It's About the DOGS, Stupid

Updated: Jun 15, 2018

by John Parker -


Political strategist James Carville is credited by some political commentators with creating the theme which won Bill Clinton the presidency in 1992 when Carville famously wrote “It’s the Economy, Stupid” on a dry erase board at campaign headquarters. The phrase became the central theme of the Clinton campaign, which won the 1992 election against all odds, beating an incumbent President who a year before had enjoyed a 90% approval rating. The phrase has become the historical reference point for the critical importance of creating a simple, central message theme which focuses on the issue of overriding importance to voters, and then staying on that message without fail throughout a campaign.

So it is with Florida’s proposed constitutional Amendment 13, a stand-alone, unbundled amendment proposal that will, if passed, ban wagering on Greyhound racing in Florida and effectively end professional Greyhound racing in the state. The issue has now passed beyond the politicians and has become a matter on which Florida voters will vote their hearts and minds in November. The anti-racing forces, led by GREY2K, have made -- and thus far won on – their central theme that Greyhound racing is cruel and inhumane to the Greyhounds which are at the center of professional racing. It is, therefore, that theme – and that theme only -- which must be countered with facts and logic by those who support the continuation of Greyhound racing. America is a nation of dog lovers. The vote in November will be about THE DOGS and their welfare, and nothing else. To fail to grasp that, or to be led off on tangents having little or nothing to do with the Greyhounds, will lose the vote for Greyhound racing in November.

Greyhound racing’s message must be clear, simple and singular: Greyhound racing is NOT cruel and inhumane to the DOGS. Every message about racing, every argument in its favor, must focus on that central theme. These facts must be hammered home at every opportunity:

(1) Only dogs which are happy, healthy and well cared for can excel at athletics.

(2) Racing Greyhounds are working dogs, and like most working dogs they live different, more structured, and often more fulfilled lives than do pet dogs.

(3) Racing Greyhounds enjoy the best of both worlds -- they get to enjoy the satisfaction and fulfillment of doing what their DNA and their instincts urge them to do – run and chase in competition – and then they get to spend over half of their lives as pets, after their racing careers are concluded.

(4) Greyhounds enjoy and get excited about racing, as is readily apparent from their demeanor and their body language when they see the signs that they’re going to the track – leashes and muzzles being picked up by the trainer, going to the hauler for the short trip to the weigh-in area, and tails wagging when being retrieved after the end of the race are just a few examples.

(5) The pet dog community has discovered that racing Greyhounds make lovely, biddable companions, and racing Greyhounds are in high demand as pets. They aren’t desirable pets by happenstance, but by virtue of the way they’re reared and socialized as puppies and then handled every day as adult racers in the racing kennel.

(6) A quick look at any Greyhound discussion forum on social media will reveal that large numbers of Greyhound adoption volunteers support the continuation of Greyhound racing without having any financial interest in racing. These are people who have devoted large parts of their lives to Greyhound welfare and who know animal cruelty when they see it. They’ve reached the conclusion from their own investigation that Greyhound racing isn’t cruel to the Greyhounds.

(7) In an age of increasing awareness of the health problems of many purebred dog breeds due to the breeding practices of some hobby breeders, racing Greyhounds are robustly healthy and genetically diverse because they’re bred for function rather than looks. For this reason, ending professional Greyhound racing would do harm to the Greyhound breed.

(8) In states where racing injury statistics are kept by more than one track, those statistics reveal that when compared to the total racing opportunities, the incidence of any injury to a Greyhound, from slight to severe, is less than 1% of all those racing opportunities.

There are other facts that can and should be added to the list of reasons that Greyhound racing is not cruel and inhumane to the DOGS.

