No Dire Emergency for Florida's Racing Greyhounds, Officials Say, as Rescues Fight to Help Them
A decades-long legislative battle finally played out in Florida's November elections, when 69 percent of the state's voters chose to end commercial greyhound racing in a ban that takes effect Dec. 31, 2020. Amendment 13 ultimately will shut down 11 of the nation's 17 currently active dog tracks, while others remain in Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Texas and West Virginia.
But the vote has created new tension between those who supported the ban and those who opposed it. That battle is centered on what's in store for Florida's retiring racing greyhounds and who will help get the dogs vetted, transported and adopted.
"That's what's at the top of everyone's minds," Kate MacFall, Florida State Director for the Humane Society of the United States, who co-chaired the Yes on 13 Campaign, tells PEOPLE. She and others who supported the ban have decried the dog racing industry's stance on limiting access to adoptable greyhounds to organizations that opposed Amendment 13.
"We think we're, in some way, all on the same page now in terms of doing the right thing for the dogs," MacFall says. "Hopefully, [those who opposed Amendment 13] will accept help from some of the groups they banned."
But that stance has been misconstrued as a matter of spite, says John Parker, Vice President of Greyhound Adopters for Racing (GAR).
"It's not quite as organized as this blacklist talk," Parker tells PEOPLE, explaining that 102 organizations were identified as potential adoption partners via a call for groups that urged a no-vote on Amendment 13 to post to the GAR's Facebook page. "As groups saw this, they said, ‘We're of a same mind.' And so by leaps and bounds, the number grew and at last count, it was at 102 a week before the election."
While Parker confirms that those listed likely will be the first groups asked to take adoptable greyhounds, the decision ultimately is up to the dogs' owners.
"The dogs are owned by individuals or partnerships and leased to the racing kennel," Parker explains. "Dogs are property of these people and they have the say as to what adoption groups the dogs go to for rehoming. Those people will be the ones, by and large, who determine which groups get their dogs."
Parker notes that additional racing-neutral organizations listed on the National Greyhound Association‘s approved list of responsible adoption groups may also be engaged in the effort, which will be led by Glendale, Arizona-based Greyhound Pets of America (GPA), the nation's largest non-profit greyhound adoption group. The group will model its approach after previous efforts that followed other statewide bans and track closures.
"Between those groups that are in the middle and the 102 no-vote groups, the owners are going to have a wide choice of groups that their dogs go to," Parker says. "So the anti-racing groups, which are a fairly small minority, their help won't be necessary."
Parker and others also note that by the time the ban takes effect at the close of 2020, there will be far fewer greyhounds wrapping their time on Florida's tracks, in part because seasonal tracks will already have closed. While figures from varying sources have placed the number of greyhounds currently racing or in training in the state at between 8,000 and 15,000, the industry counters that the best supported figure currently is far closer to 4,800 with another 700 or 800 gearing up for the Sarasota's seasonal track. The numbers will further dwindle over the next two years.
"Owners are whelping fewer than 7,000 dogs a year now," former greyhound trainer and outspoken racing supporter Dennis McKeon tells PEOPLE. "At the turn of the century, it was closer to 25,000."
GPA President Rory Goree agrees.
"If this had happened 10 years ago, there would be a lot more greyhounds," he says, noting that multiple legislative restrictions or bans proposed over the past decade in Florida have prompted breeders to gradually reduce their output. Not only will there be fewer new racing dogs going into the system, those currently racing likely won't be replaced as they retire or become unable to continue racing. Goree recalls the final, mid-2016 night of live racing at Tucson Greyhound Park — Arizona's last track to close before its statewide ban took effect last year.
"When they announced that they were going to close, they had a little over 500 dogs on the backside," Goree says. "The night they closed, they had 126 dogs, and within four days, we had those dogs moved out and into adoption. I will attribute that to teamwork between track management, greyhound adoption and regulatory authorities. Everyone worked together and did a fantastic job. I see no reason why that won't happen in Florida."
Goree notes that GPA plans to work with regulatory officials in Florida to assure "an accurate count of every dog and an accounting of where each dog goes."
WATCH: In Florida, Thousands of Ex-Racing Greyhounds Will Soon Need Homes
Meanwhile, foster and adoption applications are pouring into greyhound adoption organizations nationwide and insiders predict that qualified applicants likely will outnumber available dogs throughout the post-vote effort.
"There is no dire emergency. None of these dogs are in danger," says McKeon, who asserts that, despite the public contention, "Every adoption group wants to help the dogs, whether they're anti-racing activists, whether they're pro-racing or whether they're non-activists. They're all good people with the best intentions."