TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A greyhound died on on dog track property every three days over a seven-month period last year, according to reports the state now requires track operators to file for each dog's death.
According to a Miami Herald review of those reports, 74 dogs died at a race track or a racing kennel between May 31 and Dec. 31.
Track operators are now required to notify the state within 18 hours of a greyhound's death on track property under rules that lawmakers approved in 2010 but didn't effect until last spring, more than 80 years after dog racing became legal in Florida.
The state is home to 13 of the last remaining 21 greyhound tracks in the nation.
Florida is focused on educating the racing industry about the new rules, not cracking down on perceived abuses, though officials will take action if necessary, said Department of Business and Professional Regulation spokeswoman Tajiana Ancora-Brown.
"The department has gone over and above what is expected to try to communicate with the licensees," she said. "After we feel we have exhausted those efforts, there will be action taken to comply with the rule."
With 12 deaths each, Derby Lane in St. Petersburg and at the Daytona Beach Kennel Club reported the most deaths to the state. Another six deaths were reported at Flagler racetrack in Miami, and two were reported at the Bonita Springs track.
Animal welfare advocates say increasing transparency helps reduce the number of dog deaths.
"In the states where we have passed greyhound injury reporting laws, the number of dogs euthanized has declined significantly," said Carey Theil, executive director of Grey2K, a Massachusetts-based advocacy group committed to ending greyhound racing. "In Massachusetts, the number of greyhounds that were killed dropped by 43 percent in the first year after passage of an injury reporting law."
Mel Stein, the track veterinarian at Mardi Gras Racetrack in Hallandale Beach, which has reported no deaths since the start of its five-month racing season in December, said he believes most race dogs are treated well.
"Ninety-nine percent are not abused," he said. "The way they treat greyhounds is the way some people treat children. There are great trainers and there are others who abuse them - I don't know which ones - but there are some who do, and it's a way of making a living."
Unlike other states, Florida's greyhound industry does not have to report injuries.
According to the Florida Greyhound Association, which represents dog owners and trainers, track owners who fail to invest in improvements on their tracks are to blame for many dog injuries and deaths. The association opposes expanding the death reporting rule to mandatory injury reporting.
"If there are injuries going on, let's stop them right now, stop them before they happen -- not report them after they happen," said Jack Cory, the association's lobbyist. He wants the state to require track owners to invest in their tracks to attract more fans and to make conditions safer for dogs.
Attendance and profits at greyhound racing has plummeted in recent years. Since 1990, the total money waged for the 13 facilities that ran greyhound racing in Florida has fallen by 67 percent - from $933.8 million to $265.4 million in 2012, according to the Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey-based research firm hired by lawmakers to assess the economic effects and social costs of expanded gambling in Florida.
Some track owners have joined animal welfare advocates in asking legislators to reduce the number of races required by state law while allowing other gambling operations to continue.
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