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A View of the Dog Racing Industry and the Evolution of the Greyhound Protection League and Greyhound Friends for Life from 1987 to the Present
Enlightenment in the formative years. In addition to ongoing greyhound rescue efforts that began in 1987, Founder, Susan Netboy’s, early work includes:
Obtaining the release of 19 of the 20 greyhounds that were illegally sold by USDA licensed dog dealer, Greg Ludlow, to the Letterman Army Institute of Research for bone-breaking experiments. The 20 th greyhound died of Ehrlichia at the research facility. The Army gave up the dogs in response to a lawsuit that was filed in September 1989. The work was accomplished in conjunction with In Defense of Animals and with assistance from, then, Congresswoman Barbara Boxer. Nineteen of the “Presidio research greyhounds” were placed in homes.
Obtaining the release of 22 of the 56 greyhounds that were illegally sold to UC Davis in 1989 by National Greyhound Association (NGA) member, Bobby Whitehead, who had obtained a USDA license to sell dogs to research facilities. The release occurred in early 1990 and came about as the result of a lawsuit that was filed in late 1989. The remaining greyhounds had already been killed or owners were unwilling to sign affidavits to obtain their release. Twenty-two greyhounds were placed in homes.
The USDA took no action against the two dog dealers who voluntarily turned in their dealer licenses after the scandal hit the news. The results of their investigation indicated that the majority of the dogs had been handed over to the dealers by trainers at Arizona dog tracks.
After acquiring USDA records from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request related to the two dog dealers involved in the illegal sale of greyhounds, Susan spent the next year and a half tracing additional greyhounds that had been collected and sold to laboratories without owners’ specific written consent. Because the USDA refused to release the names of the research facilities to which the greyhounds had been sold, it was necessary to file a lawsuit in Federal Court to obtain the names of the 10 additional laboratories that had acquired the dogs. A ruling handed down by a Washington D.C. Federal judge forced the USDA to release the names of the facilities in mid-1990. 398 of the 600 greyhounds were sold to Gore Laboratories* in Flagstaff, Arizona. The remaining dogs had been scattered throughout other research laboratories in Arizona and California.
Susan’s days were then consumed with the task of contacting greyhound owners, typing affidavits, hiring lawyers to handle lawsuits in various locations and continuing her greyhound rescue efforts. At this time, Susan was working as a volunteer for In Defense of Animals, the organization that paid attorney fees on behalf of the dog owners. Although most of the greyhounds had already been killed by the time lawsuits were filed, the suits sent a chilling message to research facilities throughout the Western United States and a warning to those greyhound owners, who cared what happened to their dogs, that they needed to make more of an effort to prevent their greyhounds from getting into the wrong hands.
The greyhound rescue alliance that had existed between Susan and Greyhound Pets of America (GPA) since 1989 came to halt with GPA’s unwillingness to officially discourage the use of spent racers for research purposes and GPA’s refusal to become involved in what they viewed as a “political issue” that was in conflict with the long-time practices of the greyhound racing industry. Although the parting-of-ways evolved without acrimony, it was a seminal moment that ultimately led Susan to the realization that there was a desperate need for an “outside voice” that was not constrained by internal political entanglements, and a need to please a power structure whose values were in direct conflict with moral and ethical issues that needed to be addressed.
Through the efforts of NGA board member, Gloria Saunders, the NGA passed a rule that greyhounds could not be sold for research purposes without owner consent. But as time would tell, it did little to stop the flow of racing greyhounds into research facilities – with or without owner consent.
Founding of the Greyhound Protection League and Greyhound Friends for Life in 1991:
The behind-the-scene view of the dog racing industry gleaned from contact with the owners of hundreds of research greyhounds throughout the country was an illuminating experience that would not be forgotten. A few dog owners demonstrated genuine concern, many had horror stories about terrible things that had happened to other dogs they had owned, but some didn’t even know or care where their greyhounds were. Other owners were angry that someone beside themselves had profited from the sale of their property, many did not keep any records on their dogs and didn’t remember them. A disturbing number of owners didn’t care what happened to their dogs as long as they didn’t have to feed them once they were no longer earning money.
It became clear that a blatant disregard for racing dogs was the prevailing attitude held by a majority of dog owners throughout the country. These disturbing insights along with the deplorable condition of the rescued race dogs could not be dismissed. It was clear to Susan that significant change and justice for racing greyhounds would never become a reality without the existence of a strong national advocacy voice that could not be silenced or intimidated into acceptance of the status quo. This conviction was the cornerstone of the Greyhound Protection League when it was founded in 1991 and continues to be the League’s guiding principle some fifteen years later.
With a small but determined cadre of volunteers, Susan also founded Greyhound Friends for Life in 1991, a Northern California greyhound rescue group that is openly opposed to greyhound racing. The group rescued greyhounds from California breeders, shelters, Arizona breeders and took in survivors of some of Arizona’s most infamous abuse cases.
With every group of greyhounds that made their way to San Francisco, the group had to spend hours de-ticking the dogs. What they didn’t know initially was that the ticks were lethal to the dog’s health. As greyhound after greyhound became ill with a confusing pattern of symptoms, numerous veterinary clinics, including UC Davis were consulted. In the early 1990’s, no one had any answers. Calls were made to rescuers in other parts of the country . . . nothing. In 1992 the group connected with someone in Tucson who had also been struggling with sick greyhounds. With the help of Tucson veterinarians and consults with specialists on the east coast, tick diseases and a southwestern fungal disease, commonly known as Valley Fever, were identified as the causes. GFFL developed a protocol for all incoming greyhounds. Since 1992 no greyhound has been adopted out through GFFL that hasn’t been tested and, if need be, treated for Ehrlicia, Rocky Mt. Spotted Fever, Babesia and Valley Fever. Many other greyhound rescue groups in country were grateful for the information and established a similar protocol. But to this day, Susan fields calls from dog owners throughout the country with desperately sick dogs whose vets can’t figure out what the problem is.
