Time for Florida greyhound racing to hit dead end

The first thing I noticed is the barking, more like loud yelps, as I pull into the parking lot of the Sanford Orlando Kennel Club.

A handful of greyhounds are in travel trailers — the ones with the slits along the sides for circulation — parked in an adjacent lot. I don't know if the barking is a plea to get out and go racing, or whether it is simply a plea to get out and be free.

I do know that greyhound racing is an archaic tradition, a blood-sport where the scars may be invisible. It's a way for humans to get their jollies cheering for greyhounds pursuing a mechanical hare. At best, it's a cheap thrill chasing a few bucks at the betting window.

At its worst, it's animal abuse.

Greyhounds — a loving, interactive breed — are often confined for long periods and suffer injuries, neglect or even worse. A report by the Tampa Bay Times in 2014 revealed that 74 dogs died on Florida racetrack properties between May 31 and Dec. 31, 2013 — one every three days.

Overall, state records indicate that 448 dogs have died at Florida's various dog tracks since the state began tracking greyhound deaths in 2013. The causes are a smorgasbord of pain — from heat stroke to race-related injuries to unknown problems.

All of this provides a persuasive and pertinent argument cobbled together by Sen. Tom Lee, a Republican from Thonotosassa. 

He has filed Proposal 67 in Florida's Constitution Revision Commission, which would phase out commercial greyhound racing by 2020.

I'd like for it to happen tomorrow, if possible, but at least this is a reasonable end game to this "sport" that is already on rocky ground. Commercial greyhound racing is banned in 40 states, although it still has legs in Florida, home to the majority of the 18 operational tracks in the United States.

Florida has 13, including the one in Sanford. My visit on Wednesday afternoon showed an aging demographic, there for the juice of $1 quiniela and trifecta boxes, and $3 domestic beer specials.

Polls indicate that Floridians strongly support a ban, though predictably, the numbers get a little out of whack when asking questions here.

"Been here for years and years and now they want to talk crap about 'em," says a gentleman in a viewing area outside the grandstands.

The old guard and lobbyists are protective not just because of the dogs, but because tracks usually offer other forms of revenue streams, including card games and slots. Sanford does not have a poker room due to Seminole County ordinances.

Frankly, I don't care of someone loses their shirt playing penny poker. That's a victimless crime if you are opposed to gambling. But at last check, nobody is asking the dogs if they prefer to do this for a living, or hanging out in a loving home where there is no competition to survive.

Of course, the dog racing lobby paints a different picture of their industry. "Florida is home to thirteen greyhound racing facilities, the most opportunities in any state!" so says the Florida Greyhound Association on its website. "Take the time to experience the thrill of greyhounds hitting the oval, doing what they love to do. Feel the speed and passion resulting from generations of careful breeding and thousands of years of fine tuning this amazing animal athlete."

Oh, please. This is probably similar to the nonsensical spin the bullfighting gang likes to dole out, something along the lines of "bulls are amazing athletes, highly-competitive and loved to be stabbed repeatedly until they die."

Sen. Lee is onto something good, and righteous.

His amendment has already passed unanimously through two committees of the CRC. Next up will be a full vote of the commission, and if passed, onto the November ballot where the voice of the people will be heard.

Kudos to the brave matador who wants to stick a fork in greyhound dog-racing.

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