I Team: Dog Days at the Track

Dan Adkins strolls along the grandstands of Mardi Gras Dog Track and remembers the way things used to be.

“When this was built in ’74, it was the largest grandstand in the world for greyhound racing,” says Adkins, the president of Mardi Gras, formerly Hollywood Greyhound Race Track. “Still is today.  In 1981 we had 14,000 people here. We used to have 10,000 to 12,000 people regularly here on weekends in the early Eighties.”

When CBS4 I Team investigator Jim DeFede, noted that it has been a long time since Adkins had 14,000 people in those grandstands, Adkins replied: “It’s been a longtime since we had 400 people in these grandstands. I think on a good Saturday night we might have 100 people sitting out here watching the races”

Adkins says he is going to lose $2.5 million this year on the dog races. Down the road in Miami, the owners of Flagler Dog Track are reportedly losing almost $2 million a year.

Adkins said the sad reality is that the dog racing industry can not be revived.

“It’s dead,” he declared. “I’ve been in this business my entire life and its dead.”

So why continue to operate a business that is losing millions of dollars a year? Well you don’t have to walk far to find the answer to that question. Just behind that massive and empty grandstand lies a casino with more than 1,200 slot machines and a card room for high stakes poker.

“This is the kind of entertainment gaming activity that people are looking for,” Adkins said as he walked through the casino floor.

But in order to operate the casino Adkins has to keep racing dogs.

“The law is forcing me to put greyhounds on this track every day and run,” he said.

But before you feel sorry for Adkins, you should realize it’s a law he helped create. A decade ago, Adkins realized there was no long-term future in dog racing. But rather than close as other tracks around the country have done, he held on to racing, using the track’s economic problems as leverage to get voter approval five years ago to install slot machines. Now that he has his casino, he’s looking to dump the dog track.

“If you could replace this greyhound track with a resort destination casino on this same property, the same property where gambling has been taking place for 80 years, now you are going to create jobs, you are going to create billions of dollars for this state in revenue,” Adkins said.

Adkins along with the owners of Flagler Dog Track, are pushing for legislation in Tallahassee that would allow them to keep their casinos while closing their racing facilities.

In addition, they would like to see the Legislature allow them to expand their casino operations to include all of the games they are currently prohibited from operating – including blackjack, roulette and craps.

“The track operators for some years now have wanted to become casino operators, but they don’t want to be honest with the people of Florida and say they want to open a casino, so they have backdoored the casinos through card rooms and parimutuel wagering,” said Jack Cory, a lobbyist for the Florida Greyhound Association, which represents the dog owners and trainers.

Cory said the track owners tried to sneak a bill through the legislature last year but were unsuccessful. He said he has already heard they are working to do the same again this year.

Cory said if folks like Adkins and the Havenick family, which owns Flagler Dog Track, don’t think they can make a profit racing dogs then they should turn in their licenses and allow someone else to operate the dog tracks. Cory argues it is not fair to allow the current owners to summarily decide greyhound racing is a dead business.

Unfortunately, many of the dog men, as they are called, have no idea what the track owners are doing. James “Barney” O’Donnell, 81, has been racing dogs for more than 50 years and currently owns between 300 and 400 greyhounds.

Even when he was told of Adkins plans, O’Donnell refused to believe it. O’Donnell said he believes Adkins is going to work to save the track.

“He’s going to improve it,” O’Donnell said. “He’s going to improve it.”

But in fact, he says he’s not. And while turning his back on the dog men, Adkins and the track owners are forging some unusual alliances with groups such as Grey2K, an animal rights group that has waged a relentless ten year battle with the racing industry.

“It’s a little bit like Alice in Wonderland,” said Carey Theil, the group’s executive director.

In 2008, Grey2K helped win approval for measures banning dog racing in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. They have also watched as tracks have closed in Connecticut, Kansas and Wisconsin.

There are only 23 dog tracks left in the United States — with thirteen of them here in Florida.

If Adkins looks at the issue strictly as a matter of dollars and cents, Theil approaches it with a sense of outrage. Greyhound racing, he argues, is inherently cruel and inhumane to the animals, which spend 20 to 22 hours a day locked in cages, stacked on top of one another in long, windowless kennels.

“A lot of people think these dogs are owned by people and they are taken to the track and they race and they go home at night,” Theil said. “That’s not the case. These tracks require a large population of dogs and because of that they use a housing system that is cruel and inhumane.”

