kids, they pile into the car, leaving behind all their trash — napkins, plates, assorted garbage — strewn across the grass as they drive away, unconcerned.

Remember how we did things before we knew better?

Florida's outdated dog tracks remind me of this, except there's not so much to be amused about.

We are home to 13 remaining greyhound tracks, more than any other state, where the sleek dogs are run in races so people can bet on them. It has been legal here for more than 80 years.

Some people wax nostalgic that there is a dusty, old Florida charm in this, and of course there's the lure of winning some money. But more than kitschy gambling at iconic old tracks is at stake.

The numbers are staggering. Mary Ellen Klas of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reported earlier this year that between May 31 and Dec. 31 of last year — amazingly, the first time dog tracks were required to report greyhound deaths — 74 dogs died on racetrack property. That's an average of one dog every three days.

They died for reasons like getting hurt while sprinting in the predawn dark for practice, or were euthanized after being hurt while racing, or with few details given. Also amazingly, injury specifics weren't required.

Animal-rights advocates and rescue groups have long said racing dogs live in confinement and suffer terrible injuries. All these years later, aren't we better than this?

During this year's soon-to-be-over legislative session, lawmakers were expected to consider a measure that could hasten the phaseout of this archaic and dying "sport."

The proposed amendment would have ended an outdated requirement that track operators run a certain number of races in order to also run lucrative card rooms. A 1997 law intended to bolster the racing industry says dog tracks have to operate 90 percent of the races they ran back then to be allowed poker rooms, too.

Doesn't it follow that more races put more dogs at risk?

The proposal would have "decoupled" the two matters, untying poker rooms to the number of races and allowing tracks to cut back race schedules — something that could ultimately end dog racing. Tracks would have the option of operating more profitable card rooms and not racing dogs at all.

But as happens when gambling is the subject, power, influence, infighting and opposing interests get in the mix. The measure was killed in Tallahassee in a parliamentary move, a procedural vote, and it appears this step forward won't happen this year.

If there is a glimmer of good for greyhounds, it's in a less-restrictive bill that moved forward requiring dog trainers and track operators to report injuries to state gaming regulators. It seems unconscionable this wasn't already a condition for using dogs for sport, but it's a step.

So for at least another year, the dogs will be run as before, even though the world has moved forward, even though we have options, even though by now we should be better than this.

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