New Seminole County rules for racing greyhounds frequently broken, records show

County missing more than 100 reports required by Greyhound Protection Act

By Mike DeForest - Investigative Reporter

LONGWOOD, Fla. - Less than a year after a Seminole County ordinance began requiring racing greyhound owners and trainers to report certain information to the county about their dogs, a News 6 investigation has found that the new rules are frequently broken.

The Greyhound Protection Act, an ordinance adopted by county commissioners in 2016, requires greyhound owners and trainers to notify Seminole County Animal Services when a dog is injured during a race.

In addition, greyhound owners must document where the animals go after leaving the county’s only greyhound racetrack, the Sanford Orlando Kennel Club, or SOKC. Under the ordinance, the county must be notified when dogs are transferred to other racetracks, sold, placed for adoption, or euthanized.

Seminole County officials received 30 greyhound injury reports between May and November 2017, records obtained by News 6 show.

Reports filed with the county indicate another 330 dogs retired from racing or were transferred to other racetracks after leaving SOKC during that period.

However, News 6 found more than 100 additional greyhounds were moved to other racetracks or placed for adoption without the mandatory reports being filed with Seminole County.

At least two of those undocumented greyhounds may have been injured during races, photos and videos posted on greyhound racing websites suggest.

In addition, there are questions about the fate of nearly three dozen more greyhounds that stopped racing at SOKC between May and September but have not yet been shipped to other tracks or placed for adoption.

“I think the public has a right to know what's happening to these dogs,” said Carey Theil, co-founder of Grey2K USA, an organization trying to end greyhound racing.  

“It shows a lack of respect for Seminole County voters,” Theil said. “They're just thumbing their nose at the county and saying, 'We don't care about these local laws.  We don't have to follow them.’”

Using online records designed to help gamblers bet on greyhound races, researchers with Grey2K USA recently discovered many disposition records had not been filed with Seminole County as required by the ordinance.

News 6 independently verified that Seminole County has not received a significant number of those mandatory reports.

“It’s one thing to have a few dogs slip through the cracks,” Theil said. “But when you have dozens and dozens and dozens of dogs (with missing paperwork), that’s really shocking."

The Florida Greyhound Association, which represents racing dog owners and kennel operators, indicated many of the greyhound reports may not have been filed because two Seminole County kennels recently went out of business.

The trade group also indicated there might be a problem with how the paperwork is collected at SOKC and then submitted to the county monthly.
    
“The Florida Greyhound Association expects its members to fully comply with the law and has a zero-tolerance policy for anyone that harms a racing greyhound,” said the group’s attorney, Jeff Kottkamp, a former lieutenant governor.

Greyhound Protection Act

Whenever a racing greyhound dies at a track, dog owners are required by Florida law to report the death to the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Attempts to create a similar law requiring injury reporting have repeatedly failed in the state Legislature.

In 2016, more than 14,000 Seminole County citizens signed a petition seeking a local ordinance, known as the Greyhound Protection Act, that would require the county’s Animal Services division to be notified in writing when racing greyhounds are injured.

The proposal also required greyhound owners, trainers or kennel operators to file a “disposition” report whenever a dog is euthanized, transferred to another racetrack, placed for adoption, sent to a breeding farm, or otherwise leaves the county.

“The sheer number of dogs (in the greyhound industry) makes it difficult to account for them,” Theil said. “They're constantly being shipped in to commercial tracks, staying for a short period of time, and then being shipped out.”

In August 2016, Seminole County commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of the ordinance, which also requires racing greyhound kennels to be licensed with the county.

During a public hearing before the vote, local kennel operators and greyhound owners told commissioners that the ordinance would create added expenses and labor for an industry already heavily regulated by the state.

“The state could come in and say, ‘OK, where is so-and-so dog?’ And if I don’t tell them where the dog is, I lose my license,” kennel owner Alastair Grant said.

In May 2017, the same month the ordinance took effect, two greyhound owners sued Seminole County over the new rules, arguing that local municipalities are prohibited from regulating the parimutuel industry.

“While we believe strongly that the regulation of greyhound racing is pre-empted by state law, my clients will comply with the ordinance until the court says they no longer have to,” said Kottkamp, who represents greyhound owners Jimmy Goodman and Scott Bennett in their lawsuit against Seminole County.

“It’s been nothing but aggravation and more work,” greyhound trainer Kathi Lacasse said of the Seminole County ordinance.