Theil took CBS4 News to the Florida Kennel compound in Hialeah. The facility, which can house hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs, is jointly owned by Mardi Gras and Flagler dog tracks. Theil described how dogs are typically housed.

“They are in their cages up to 22 hours a day on average,” he explained. “Perhaps the dogs are let out of their cages four times a day to relieve themselves for thirty minutes and the rest of their life is spent in a cage. If most Floridians could go through this guard shack and past the barbed wire fence and see for themselves how dogs live in this kennel compound I believe they would say this is something that must come to an end.”

Theil provided us a copy of an undercover investigation his group did surrounding the conditions of the kennel in Tucson Arizona highlighting, he says, the way dogs are routinely confined. The video shows dogs muzzled in their cages.

“No dog would like to live in a cage, but the fact that greyhounds love to run and are so gifted makes it especially cruel that these dogs endure a life of confinement,” Theil said. “It’s just no way to treat a dog.”

And then there is the case of Ronnie Williams. A kennel operator and trainer at Ebro Dog Track in the Florida Panhandle. In October, state investigators discovered more than 30 dogs starved to death inside his kennel.

“When you first drove up outside the gate, way out in the parking lot, you could smell the stench of the dead animals,” said Washington County Sheriff Bobby Haddock.

Williams is facing more than 30 felony counts of animal cruelty and remains in the Washington County jail.

“What we are trying to find out is when is the last time the kennels were inspected?” Haddock said recently. “Who went in the kennels? Who knew what? And what the checks and balances are?”

Unfortunately, according to Theil, there really aren’t any checks and balances. Until recently inspectors from the state had to call in advance and set up an appointment before they could inspect the kennels. And even when inspections do occur, the reports are troubling.

CBS4 News obtained copies of reports from the state division of pari-mutuel wagering regarding inspections they have done on kennels across the state. Of the 127 inspections conducted 20 percent – or one in five – listed the condition of the kennel as poor or worse. There were 28 instances of multiple dogs living in the same cage and 724 instances of greyhounds being injured.

Which brought our interest back to Florida Kennels. CBS4 News wanted to see for ourselves what conditions were like inside the Hialeah compound.

Initially, Adkins agreed to show us.

“Yeah, sure, I’ll take you down there myself,” he said.

But the next day we were told the dog owners and trainers did not want to let us in with our cameras. Theil said it is not only the issue of confinement that makes the sport inhumane. Dogs are routinely injured and killed while racing.

Grey2K has amassed a library of video in which dogs are hurt and killed, including a case where a greyhound was electrocuted at a track in Orlando when he tripped and fell into an electric rail.

They also provided CBS4 News video of a terrible accident at Mardi Gras in which a dog – BB’s Story Book – collided with other dogs while trying to make the first turn, became disoriented and ran in the wrong direction. As the announcer shouted for handlers to get the dog off the track, it crashed into lure carrying the metal rabbit that the dogs chase. The dog is believed to have died instantly.

“As long as you have commercial dog racing you are going to have dogs that die on the track,” Theil said.

How many dogs are killed or injured every year at Florida greyhound tracks? Unfortunately, no one has the answer. Florida track owners are not required to maintain those types of records. In fact, every time legalization has been proposed that would require them to keep such records they have vehemently opposed it.

“It is a sport, it’s a contact sport, it’s like football or baseball and injuries do happen.” Adkins admitted. “But these dogs are very well taken care of. I will never call this an inhumane sport because nobody in this industry does anything to hurt these animals “

But ironically, because of the groundwork of Grey2K, and the growing public perception that dog racing is in fact cruel, that may allow Adkins to keep his casino while losing the dog track.

“For me it’s not a humane issue, it’s an economic issue,” Adkins said. “It’s that simple. If this sport was making money, again being brutally honest about it, I would do everything I could to continue it because I don’t view it as an inhumane sport. I do view it as a money loser.”

Theil said Adkins motivations are irrelevant to him. If he can forge an alliance with the track owners to close their tracks he is more than willing to do it.

“Regardless of what the reason is, I think its time to give the dogs a break.” Theil said. “These dogs have suffered and died at these race tracks for generations and this is no longer a viable industry, no one is interested in it,  it is time for this to end.”

More from Jim DeFede
  • NGW

    Wonderful article. Beautifully done and yes, it is time for the industry to shut down. The following says it best…

    “Adkins says he is going to lose $2.5 million this year on the dog races. Down the road in Miami, the owners of Flagler Dog Track are reportedly losing almost $2 million a year.

