The Texas Racing Commission should improve its definition of what constitutes a trend when it comes to deaths and injuries of greyhounds at the tracks it regulates.
The commission, which expends public money to, among other things, “ensure that injuries are held to a minimum,” is using a definition of “trend” that’s more convenient to itself and the industry than it is beneficial to the health and welfare of the dogs.
It’s also using a definition of the word “regulate” that leaves a lot to be desired.
That became clear recently when the activist group Grey2K USA asked the commission to investigate four deaths during the most recent racing season at Gulf Greyhound Park.
The deaths during the 2018-19 season included one dog put down because of a tongue laceration suffered in a holding pen and three others put down because of broken bones.
The commission, while expressing deep, and obviously pro forma, concern for the animals under its care, declined to conduct more than a routine review of the deaths.
“The Texas Racing Commission shares your concerns about animal safety and is committed to continually finding new ways to ensure that injuries are held to a minimum,” Chuck Trout, executive director of the commission said in an April 4 letter to Carey Theil, executive director of Grey2K.
The letter explained the commission’s review had concluded once it established no rule violations or “emerging trends” were found related to animal deaths.
The commission had spoken to the veterinarian in all four animal deaths at Gulf Greyhound Park this season, meeting its responsibility, Public Information Officer Robert Elrod said.
“There’s really nothing more we can do,” Elrod said. “There’s really not anybody else to talk to besides the veterinarian who made the decision. We don’t run the track. All we can do is regulate it.”
A deeper investigation would determine whether the deaths were unavoidable or were caused by unsafe conditions at the track, Theil said.
The commission’s explanation might hold a little water were this the first time anybody had raised concerns about systemic problems causing unusually high numbers of deaths and injuries at the track.
Its explanation might seem a little more credible if Grey2K USA, which always has been frank about its goal of ending greyhound racing everywhere, were alone in raising such concerns.
Neither is the case, however.
Groups including greyhound breeders and breed advocates such as the Texas Greyhound Association have been warning since at least 2011 that conditions at the park — clear, identifiable, physical defects — have been causing inordinate, and, to decent people, unconscionably high numbers of deaths and injuries.
If, after having heard from diverse sources the same warnings about deaths and injuries for almost 10 years the commission still can’t spot anything it recognizes as a trend, then it’s just willfully ignoring the evidence.
If after all that it still can’t identify a problem within its jurisdiction to regulate, then it’s fundamentally useless as a public regulatory agency and perhaps should be replaced with something more functional.
• Michael A. Smith