Day At The Track

Once Greyhound Racing is banned !

05:25 PM 02 Dec 2008 NZDT
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Chris E. Wittstruck Esq.
Chris E. Wittstruck Esq.
John Sannucci Photo

How easy is it for harness racing to be prohibited in your state? Easier than you think. On November 4, over the course of just 13 hours, a sports and business institution spanning a period of over seven decades was shattered by a state's electorate.

By a vote of roughly 56% to 44% Massachusetts citizens decided to endorse Ballot Question 3, ironically named the "Massachusetts Greyhound Protection Act." According to the approved proposition, commercial dog racing must come to an end in the Bay State by January 1, 2010. This means that over the course of 2009 two venerable greyhound tracks will be shuttered forever. Raynham Park, constructed in 1940, holds the record for the largest annual handle at any canine track. Since 1935, Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere has featured more All-American greyhounds than any other track in the country. 35 All-American recipients have competed at the oval, including 18 Derby Champions.

The state's voters defeated a similar initiative in 2000. Later in this decade, the proponents tried to enhance their chances of passage, tying the racing ban referendum with language involving criminal penalties for dog fighting. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts wisely threw that one off the ballot. In late 2008, a period during which the word "change" became for several and varied reasons the most referenced political term in America, the third time proved the charm for the anti-racing groups. While the over 1,000 jobs and millions in tax revenue that will be lost are soon to translate into further harsh realties for Massachusetts' dismal economy, saying goodbye to greyhound racing might not evoke much emotion among those who prefer horses to dogs. Well, if you love to watch horses compete in speed contests, the threat posed by the success of Ballot Question 3 should resonate loud and clear. We're next, and if you don't believe it, just peruse some of the comments posted on the website of The Boston Globe [1] in the hour after the official results were announced:

Horse racing should be the next to go.
Horse racing is next, its time to realize animal cruelty as a malody of the 20th century that has no place in a civilized society.
As someone who voted on behalf of the dogs, I also support eliminating horse racing. Maybe that can be done in the next election?????
Finally we are giving some voice to animals!! Eliminating horse racing should definitely be the next priority.

ho is behind the animal racing ban movement? What are their aguments? What are their ultimate goals? Simply, these are folks, some assuredly well meaning, that feel anything more than casual human contact with animals is somehow intrisicly evil. Consider this statement on GoVeg.com, a website maintained by PETA, the self-styled People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals group:

"Let's face it: If you're eating a turkey, that's a corpse you've got there on the table, and if you don't eat it quickly enough, it will decompose. Is that really what we want as the centerpiece of a holiday meal: an animal's dead and decaying carcass? Thanksgiving is a time to take stock of our lives and give thanks for all that we have, so why not let the turkeys give thanks too?" [2]

t is pronouncements like this that render the other actions of groups that purport to champion animal ethics somewhat disingenuous. Consider the heavily funded and similarly successful California Proposition 2. Last month, the electorate of the state was persuaded to override the longstanding position of its legislature and prohibit certain confinement conditions of calves, hens and pregnant sows. Allegedly put forth to prevent stress to animals raised for human consumption, the measure was passed despite the concerns of many that the measure would actually increase the risks of disease and injury to the animals, as well as drive up the cost eggs, veal and bacon. Thus, was the true push behind this to help animals destined for supermarkets live better, or simply to dissuade people from eating animals and animal products altogether? Consider that if there is no dog racing, there is little reason to raise greyhounds. This dovetails nicely with one of PETA's mantras: "No matter how you do the math, buying an animal from a breeder adds up to killing a homeless animal in an animal shelter." [3] There appears to be an ulterior motive present in all of these supposed animal "welfare" drives: The demand for animal "rights."

