LONGWOOD, Fla. – A greyhound trainer who provides racing dogs to the Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club has been accused of causing a greyhound to yelp in pain by jerking its leash and hitting its head on a gate, according to an administrative complaint issued by the state agency that regulates pari-mutuel racing.
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation, or DBPR, claims Katherine Lacasse violated a Florida law requiring animals that participate in races be treated humanely.
LaCasse has requested a hearing before an administrative law judge to challenge DBPR's findings, records show. If found in violation, the state could issue a fine up to $1,000 and potentially revoke her license.
"(It's) made up," Lacasse told News 6 when a reporter questioned her about the administrative complaint.
The trainer claims DBPR is retaliating against her after she challenged an unrelated administrative complaint accusing her of racing a greyhound that allegedly tested positive for a banned drug.
"When we started speaking out, we started getting targeted," Lacasse said.
The complaint against Lacasse comes as Floridians are about to decide the fate of greyhound racing in the state. A constitutional amendment was recently approved to appear on the November ballot that, if passed by at least 60 percent of voters, would outlaw gambling on live greyhound races.
State alleges inhumane treatment of greyhound
DBPR Chief Inspector Patrick Prentice claims he witnessed Lacasse walking about six dogs in the track's weigh-in area when one dog became tangled in another dog's leash.
"Katherine (Lacasse) became visibly upset at the dogs and began cursing at them," Prentice wrote in a September 2017 incident report. "At this point Katherine haphazardly lifted the entangled dog into the air while yelling, 'It's your f------ fault'."
"While jerking the dog backwards it hit the left side of its head against the clasp of the gate leading into the paddock area and let out a cry of pain," Prentice stated.
The inspector said he assessed the dog and did not see any visible injuries on the side of its head.
A greyhound racing judge who did not witness the incident claims he heard one of the greyhounds yelp as if in pain.
"I heard Ms. Lacasse curse and jerk on the leash of one of the greyhounds," Paul McGrew wrote in a statement. "I told her to stop jerking on the greyhound's leashes like that and to refrain from cursing around the customers watching weigh-in."
Neither Prentice nor McGrew could later identify the specific dog that cried, the report stated.
More than two months after the alleged incident, DBPR investigator Bryan Wall said he tried to interview Lacasse.
"She yelled that (the dog) never hit anything," Wall wrote in his report. "She then stated, 'this is all 'f------ bulls---'."
Wall claims he tried to ask Lacasse questions, but she said she was not going to talk about the incident.
"She then walked away and continued to scream and yell at the other trainers in the pickup area," Wall wrote.
Lacasse told News 6 she did not treat the greyhound inhumanely.
"It's totally false," Lacasse said. "I had a dog fall, get tripped by another dog, and I actually saved the dog because the other dogs wanted to jump on it. And I pulled the dog up by the collar because it was upside down in the middle of six other dogs."
Lacasse declined to provide further details of the incident, saying her attorney advised her not to speak about the matter.
"My client would not ever hurt one of her dogs," attorney Jennifer Rosenblum told News 6 in an email.
DBPR documented prior allegations against trainer
In its investigative report, DBPR noted that Lacasse had once been suspended from the Sanford-Orlando Kennel Club for being verbally abusive toward track employees.
"Your behavior towards our maintenance team... was unacceptable," racetrack general manager Mitch Cohen wrote in a letter to Lacasse informing her of the 3-week suspension in October 2016. "Any further incidents after the suspension is complete will result in permanent ejection from the facility and compound areas."
A state investigator also noted in the report that Lacasse had been previously accused of abusing another greyhound, but the case was closed because the credibility of witnesses was called into question.
During that 2014 incident, two of Lacasse's former coworkers accused her of being angry while kicking one greyhound and slamming another into a crate.
Lacasse told investigators she was acting in self-defense with an aggressive dog that had recently been in a fight, a report indicates.
DBPR concluded there was no evidence to suggest that the greyhound sustained any injuries resulting from Lacasse's conduct and no other injured dogs were located in the kennel, records show.
In 2011, DBPR investigated an allegation that Lacasse had grabbed the collar of a greyhound in a fit of anger and possibly choked it after the dog was disqualified from a race.
Track veterinarian Bruce Olson told a DBPR investigator that after witnessing Lacasse grab the greyhound by the collar he said to her, "That's great, Kathy, take it out on the dog."
But Olson also said the greyhound was not choked or injured by Lacasse and that her behavior did not rise to the level of animal abuse.
"At this time there is no evidence that Trainer Katherine R. Lacasse has violated Florida state statues or (pari-mutuel waging) rules," the closed 2011 report states.
DBPR did not file administrative complaints against Lacasse following any of those previous allegations.
Trainer accuses DBPR of fabricating allegations
Lacasse claims DBPR targeted her after she challenged an unrelated administrative complaint involving a greyhound that allegedly tested positive for a banned drug.
"The state testing isn't done right," Lacasse told News 6. "And we filed a complaint, we disputed a complaint against that. And suddenly more stuff popped up."
According to a November 2017 administrative complaint, a DBPR employee collected a urine sample from a greyhound that later tested positive for methocarbamol, a skeletal muscle relaxant.
DBPR has accused Lacasse of violating a state law that prohibits dogs medicated with certain drugs from participating in races.
A DBPR spokesperson did not immediately confirm whether it had received any correspondence from Lacasse challenging the drug test procedures. Records provided by the agency to News 6 do not indicate the matter has been closed.
Lacasse declined to provide additional comments about the drug-testing dispute or the recent allegation of inhumane treatment to a greyhound.
"I won't talk about it anymore because it's being handled by a lawyer," the trainer told News 6.
Lacasse's attorney provided News 6 with a copy of their request for a hearing with an administrative law judge.
In the document, Rosenblum argues that the administrative complaint should be dismissed because DBPR failed to identify the greyhound that was allegedly injured and failed to point to any administrative rule or state statute that was violated.
The attorney also noted that the administrative complaint was filed more than five months after the alleged incident occurred. Rosenblum argues that is in violation of a state law requiring such prosecutions to begin within 90 days after the violation was committed.
"It is my understanding that (DBPR) is not pursuing the complaint in question," Rosenblum told News 6.
A DBPR spokesperson would not confirm whether the agency is halting its administrative action against Lacasse as her attorney believes.
"The Department of Business and Professional Regulation does not comment on pending litigation," DBPR Director of Communications Suellen Wilkins told News 6 by email.
Trainer defends greyhound racing industry
Lacasse adamantly insists that she and nearly all other greyhound trainers love their animals and have dedicated their lives to caring for the dogs.
"We stayed in the kennels during the hurricane. I have a house. It would have been much nicer and more comfortable in my house. But we stayed with the dogs so we could take care of them," she said.
Lacasse says it frustrates her to hear people accuse the greyhound industry of harming the animals.
"We only get paid if the dogs run well," Lacasse said. "Common sense tells you we're going to take care of them. An abused dog, a starved dog, a sick dog, it’s not going to run very well and we're not going to make any money."