AR-News: (FL - US) More on the greyhounds and positive cocaine
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Sun Jun 13 18:21:36 EDT 2004
Source: Bonita Daily News
State records show 21 cases of positive cocaine tests at dog track
By JANINE A. ZEITLIN, jazeitlin at naplesnews.com
June 12, 2004
Dogs that raced at the Naples-Fort Myers Greyhound Track in Bonita Springs
tested positive for traces of cocaine 21 times over the past 3-1/2 years, a
review of state records shows.
What those numbers mean depends on whom you ask.
Industry officials say it represents a sliver of the around 13,700 dogs
tested at the track in that time, while animal advocates are calling for an
overhaul of state testing procedures, and some, an end to greyhound racing.
In late May, Florida's greyhound tracks seeped into the national media and
Jay Leno's monologue when a pair of animal rights groups called for Florida's
Attorney General to probe suspected cocaine use at tracks. Their request came on
the heels of a Tampa Tribune article reporting that more than 110 dogs
statewide tested positive for cocaine between 2000 and 2003. Animal advocates said
the Bonita track led the state with 10 cases.
Earlier this month, the Attorney General's Office declined, saying it had no
authority to investigate.
Industry officials say the animal rights groups inflated the significance of
the minuscule amount of cocaine found in dogs — most positive results turned
up between 10 to 25 nanograms of cocaine at the Bonita track — to push their
cause to quash racing. They blame the results on environmental contamination,
not deliberate race-fixing.
One million nanograms amounts to one milligram. The lethal cocaine dose for
dogs is 13 milligrams, according to the 2001 handbook, "Small Animal
Toxicology," edited by two veterinarians.
"People are concerned when you just mention the word cocaine," said Mike
Labun, president of Florida Greyhound Association, which represents kennel
operators, owners and trainers throughout the state. "Now, unfortunately, my poor
people are paying the price. I think it's a great injustice."
"We know there's rampant cocaine use in Florida among particular elements,"
he said, adding that users could have petted the dogs.
Attendance at Bonita's track plummeted after the cocaine news hit media
outlets, Labun said. The track's general manager declined comment through track
Christine Dorchak, vice president of GREY2K USA, one of the groups that
called for the investigation, said the results and media attention do give
advocates steam to organize a ballot initiative to ban greyhound racing in Florida.
"This only gives us yet another reason to pursue an end to this cruel sport,"
she said. "For some reason, the dog racing industry has a Teflon jacket that
is protecting it from scrutiny by the public and law enforcement."
Law enforcers don't get called in to investigate positive cocaine results.
Local law enforcers say that's the state arena. State regulators with the
Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering said the groups distorted the numbers. The 117
cases of positive cocaine results represented only a tenth of the 104,000 urine
samples taken during that time.
Not all racing dogs are tested. The state samples a smattering of greyhounds
after races and their urine results come back within weeks. Dogs are separated
from trainers up to three hours before the races.
"Some of the issues were taken out of context. When you truly look at the
things in context, it's not the problem it was made out to be," said Meg Shannon,
a spokeswoman with the division, adding that the state investigates each
positive result and can fine and revoke or suspend the license of a trainer or
While blaming most positive results on recreational use by dog handlers,
results approaching 100-plus nanograms does raise eyebrows among state regulators
and they take stiff action against violators, they said.
Between 2000 and 2003, the state took action against three dog owners or
trainers at Bonita's track with positive cocaine results. The state revoked the
license of Steven Petrillo, a Fort Myers man responsible for eight of the nine
positives between 2002 and 2003. Petrillo declined comment.
Regulators said they don't know how cocaine affects greyhounds.
"You can't compare humans and canines," said Royal Logan, the division's
chief operations officer. "Unfortunately, this is just a big unknown area."
Dave Roberts, the division's director, said he didn't know if cocaine could
cause a greyhound to run faster or slower: "We don't know if it pumps the dog
Experts did know. Even small amounts of cocaine can spur excitement and
hyperactivity in greyhounds, they said, not unlike the reaction cocaine causes for
humans. If the dogs get too much, they could become depressed and comatose.
How much cocaine would create such an effect in greyhounds isn't known.
"Certainly, any exposure could elicit some of those effects. . . . It
obviously doesn't necessarily take a huge amount," particularly for greyhounds, said
Dana Farbman, a senior manager at the Animal Poison Control Center.
"Greyhounds have very, very little body fat. Those kinds of things could
really play a factor."
The center is allied with the University of Illinois' College of Veterinarian
"Small Animal Toxicology" states that cocaine can cause a significant jump in
the heart rate and cardiac output of a dog as well tremors, seizures and
vomiting. Dogs rapidly absorb cocaine and symptoms can turn severe quickly.
Even if amounts are minute, Laura Bevan, southeast director of the Humane
Society of the United States, said the state must improve its testing procedures.
The Humane Society of the United States was the other group calling for an
investigation. Given the attorney general's denial, they're looking at other
ways of addressing the results, she said.
"For us, we have concern that the dog is being given cocaine. If it's not
being used to fix races, why are you testing for it?" Bevan said. "Maybe there
needs to be more testing of the dogs ahead of time. Maybe there needs to be
testing of people working in the kennels."
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