    Adkins said the sad reality is that the dog racing industry can not be revived.

    “It’s dead,” he declared. “I’ve been in this business my entire life and its dead.””

    • mike

      People all over the USA keep pets in there apartment. Maybe they get outside a
      couple hours each day..City pounds kill MILLIONS of animals each year..In 2010
      12,801 greyhound individuals registared. Far more race horses are raised each year but,there are to many rich people inthe horse race business for y2k to
      mess with…
      What is y2k next target… ZOO’s ?

      • Eric

        Mike has deftly used a common pro-racing ploy in his semi-coherent post – “You think we’re bad, what about them?”

        There’s a substantial difference between keeping companion animals as pets and an institution that maintains animals for human entertainment and profit. Yes, city pounds kill animals every year because too many people, like greyhound breeders, breed dogs with no thought to their permanent placement or welfare. It doesn’t take the heat off greyhound breeders, it just shows they’re every bit as responsible as a backyard breeder running a puppy mill.

        Grey2K has one mission – end greyhound racing. There are already plenty of groups focused on ending other forms of animal cruelty and exploitation.

      • lyndale

        Yes, it should be zoos next, you idiot.

      • penny

        An apartment – even a small one – does not compare to a small wire cage or
        kennel. To imply that greyhound racing is a better life for dogs is ridiculous.
        A home with a loving owner is far better than being treated as a commodity and
        an expendable one at that. Obviously, you do not know the conditions many
        of these dogs endure!

    • oh yea

      Good job by Jim DeFede with his one sided story just added more money into another two lawyer lobbist Ponzi scheme. (Grey2k)

      • Eric

        Oh yea, are you just grabbing terms you hear on the news and trying to apply them to Grey2K? Do you have any clue what a Ponzi scheme even is? That’s about the dumbest claim I’ve seen yet.

  • houndtrainer

    Excellent reporting. I’m surprised, though, that Adkins actually said “nobody in this industry does anything to hurt these animals”, when in fact, it is all too common to learn of cases like Ronnie Williams. Adkins needs to do more fact checking in order to make a fully iinformed decision on whether or not dog racing is inhumane. Media coverage for decades has exposed the dark side of racing. Abuse and neglect of racing greyhounds is happening to some degree at every track, breeding farm and training facility across the U.S.

    • Master McGrath

      houndtrainer wrote: “Abuse and neglect of racing greyhounds is happening to some degree at every track, breeding farm and training facility across the U.S.”

      Utter crap. There have been some documented cases of abuse, but saying everyone does it is like saying every parent abuses their children because there are documented cases of child abuse. I have been on dozens of farms and in dozens of kennels and I’ve never seen a case of abuse.

      • Eric

        McGrath, that’s because you see it and you think, “Yeah, that’s okay.” But when people not sucking a living off the greyhounds looks at the same thing, they say, “That’s totally inappropriate.” There are hundreds of documented cases across the country. Is every trainer/owner/kennel/track abusing their greyhounds? Well, that depends on what you consider “abuse”, doesn’t it? If you’re following the typical practices of the industry, then you’re maintaining your dogs in inhumane and cruel conditions.

  • DeAnne

    Greyhounds are NOT “very well-treated.” They are considered livestock in the state of Florida and often do not receive medical care for injuries. I fostered a young male who suffered a broken leg on the track and was sent to a vet to be put down. This sweet boy had been sitting in his kennel for days; the leg had started to heal in its broken position, and it took months of painful treatment before he could be adopted. I am aware of many other similar instances. I am also very close with people who have ex-racers that come off the track with personalities broken by abuse. They are afraid of loud noises, moving objects, or men in baseball caps; they cower and retreat from the human hand. Anyone who tells you greyhound racing is humane is lying!

  • s sureck

    Our existing laws against Animal Cruelty & Abuse are woefully inadequate, both in their enforcement and protections that are promised. These laws will strengthen when those who courageously judge their present effect as only trivial apply justice for a real cause. We must involve ourselves in State Legislature and animal protection issues in whichever state we live.

    The terrible conditions of our public & county animal shelter abuse will end when an aware public conscience will no longer tolerate them.
    The suffering of agricultural animals will abate only when strict handling laws are created and enforced by a public who will no longer tolerate the cruelty and abuse involved in the slaughter of animals for meat.
    The abuse of animals used for entertainment and profit will end when an unwilling public will not purchase tickets, assist and support or contribute to any venue that cruelly trains animals to perform tricks for entertainment: Elephants, Dolphins, Killer Whales, Greyhounds – all animals outside of their natural habitat.