While understanding that the November vote will be about the DOGS is critical to saving Florida Greyhound racing, understanding what that vote will NOT be about is equally crucial. First, the November vote won’t be about racing people’s jobs and businesses. Sorry racing folks, but it just won’t. Florida voters won’t care about your jobs or businesses if they believe that those jobs or businesses involve mistreating dogs. Greyhound people who lived in Massachusetts when the referendum on Greyhound racing occurred there report in overwhelming numbers that the “save our jobs” economic argument didn’t persuade the voters. The same arguments made in Florida in the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) town hall meetings and in various communications with commissioners clearly didn’t resonate with them.

Second, the November vote won’t be about GREY2K (and their two geeks from Massachusetts), PETA or HSUS. They’re the groups we all love to hate and excoriate, but Florida voters don’t care whether they’re virtuous or venal – their only relevance to voters is whether their claim – and central message -- that Greyhound racing is cruel and inhumane is true or false. The November vote isn’t about whether GREY2K is hypocritical, or whether Christine Dorchak lied about her train accident, how much money GREY2K doesn’t give to Greyhound adoption efforts, or even whether they’re “out of state activists.” The November vote isn’t about whether PETA wants us to be dispossessed of our pets or whether the shamed and ousted CEO of HSUS was a sexual harasser. Those are all people issues, and the vote on Amendment 13 is about the DOGS.

Third, the November vote on Amendment 13 isn’t about state politicians, state constitutional tidiness or whether an amendment which is put before the public on an issue of alleged animal cruelty belongs in a state constitution. While the bundling/logrolling of some disparate proposed amendments may have an effect on how the votes on those proposals go, Amendment 13 will stand alone and will be easy enough for voters to find and vote on if they’re moved to do so by concern for the DOGS.

This is why the Florida Greyhound Association’s (FGA’s) announced (but still shrouded in secrecy) plan to throw thousands more dollars down the lobbyists/lawyers/litigation rathole – rather than spend it on a public image-and-media strategy -- is so profoundly ill-advised. When the lawsuit – vaguely described by the FGA’s lobbyist as being based on the fact that politician commissioners in favor of Amendment 13 lied about Greyhound racing during CRC floor debate on the proposal – is invariably lost, the anti-racing forces will beat racing over the head with it, arguing that the FGA tried to keep the people from voting on Greyhound racing with half-baked litigation, sending racing’s public image further into the cellar. Longshot litigation, even in the unlikely event that it succeeds in the short term, will not save Greyhound racing in the longterm.

To win the November vote, Greyhound racing must put actions to words and put forward an effective and well- coordinated single message that professional racing is not cruel and inhumane. The most effective way to achieve this would be for the National Greyhound Association (NGA), the FGA and all other state Greyhound associations to pool their resources and hire a media-savvy, articulate and knowledgeable spokesperson/message leader to make Greyhound racing’s case and advance its central theme, in Florida for 2018 and all other racing states thereafter and going forward. To appeal to the widest demographic, this person in my view should be youngish, professionally attractive, probably female, and with the ability to make racing’s case in a kindly, patient manner – like someone who loves dogs would.

Here are some things this person could do to get racing’s positive central theme before the public between now and November:

(1) Get on local television morning shows, with an active racer or two and perhaps with a trainer or Greyhound adoption volunteer who supports the continuation of Greyhound racing.

(2) Begin an initiative to get some of the top performing Florida racers featured in various media as canine sports heroes, with amusing stories about what the dogs like to do in the racing kennel, funny quirks or habits that they may have, etc. Encourage local television sportscasters to do sports segment pieces on them on their morning or evening sportscasts. In short, make the Greyhounds’ names household names, as horse racing has managed to do with its Thoroughbred stars.

(3) Coordinate a public “Visit the Racing Compound” program whereby tracks open their kennel compounds on selected days for visits and tours by the public to see for themselves how racing Greyhounds live. Work with trainers on effective speaking to the public and how to make a favorable personal impression. Work with track management and kennel operators to make sure that the track grounds and kennel compound present a neat and well-maintained appearance as a place where dogs are well cared for. Coordinate these invitations with special incentives to attract people who’ve never been to a Greyhound track to come out for an afternoon or evening to watch the races.

