TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – If Florida voters decide to ban greyhound racing in the state, industry insiders contend thousands of racing dogs will be euthanized, but those who've been trying to shut down racing for years say that claim is a “shameless scare tactic” and nothing more.
After repeated and heavily lobbied legislative debates in recent years about the future of the greyhound industry, the Florida Constitution Revision Commission this month voted 27-10 to put a proposed ban on the November ballot.
If the greyhound-racing proposal is approved, the measure, which needs 60 percent of the vote to pass, would phase out racing by 2020.
Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has made dog-adoption efforts part of the opening of each state Cabinet meeting, has noted that of the 18 greyhound tracks in the nation, 12 are in Florida.
The measure going on the ballot would allow people to continue to bet at parimutuel facilities on greyhound races simulcast from other states.
“This is a tremendous victory for everyone in the state who cares about dogs,” said Carey Theil, executive director of Grey2K USA, a national greyhound protection group.
But Fred Johnson, who has raced greyhounds in Florida since the 1970s, said if racers in Florida are shut down, they will have no choice but to put down their dogs. He said there aren't enough adoption programs to take them in, and racers won't have the income to care for them.
“They’re going to have to euthanize 8,000 dogs at a minimum. There’s another 7,000 that’s being raised on these farms that have nowhere else to go,” Johnson said. “Who’s going to feed them? That’s a lot of dogs. It costs $350 a week to feed (60 dogs).”
But advocates like Theil said Johnson's claim is false and is just an effort to influence voters.
“When greyhound racing ended in Massachusetts, according to state records, there was a record year for greyhound adoptions,” Theil said. “Same in New Hampshire. This is an opportunity to help thousands of dogs, and the fact that the greyhound industry would try and hold these dogs hostage and threaten to harm them is yet another reason why voters should vote yes (on the ban).”
Johnson said he loves his dogs and is not holding them hostage.
The industry plans to challenge the proposed constitutional amendment in court before it appears on the ballot.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.