Greyhound racing isn’t exactly known for being a cruelty-free sport. Between 2008 and 2015, nearly 12,000 greyhound dogs were reported injured from racing in the U.S. — worse, more than half of the country’s dog tracks are in Florida, and Florida doesn’t legally require that greyhound racing injuries be reported.
Florida does, however, periodically test dogs for performance-enhancing drugs. And periodically, they find cocaine.
It might sound weird, but despite remaining an infrequent occurrence in the sport, greyhound cocaine scandals do happen. The most recent unfolded in Jacksonville in 2017, when a dozen greyhounds tested positive for cocaine on 18 separate occasions over a four-month period. Per the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, 81 dogs tested positive for prohibited drugs in the state from 2016 to 2017. Across the U.S., there were 71 reported incidents of greyhounds testing positive for cocaine between 2007 and 2017.
This might seem to represent just a small fraction of the 80,000 greyhounds that entered the industry over that time, but Carey Theil, executive director of greyhound welfare advocacy group GREY2K USA, believes that the actual number of dogs fed illegal drugs over a year might be much greater. “Only a small percentage of dogs get tested, so I think it’s fair to say more dogs have raced with cocaine in their system,” he says.
Theil does note that it’s possible that a portion of the dogs are accidentally consuming cocaine left out by owners and trainers, or that they’re metabolizing it when humans smoke cocaine near them. Certainly, the pro-racing National Greyhound Association insists that it’s not actually that much of a problem: “While there have been greyhounds that have tested positive for cocaine (or derivatives thereof) in their system, they have been relatively few and far between,” says Jim Gartland, the executive director. “The most recent being in Jacksonville a couple years ago. Those also ended up being thrown out in court due to faulty testing procedures and the parties involved exonerated.”
Nevertheless, greyhound racing is actively being phased out of Florida. Following the passage of an amendment in 2018 that passed with 69 percent of the vote, racing will cease in the state by the end of 2020. This is a big deal: As I mentioned earlier, more than half of the country’s racetracks are in Florida, and only five other states still allow the sport — Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Texas and West Virginia. Naturally, this thankfully means fewer dogs on coke.
The important question here, of course, is why exactly are the dogs given cocaine? Theil says, “It’s unclear.” It’s certainly possible that the drug does indeed give an enhancement to speed and performance, but it’s difficult to tell, at least in terms of individual races. “The difference between a dog coming in first and last can come down to a fraction of a second,” Theil says. In the Jacksonville case, one of the dogs most frequently found with cocaine in her system had recently won several races, despite being old for a greyhound racer at four years old, so anecdotally at least, it seems to work, but there’s simply no way to know for sure without more data.
While no racing greyhounds are reported to have died from cocaine overdoses, it’s still potentially dangerous to give such a drug to a dog. According to Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer at the American Kennel Club, any drug or medication not intended for dogs can cause problems. “Drugs can cause changes in heart rates and rhythm, respiratory rates, blood pressure, effects on the brain and neurologic system from dullness and coma to hyperactivity, tremors and seizures, as well as affecting core body temperatures,” says Klein.
Unfortunately, such issues only represent a small fraction of the abuses these dogs can experience. Broken limbs, paralysis, head injuries and electrocution (from electrified fences) aren’t uncommon injuries on the track, many of which can lead to a dog being put down. Per the Humane Society, more than 30 greyhound cruelty and neglect cases have been documented since 2008: “These cases occurred in all six states with active dog tracks, as well as in former racing states. These cases include physical abuse, parasitic infestations, starvation and failing to provide veterinary care.” Because racing greyhounds are often kept in kennels with other dogs, these cases typically pertain to multiple animals. In one particularly horrific 2010 case in Florida, for example, 32 emaciated racing greyhounds were found dead at a kennel owned by a trainer. Only five were still alive.
In a report from the ASPCA, 909 racing dogs died between 2008 and 2015 of racing-related causes. However, as the website states, “The true number of deaths is likely higher as there are no verifiable statistics on the ultimate fate of greyhounds who survive racing but are disposed of each year when injured or no longer competitive.”
Because of the lack of tracking of racing greyhounds following the end of the career, it’s difficult to say what exactly happens to the dogs when they no longer race. “I believe most greyhounds are being adopted today instead of being destroyed, particularly because the industry has declined so much. It’s very likely the percentage of dogs being adopted today is higher than ever before,” says Theil. “But dogs are still being destroyed. Serious injuries and death on the track aren’t going away until this ends.”
Fortunately, as Florida indicates, the sport is on the way out in this country — Theil hopes that West Virginia will vote to end racing sometime next year, while Arkansas only has one active track, which will close at the end of 2022. Until then, though, dogs will likely still be harmed in the name of gambling –– cocaine dosing included.