(4) Get the high achievers among Florida racing Greyhounds – particularly the stakes winners -- out to meet the public, at civic club meetings, professional sports events, and any other events at which there might be some media presence, to let the public meet the Greyhounds and see for themselves what happy and well cared-for dogs they are.

(5) Challenge Theil, Dorchak or any of the HSUS representatives to a public, preferably televised, debate, wherein they can be challenged on their claims and forced to respond to some of racing’s unanswerable arguments ( adoption volunteers who support racing, their Plan B for the breed, etc.) and won’t be able to control the conversation or present an unrebutted argument. If they decline the opportunity to debate, knock them over the head with the refusal and make the point that the anti-racing argument can’t withstand close scrutiny in the free marketplace of ideas.

The above items are just a few things a media savvy spokesperson/central message leader could do in the short term; there are no doubt many other similar initiatives that could be advanced.

A recent e-mail sent by the NGA to all of its e-mail list recipients, signed by FGA lobbyist Jack Cory, characterized the recent Florida CRC vote to send Amendment 13 to the public ballot as just one “inning” in the “Ball Game.” This is illustrative of the incredibly Flat Earth, delusional thinking that has characterized what serves as the FGA’s get-by-one-more-year-by-the-skin-of-our-teeth “strategy” – if such can be accurately called a “strategy.” To continue the baseball analogy, with the fate of Florida Greyhound racing being decided by the public in November, Florida racing – and possibly all of American professional Greyhound racing -- sits at the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs, a man at bat, and one run behind. It’s time for Florida racing in particular and American racing in general to make some bold moves and swing for the fences, with initiatives that will persuade the public that racing can and will reform itself and will “put its money where its mouth is” with respect to Greyhound welfare. To that end, the NGA, in cooperation with the FGA and all other state Greyhound associations, should issue a policy statement similar to the Greyhound Commitment recently put forward by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (and found here: http://www.gbgb.org.uk/The%20Greyhound%20Commitment.aspx) which contains the following initiatives:

(1) Effective immediately, the NGA and state associations prohibit any member from euthanizing any adoptable racing Greyhound.

(2) Effective immediately, the expense of all veterinary treatment necessary for the proper repair and rehabilitation of any racing injury sustained by a Greyhound (except for a catastrophic injury incapable of repair) will be paid for by the registered owner of record of the Greyhound. Henceforth, professional Greyhound racing will follow the practice of owners in amateur Greyhound sports that “if you can’t afford to fix ‘em, don’t run ‘em.”

(3) Beginning in 2019, the registered owner of record will pay at least 50 % of the total costs associated with rehoming his Greyhound, net of the adoption fee paid by the adopter, to the rehoming adoption group. This minimum percentage of rehoming costs will increase by 10 percentage points each calendar year until it reaches 100% of rehoming costs.

(4) Beginning in 2019, the NGA will require its members to file with the NGA a “Withdrawal From Racing” report for each Greyhound owned upon the dog’s permanent withdrawal from racing, similar to the form found here: http://www.gbgb.org.uk/uploads/pdf/GBGB%20Retirement%20Form%20June%2014.pdf This reporting requirement will result in the transparent availability of verifiable numbers which can establish the percentage of racing Greyhounds being rehomed each year through adoption groups, private placements by owners, owner retentions as personal pets, and retention for breeding.

(5) Beginning in 2019, the NGA and all state associations will demand of tracks, on behalf of their members, that all tracks run 6 (or less)-Greyhound races, with “outside seeding” of wide runners, drawing those wide runners in the outside post positions. These two measures will reduce the frequency of collisions and falls and the contact injuries that may result from them.

* * *

If the recent Florida campaign for and against Amendment 13 teaches us nothing else, it teaches us that in order to survive and thrive, American Greyhound racing must reform itself and make its business and its sport more about the DOGS, both internally and externally to the public at large. And there’s nothing stupid about that.

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