As It Happens

Greyhound racing dogs in Florida are testing positive for cocaine

GREY2K USA, an organization that monitors the greyhound racing industry, is again calling for an end to the sport.
There were 12 greyhounds that tested positive for cocaine on 18 different occasions in Florida. (Clive Mason/Getty Images)

story transcript

Yet another sport has been engulfed in a doping scandal. But instead of steroids, it involves cocaine. And instead of humans, it involves greyhounds. 

 As first reported by First Coast News, in four months, 12 greyhounds tested positive for benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine, on 18 different occasions in Florida. One greyhound, WW's Flicka, tested positive on six different occasions. 

Greyhound racing and wagering is still legal and operational in six states. It is legal to race greyhounds in Canada, but betting is illegal.

First Coast News received a statement from Bestbet Orange Park, the Florida track where the drugged greyhounds raced:

"Bestbet Orange Park completely supports the swift action taken by the state in this matter and as always, fully cooperated with state officials as they conducted their random and routine tests. Bestbet Orange Park maintains a zero-tolerance policy for any trainer or staff member that does anything which puts one of the dog's health at risk. In this instance, the process carried out by the state of Florida and the regulators was carefully followed under state law. The bottom line is, the system worked."

In this Friday, Dec. 11, 2009, file photo greyhounds race around the first turn at the Raynham Park dog track, in Raynham, Mass. (Steven Senne/AP)

Carey Theil is the executive director of GREY2K USA, an organization that opposes the greyhound racing industry. Mr. Theil spoke As It Happens guest host Laura Lynch about the doping scandal. Here is part of their conversation. 

LL: Mr. Theil, why is cocaine turning up in the urine samples of these racing dogs?

CT: Well, we don't know. Unfortunately, the state is not investigating these cases to determine how the dogs are ingesting cocaine. What we do know definitively is that since 2008, 62 greyhounds in Florida have tested positive for cocaine. In this most recent case, there were 18 greyhound cocaine positives over a short period of time.

LL: So just to be clear, 18 tests or 18 dogs?

CT: It was 18 positive tests and 12 dogs. One dog tested positive for cocaine on six different occasions. Her name is WW's Flicka and one thing that does concern us is the track Orange Park has so far refused to to disclose where that dog is. We do have concerns about that dog in particular.

A retired racing greyhound lies on a blanket before the races begin at Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium on March 25. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

LL: She's missing?

CT: Well, the track says she's safe. They will not say where she is. She hasn't raced in about five weeks now, which is unusual for a racing greyhound. We don't know if she's still at the track, if she's gone to another track, if she's been given to an adoption group.

LL: Why would they do that? Why wouldn't they tell you where she is?

CT: I honestly don't know why the industry is refusing to disclose where Flicka is.

But, again, to have so many greyhounds cocaine positives there's no doubt this is the largest greyhound drug case in American history. It's one of the largest greyhound drug cases worldwide that we've seen.

And add to that to have some of the individuals connected to the case be very high profile members of the greyhound industry, I think, makes the case even more notable.

The greyhound race betting industry is on the decline. (Elise Amendola/AP)

LL: I just want to go back to Flicka for a moment. She tested positive half a dozen times, as you said, over the last year. Did the cocaine enhance her performance?

CT: Well, that's one of the things that's disturbing about this case. Flicka has 169 career races and the two fastest races of her career are races in that she tested positive for cocaine. So that certainly suggests that this is a race-fixing case.

As the media has covered this issue and looked at it over the years, there's always been the question: are these attempts to fix races or are these some kind of human transference effect, where a trainer is smoking crack in the kennel compound or using cocaine and has cocaine on his hands and it gets in the food? And we've never known the answer to that because, unfortunately, the state simply doesn't do thorough investigations to find out.

But in this case, when you have the two fastest races of Flicka's career be races in which she tested positive for cocaine. It wasn't just Flicka. There was several dogs that we saw similar findings with. To have one dog test positive for cocaine six times, it's hard to look at that set of facts and come to any conclusion other than this appears to be a race-fixing case.

LL: Well, if we do presume then that it is a performing-enhancing drug for the greyhound, what damage can it do to the greyhound?

CT: Well, unfortunately, there is no research on that ... I think anyone would know that this is a very serious narcotic. It's a dangerous stimulant and to have dogs test positive for cocaine certainly compromises the health and welfare of those dogs.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Carey Theil.

As It Happens also reached out to Leonard Schollen, the president of the Northwest Canadian Greyhound League, about the doping scandal and GREY2K USA's call for the end of the sport. He sent this statement: 

"Let's consider for a moment what life would be like for the dogs, if Grey2K got their wish. Greyhound racing would not disappear. It would go underground in the U.S. and to 3rd world countries (as it has done in Canada). What protection would Greyhounds have? None. The supply of loving, loyal pets for hundreds of thousands of adopters would no longer be available nor would these homes be available to the hounds."