The last of the dogs at Gulf Greyhound Park have left the racing complex, which was the last one in the state to run live races on a regular basis.

Blaming increased competition from casinos in Louisiana, rising regulatory costs and failed attempts to expand gambling opportunities at tracks, the La Marque park suspended live racing in December.

Management plans to keep its doors open for simulcasting, where gamblers place bets on races occurring at other locations. The park's future is unclear. The Texas Racing Commission, which regulates the industry, is evaluating whether the park can legally offer simulcasting without providing live racing. The park has asked the agency to approve race dates in 2018, a two-year hiatus opposed by kennel operators and breeders whose jobs depend on live racing at the track.

About 60 dogs were released for adoption through the park's program and agencies in the state, General Manager Sally Briggs said. However, most of the dogs were sent to tracks in Arizona, Florida and Mexico to continue racing, Briggs said. The last kennel operator left the park Tuesday, she said.

"My main goal was that every single greyhound was taken care of, and that has been done," Briggs said. "We're extremely pleased." 

While animal rights advocates applauded the park for a responsible shutdown procedure, they raised concerns over tracks where the dogs will now race, calling them some of the worst in North America.

"It seems as though there was a concerted effort to adopt out as many dogs as possible, and that's a good thing," said Carey Thiel, executive director of Grey2K USA, a Massachusetts-based group aimed at ending dog racing.

But some of the dogs will race at Tucson Greyhound Park, which the organization criticizes for poor living and racing conditions, Thiel said. Other dogs will race at Agua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico, a facility accused of racing dogs without providing rest days between performances.

"They just race them and race them," Thiel said. "They basically run them into the ground."

For the adoption agencies that received retiring dogs, the small influx was less than agency organizers expected. The state's various adoption groups could have handled more animals, said Cathryn Caldwell, administrative director of FastK9's Greyhound Adoption, a Webster-based group.

"Gulf Greyhound Park was by no stretch of the imagination a low-end track, so the dogs racing there will have careers elsewhere," Caldwell said. "The stature of the track made a difference."

Greyhound Adoption League of Texas, a Dallas-based group that received 10 dogs from Gulf, said he was prepared to take ten times that number and place them in foster homes, founder and board chairman John McQuade said. The group has more applications to adopt greyhounds than dogs available, McQuade said.

"The bottom line is, any available dog retired from racing should not have a problem finding a home in Texas," McQuade said.

The future of the dwindling dog racing industry is still murky in Texas. Track owners and the Texas Greyhound Association, which represents kennel operators and breeders, met last week to discuss possibilities of continuing live racing.

Kennel operators and dog owners, whose jobs depend on live racing, oppose the park’s plan. They contend park owners are skirting state law by stopping races while continuing to reap profits from simulcasting. Gulf Greyhound Park owners asked the racing commission to approve race dates for 2018, but those dates had not been granted, as of Sunday. Kennel operators have said they oppose the two-year layoff, because it would doom their livelihoods.

Briggs said the meeting went well but declined to provide specifics on a possible agreement because nothing was decided.

Depending on the result of the meeting, the executive director of the racing commission could decide whether to allow simulcasting at tracks that are not holding live races, commission spokesman Robert Elrod has said.

Further complicating the park’s future, the racing commission could shut down in February, which would cause all dog tracks and horse tracks to close because state law requires them to be regulated.

In December, Texas racing officials stood firm on a plan to allow for historical racing, the replaying of past races on machines with identifying information stripped. State budget writers, who contend the racing commission overstepped its authority by creating the rules, defunded the state agency in September, causing a one-day shutdown of tracks.

Dog and horse track owners hoped historical racing machines could shore up their struggling industry.

The agency is temporarily funded through the end of February, when the racing commission may again take up the issue, officials said.

Contact reporter Chacour Koop at 409-683-5241 or chacour.koop@galvnews.com

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