Lacasse told News 6 she and other trainers often work 80 hours a week caring for their racing greyhounds.

“Everybody here is stretched,” she said. “We’ve got a lot more important things to do than frivolous paperwork.”

The trainer could not immediately explain why at least one of her greyhounds was given to a local adoption organization without a report being filed with Seminole County.

However, she speculated that the paperwork may have gotten misplaced at the track prior to a Seminole County employee picking it up.

"I assume I filled it out. I honestly don't know now,” Lacasse said.

“They violated the ordinance,” Theil said. “It's so simple, and yet the industry has failed to meet even this basic requirement.”

More than 100 reports missing, News 6 investigation shows

Through a public records request, News 6 obtained copies of 360 injury and non-injury disposition reports filed with Seminole County Animal Services between May and November.

News 6 compared those reports to a list compiled by GREY2K USA of dogs that have previously raced at SOKC.

Using websites that publish statistics and videos about racing greyhounds, News 6 was able to independently verify that more than 100 greyhounds were transferred to other racetracks or placed for adoption without the required disposition reports being filed with Seminole County Animal Services.

On June 23 a greyhound named Georgia Fireball ran her final race at SOKC, a video on the greyhound racing website trackinfo.com confirms.

Less than three weeks later, Georgia Fireball was transferred to the Daytona Beach Racing and Card Club, where another video shows her taking first place in an evening race there.

As of November, records show Seminole County Animal Services had not yet received disposition reports for Georgia Fireball and 24 other greyhounds that left SOKC to race at other tracks since May.

An additional 77 greyhounds that previously raced at SOKC later appeared on adoption websites without the corresponding disposition reports being filed with the county, News 6 confirmed.

Some of those adopted greyhounds may have been injured, videos and photos suggest.

In early November 2017 a greyhound named Hilco Copper took off running from the gate at SOKC and, for a short time, appeared destined for a second place finish.

But as the dog rounded one of the turns, video posted on trackinfo.com shows Hilco Copper quickly drop back and disappear out of camera view.

Track records indicate the greyhound "pulled up" and did not finish the race

A photo of Hilco Copper was later posted on the racing website greyhound-data.com showing the dog  wearing what appears to be a cast or boot on one of its hind legs.

The website noted the greyhound was "available for adoption".

A representative with the adoption organization Greyhound Pets of America told News 6 that Hilco Copper had a fractured leg, but she did not know where the injury occurred.

If the greyhound had been injured during the race, the trainer or kennel operator would have been required to file an injury report with Seminole County.

Two months later, Seminole County Animal Services still had not received any reports noting that Hilco Copper had been placed for adoption or had been injured during a race, records show.

The kennel which previously housed Hilco Copper recently went out of business, multiple sources told News 6.   

News 6’s attempts to reach that kennel’s former owner have been unsuccessful.

In October, video posted on trackinfo.com showed a greyhound named Slatex Witch that “stumbled”, causing the dog to finish in last place.

A photo posted on greyhound-data.com shows Slatex Witch wearing a cast.

By early December, Seminole County Animal Services still had not received any reports detailing that greyhound's fate.

After News 6 began inquiring with greyhound industry representatives about Slatex Witch, a report was filed in January indicating the dog suffered a fracture that required 6-8 weeks of recovery.

It's unclear why Seminole County Animal Services did not receive the October 6 injury report until three months after the dog was hurt on the track.

The county ordinance does not specify a timeframe when injury reports must be filed. 

In addition to the 102 greyhounds that were retired or transferred to other tracks without disposition reports, News 6 has identified more than 30 additional dogs that have not raced in more than two months without paperwork detailing their fate.

Six of those greyhounds have been inactive in races since June, online racing records show.

“They don't appear at another track.  They don't show up in adoption groups.  They simply disappear,” said Theil.

It is possible those dogs could resume racing or be placed for adopted at a later date.   

Enforcement of Seminole County’s Ordinance

Seminole County’s Animal Services division is authorized issue citations to greyhound owners, trainers, or kennel operators that make false statements on disposition forms.

First time violators can be fined $27.50, records show.  A second offense can lead to a $50 fine.  People who violate the ordinance a third time are required to appear in court.

Seminole County Animal Services Administrator Carole Coleman said her department was unaware of the missing greyhound disposition reports until News 6 inquired about them.

“Further research is needed before we can make any specific comment,” Coleman said.

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