When Susan took on a volunteer position as a board member of the Palo Alto Humane Society in 1992, the Greyhound Protection League (GPL), Greyhound Friends for Life (GFFL) and the National Greyhound Adoption Network (a national toll-free adoption referral service, 1.800.4.HOUNDS) were provided supportive funding and incorporated as non-profit programs of the Humane Society. GFFL adoption efforts continued to expand as volunteers and foster facilities joined the cause and more and more people in the Bay Area discovered the delights of living with a rescued racer.
1994 brought one more go-round with Arizona dog dealer, Greg Ludlow. Ludlow changed the name of his business and obtained another USDA license to sell dogs to research facilities. The greyhounds were obtained without owner consent. This time advocates caught up with him at Arizona State University the VA Hospital in Tucson and the University of Arizona. With the help of Joan Eidinger, who founded Greyhound Network News in 1992, and an Arizona attorney, some live greyhounds were released from the University and sent to GFFL for adoption.
For decades the racing industry had operated with free rein in an insular, secretive world that was by protected by a code of silence and unfettered by outside interference. Once the Greyhound Protection League was established, courageous, caring individuals from within the industry came forward to share their knowledge and insights with the League. These resources opened up a Pandora’s box of information that proved lethal to the dog racing industry. Throughout the early 1990’s the Greyhound Protection League continued to garner acceptance as the only national organization that could provide accurate data related to the plight of the greyhound and the inner workings of the dog racing industry. Volunteers emerged from all corners of the country. These volunteers were actively involved in hands-on greyhound rescue efforts, but were frustrated and dismayed that they were often forced into silence by the politics of greyhound adoption.
As one ghastly abuse story after another went public, the national press which had ignored the killing and abuse of greyhounds for decades became fully engaged in exposing the controversies that plagued the dog racing industry. The Greyhound Protection League provided background information, commentary and insider contacts used in the production of several major television pieces, including the renowned National Geographic program, “Running for Their Lives.” National magazines and major newspapers followed suit with exposes on the mistreatment of greyhounds and the desperate need to find homes for these gentle, deserving creatures.
By the mid 1990’s, it was common public knowledge that the racing industry was routinely killing tens of thousands of greyhounds every year. The plight of the racing greyhound was no longer a dirty little secret known only to dog racing insiders. The public was outraged. Racing greyhounds no longer suffered and died in silence and indifference: their time had come.
The impact of the press coverage was extraordinary. Greyhound adoption groups sprung up throughout the country and greyhound rescue stories dominated the news in one city after another. Suddenly, there were millions of caring people knowledgeable about the plight of racing greyhounds.
By 1995 the dog racing industry was drowning in a sea of bad publicity. With the public flocking to gambling options that offered faster action and gaming devices that didn’t exploit animals, tracks closed, breeding operations folded and pari-mutuel handles throughout the country slipped to all-time lows. The adoption of spent racing dogs was the only good press out there . . . and even that was a double-edged sword that more often than not inflicted deep cuts into the integrity of the dog racing industry. To make things worse, the majority of greyhounds were rescued by adoption groups that had an abiding dislike – either spoken or unspoken – of the racing industry.
Clearly, it was time for the industry to spend a little money on an “image makeover.” Even that didn’t prove to be an easy task. One nationally renowned PR firm had rejected their money on the grounds that the industry was over-run with recalcitrant members who demonstrated little or no willingness to change their ways. As time went on, they finally landed on the perfect match: Kelly Media Counsel, Inc., a Minnesota based PR firm that is a master at shamelessly defending clients involved in even most gratuitously cruel practices of the animal-use industry. Almost overnight nearly every dog track had an industry-funded adoption program – at least on paper. It did not matter that many of the programs were for all intents and purposes bogus or that they adopted out only a hand full of their hundreds of “grade offs” a year. It was an excellent public relations ploy for those who didn’t know enough to look behind the façade.
The firm scripted canned phrases to be used in press interviews, counseled the industry to label their detractors as “wackos” who were opposed to any form of animal use and paint them as “extremist animal rights activists” who were aligned with terrorist organizations. Most importantly, they were advised to get a stranglehold on adoption groups by letting it be known through the grapevine that they would not be able to get greyhounds if they uttered a word against the racing industry or even referenced the dread “rescue” word. The meaningless phrase, “neutrality”, became the order of the day and the industry doled out money to any group willing to keep their volunteers muzzled and ill informed.
The industry’s adoption group was an easy mark. They were already in lockstep with the industry, an arrangement that has only escalated over time. (Today, we see joint press releases and not a ray of light between them. There is no longer even a pretense of neutrality which had been the on-going motto, because the group’s vehement defense of the industry is, in reality, a justification of the choices group leaders willingly adopted.)
Sadly, many other rescue groups fell in line simply out of fear and concern for the dogs. (A stance which is fully understandable for those groups who work in racing states, but difficult to comprehend elsewhere.) Fortunately, Greyhound Friends for Life and several dozen other adoption groups held the line in a world where the abuse and killing of racing greyhounds was still an ugly reality.
Formation of the Greyhound Welfare Foundation in 1995:
To be continued………………………..
*Several years later, the head of Gore Laboratories, became a member of the NGA, purchased large numbers of greyhounds directly from breeders and processed owner transfer slips on his newly acquired research greyhounds through the NGA office.
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