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Mass. Ballot Question 3 Puts Dog Racing at Risk

By Pey-Hua Hwang and

Naveen Sunkavally

STAFF REPORTERS

With both sides mounting aggressive advertising campaigns in recent months, ballot question 3, which calls for outlawing greyhound racing in Massachusetts, will come down to the wire on election day.

A central issue with greyhound racing is the perceived cruelty to the dogs. Proponents of the measure, which they call Grey2k, for Greyhound Racing Ends Year 2000, say that greyhounds live in cluttered kennels where they are abused and underfed.

“Twenty thousand greyhounds die every year in this industry because they are not fast enough to win. Greyhound racing is a dying industry that makes its money on the bask of these gentle animals .... It’s time Massachusetts residents put a stop to this abuse,” said David Vaughn, campaign director of Grey2k on the website, .

However, it is unclear whether conditions for greyhounds in Massachusetts are as bad as they are in other states. “The tracks at Massachusetts treat them a lot better than other tracks do,” said Marilyn Wolkovits, a member of Greyhound Adoption Inc. in Salsbury, Ma, which receives about 300-400 dogs a year. “I think [proponents of the bill] are barking up a wrong tree .... Most of the material they’re using isn’t from Massachusetts.”

However, she conceded that trainers do sometimes cut corners in feeding animals and that dogs do come in with broken legs.

Louise Coleman, director of Greyhound Friends, Inc., another adoption agency in Hopkinton, Ma., said that in general dogs from the Wonderland tracks and Raynham tracks in Massachusetts are well bred and in good condition.

However, Coleman described the quality of the meat dogs are feed as “lousy,” with bits of charcoal. She described the tracks in Massachusetts as very fast, which leads to dogs often breaking legs. In addition, she pointed to an incident in 1992 in which 89 dogs died in a fire at Wonderland. “They didn’t do much to change the situation” since then, Coleman said.

“It’s generally unhealthy,” she said, and the tracks, which are barely breaking even, don’t have enough resources to fix the situation.

Michael C. Muller, who is part of the public relations staff for the Massachusetts Animal Interest Council feels that greyhound racing in Massachusetts is a local issue and that those who want to ban greyhound racing are being unfair:

“If someone did something wrong in some place in some industry, should you blame the whole industry?” Muller said. He also believes that Wonderland track owner George Carney is a well respected community figure and said that the track is a “family business that has been around since the 1930’s without a documented case of abuse for the past 65 years.”

Muller said that MAIC is also working in the interests of the 1200 workers at the Raynham-Taunton tracks.

Although MAIC clearly has an interest in preserving greyhound racing, it claims to be supported by the National Greyhound Association, a group that provides information on both sides of the issue and explains current policies on greyhound racing in Massachusetts.

The National Greyhound Association has established a formal greyhound farm inspection program which is funded by the American Greyhound Council. This program is staffed by one full-time and 75 part-time inspectors who make unannounced visits to 1000 of the 2000 greyhound farms on a rotating basis every year and make sure that greyhound registration requirements are being met.

The consequences of not passing inspection include: follow-up inspections, temporary suspensions, direct intervention by the AGC, notification of state officials which could result in revocation of licenses, and in extreme cases expulsion from the NGA for life disqualifying the farm owner from racing at all greyhound tracks.

Coleman said she is expecting Question 3 to pass, and said that her adoption agency, which usually receives about 400 dogs per year, is preparing to deal with the influx of greyhounds as a result of the question passing.

Both Coleman and Wolkovitz said that the agencies place all the dogs that they receive. “I’m not going to destroy them. A lot of people are second-time, third-time owners who found out what good pets they make,” Wolkovits said.