The welfare vs. rights argument is no better portrayed than in PETA's campaign to stop the use of horse-drawn carriages. Their current website depicts a nude actress straddled atop an artificial horse with the tagline, "Horse-Drawn Carriages are Cruel." Reread that. The overtly provocative advertising piece does not suggest that things can be made better, or conditions improved for horses. Simply, the demand is that the activity must be terminated, period. The actress goes on to decry the practice, stating, "They go from this horrible trotting job, where they're pulling people through the streets of Manhattan, to this tiny jail cell in this building on like the ninth floor-and it's horrible," [4] There is, of course, no mention that the carriage industry is heavily regulated by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs and is constantly under the watchful eye of the ASPCA and others. No objectivity, no solutions offered, no compromise; just the demand: "The only way to end this cruelty is to ban it permanently and give these horses the freedom they deserve." [5] Freedom to what, you say? Let PETA tell you: "Horses used in the horse-drawn carriage industry are deprived of everything that is natural and important to them. These gentle, social animals are denied the opportunity to socialize with other horses, graze in fields, and run free." [6] It's not hard to see where this is all going.

In sum, no matter how much the racing industry provides to enhance a horse's welfare, we will never satisfy the concerns of fringe groups who feel that the animal has the right to roam free in an environment unfettered from all but the most basic human interaction, and can certainly not have this right infringed by even the slightest degree of commercial activity. PETA tersely claims, "Animals Are Not Ours to Use for Entertainment." [7] On this score, they blatantly add:

"Instead of being treated like furniture that is loaded and unloaded into trucks and storage areas, these animals should be in their natural habitat, exploring, seeking mates, and raising families. Animals held captive in circuses, rodeos, zoos, and other entertainment venues need you to speak out for them. Teach your community why, for animals' sake, they should go for a hike or take in a baseball game instead of supporting these unkind businesses." [8]

t is undeniable that the Standardbred racing industry has been an extremely proactive leader in the fight for equine welfare. Consider our participation in securing a steroid ban; our financial commitment to groups like the Racing and Medication Testing Consortium; the work of countless individuals who intently care for their own commercially useless horses and in many cases those of others; the donation of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Standardbred industry to adoption groups from coast to coast; our pledge to improve the genetic diversity and health of our breed by mandating the gradual limitation on stud books; our educational outreach programs to the next generation of owners through the Harness Horse Youth Foundation and others. Later this month, the American Association of Equine Practitioners will award their outstanding service in equine welfare award to none other than our industry's own Hanover Shoe Farms. The cause of animal welfare is clearly advanced by Harness Racing. Do groups like PETA divert one thin dime of their millions in donated money to buy a bale of hay or take in so much as a single stray cat?

What does this all mean to the animal rights zealots? Absolutely nothing. For example, while the group in the forefront of the Massachusetts dog racing ban, Grey2K USA, was heavy on rhetoric concerning "rescue," it conveniently failed to mention that the overwhelming amount of greyhounds are adopted or returned to their original owners when their racing careers are over. For many of these animal rights clusters, truth and logic are irrelevant. Until dogs are given the right to vote and pay taxes, their cause is not won.

Why then are these folks on the periphery so successful, especially of late? The reasons aren't unique: Heavily funded propaganda, misinformation, high profile demonstrations, and overtly sexual innuendo [9] all make their molehills into mountains. As some of the horrors of the 20th Century have confirmed, when something is repeated often enough in relatively unchallenged fashion, it often becomes a substitute for the truth. These groups are very good because they know how to get their message out, the veracity of their facts and statistics notwithstanding. Moreover, their causes are helped by the penchant of mainstream media to cover in inordinate measure that which is crude, salacious or graphic. For every instance where the media depicts a bad event there are countless instances of non-newsworthy good outcomes that will never be covered. A picture of an emaciated greyhound taken in undisclosed circumstances, and not one of the many thousands of healthy pups residing at kennel clubs or lounging on the couches of adoptive parents across the country, is what you are going to see on your evening news or documentary channel.

We were privileged this year to witness the grace and magnificence of the only previously undefeated horse to win the Hambletonian. Regrettably, we were also forced to endure the heartbreak of a courageous filly breaking down while galloping out of the Kentucky Derby. Catastrophic breakdowns are rare in any form of horse racing, and the resulting necropsy disclosed no ingestion of drugs, structural abnormality, or illness. Horses, like human athletes in all sports, take bad steps. Using a popular search engine, I put in the term "Deweycheatumnhowe," and I came up with approximately 2,570 hits, with most being links to industry websites. An "Eight Belles" search produced 33,000 results. I never saw much of Dewey in the news, but PETA made lots of New York T.V. newscasts on Belmont Stakes Day, surrounding the track's fence with members holding signs depicting the downed filly reading, "Eight Belles: Raced To Death." Objectivity would have to wait for another day. Rest assured, these folks know what they are doing. Be ready!

Take a look at the portion of the Grey2K USA website which details the decline of interest in dog racing and the sport's alleged reliance on alternative gaming. [10] Sound awfully familiar? It should. Sooner or later, these same types of folks are coming to a harness track near you. There is no way to appease them. Simply, they want you to open your stall doors and let all your horses roam free. Anything short of this will be considered a perpetuation of your supposed mistreatment of these animals through confinement, brutality and fostering of their social maladjustment. Sound ludicrous, like a bad horror flick? Well, then tell somebody! Don't permit an uninformed electorate in your state to take this sheer nonsense as having any veracity whatsoever.

Sadly, the mainstream knows nothing about who we are, what we accomplish and how much we love and revere our steeds. Be aware of the fact that 21st Century urban and suburban America is generations removed from the time when people were routinely exposed to animals as commodities and modes of transportation, not simply just as pets. If you allow those who know nothing of our care and concern for animals be the chief disseminators of information regarding the sport, there should be no surprise when "Proposition Ban This or That" makes it onto your state's ballot. If you can't persuade your friends and neighbors to come out with you for a night at the races, at least explain to them how well your horses are cared for, how bucolic your area's breeding and training centers are, and how much pari-mutuel racing means to your state's overall economy in general, and to the thousands of hardworking folks in your community who toil at various levels of the industry in particular. For the umpteenth time, the simplest, most cost-effective answer to a problem in our sport is staring at you in a mirror.

Now, go pet your dog; but no matter how much he begs, please don't give him the car keys!

Chris E. Wittstruck, an attorney and Standardbred owner, is the founder and coordinator of the Racehorse Ownership Institute at ‘ University, New York and a charter member of the Albany Law School Racing and Gaming Law Network.

[1] Compiled from comments of November 4, 2008 to "Mass. voters approve dog racing ban." The Boston Globe online; last read November 23, 2008 at: http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2008/11/question_3_setu.html

[2] "Top 10 Reasons Not to Eat Turkeys." Last read online November 23, 2008 at: http://www.goveg.com/f-top10turkeys.asp

[3] "Buy One, Get One Killed." Last read online November 23, 2008 at: http://www.peta.org/feat/abc/video1.asp

[4] "Kristen Johnston Poses Nude in PETA's Latest Ad Against Horse-Drawn Carriages." Last read online November 23, 2008

[5] "The Cruelty of Horse-Drawn Carriages." Last read online November 23, 2008

[6] Ibid. at footnote 4

[7] Home page of PETA.org, last read online November 23, 2008

[8] "Animals Used For Entertainment," last read online November 23, 2008 at: http://www.peta.org/actioncenter/entertainment.asp

[9] In addition to its takeoff on Lady Godiva in the carriage ban advertisement, PETA maintains a "Running With The Nudes" campaign to end bullfighting and also a website entitled "Lettuce Ladies," complete with videos of "Tofu Ladies Wrestling" and vegetarians engaging in public displays of simulated sex acts. These disgusting displays are not linked here. Just this past month, a 22-year-old PETA intern posed in Shreveport, Louisiana in a cage wearing bikini bottoms, pasties, tiger paint and nothing else to protest a circus opening. Apparently, PETA is not at all concerned with videos and stunts that debase women in its quest to achieve goals.

[10] http://www.grey2kusa.org/racing/economics.html

By Chris E. Wittstruck, Esq.

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