    Pesticides that harm humans, animals and agricultural products must be banned. The public health must be placed above the profit motive- wildlife is threatened to extinction. We must educate ourselves to pesticides that are little more than poison to all of life on earth.
    Animal research will end when the knowledge that brutal and casual infliction of pain and death for homeless, defenseless animals will no longer be taken for granted as a necessary evil by a merciful and compassionate society. Research facilities must not be condoned, funded, or protected by our own state laws.

    When will that day arrive?
    Each of us must set our own date for today.
    Thanking you for your caring and the many signatures to this petition.

  • Howard

    What an EXCELLENT report! I learned a lot, and will absolutely support closing these dog tracks. Dogs shouldn’t be made to live this way, and putting something like a multiuse resort on those properties would bring in a lot more people and help the economy.

  • Priscilla Good

    Adkins blames the declining attendance on the casinos. Does he at all consider that people do not want to be a part of the cruel treatment of these animals? I would like to think that this is the real reason for the declining attendanc.

  • Juana

    just close down I will never go to a dog race, I will go to the casino. and start finding homes for those inocent creatures, people who doesn’t want to show their location is because they have lots to hide. Close down the racing trucks. is the right thing to do.or do it the right way .

  • Christine, Companion Pet Parent

    It turns my stomach to think of what other forms of animal abuse Adkins would condone for money. I will never support his business. Thank you for a greyt report.

  • B. Palmer

    What I can’t believe is that state division of pari-mutuel wagering inspected the kennels, found problems, and did nothing. Oh, wait. That’s the way government works. Like the DCF. They should all close down and find good loving homes for these wonderful dogs. Enough is enough.

    • April

      Right — what has government EVER worked?!? “I’m with the government and I’m here to help” — Ronald Reagan. He got it right — government never gets anything right!

  • David Wolf

    D Wolf Director National Greyhound Adoption Program I have been finding homes for Florida greyhounds for over 20 years. .Dan Adkins didn’t care a hoot about the dogs then and doesn’t now. CLOSE THE TRACKS NOW !!!!!! Let people gamble away their money on slots ,that doesn’t abuse any greyhounds.

  • Eric

    Greyhound racing is NOTHING like baseball, football, or any other human sport. And it is most certainly NOT a contact sport. Greyhounds get injured because the tracks are so poorly designed, with long straight-aways and very tight turns. The vast majority of injuries occur when a pack of animals tries to negotiate those turns together. There are no “improvements” that can be made to make the sport “safer” for the greyhounds. The only thing that is feasible to stop the inhumane and cruel treatment is to shut down these tracks and turn every one of the greyhounds over to the 300+ adoption groups who are ready and willing to take these racers and find them proper, loving, forever homes. Greyhounds make excellent pets, so get involved in their adoption now, then tell your legislators that you want these tracks shut down.

    • April

      It is long overdue for dog racing to be made illegal in EVERY STATE!!! Florida will be the toughest state to change because it has the most tracks: 13 But. racing WILL end — it’s just a matter of time. We will not give up on shutting down the cruelty that is called a “sport” and “entertainment!” These gentle greyhounds deserve better!!! Speak up and get legislation passed in your state!

    • WFM

      I agree. To compare Greyhound racing to baseball or football where the “athlete” actually has a CHOICE to participate or not, and the terms/conditions which they participate. Bogus.

  • P blynch

    I know many people who will not travel to states where Greyhound racing is continued.

  • Elgrit B. Russell

    Until people all over the country learn what is going on behind the scenes and the cruelties involved (some do go to Florida for vacations), these atrocities and races will continue. They must be outlawed and closed down but firs provisions should b made what to do with all the poor animals who will no doubt be killed if the races are gone.

  • Lauren

    Isn’t it funny how these “trainers” who are charged with animal abuse for allowing their “beloved grey’s” to STARVE are always FAT?!? I think he should suffer the same fast ase those dogs. Throw him in a cage, muzzle him, and then let him starve to death. No, I’m not joking. These are voiceless animals that deserve to be treated better — NO ANIMAL should be treated like this, even those raised for human consumption (food)!.

  • Lauren

    typo correction — this “trainer” who is charged with allowing 30 grey’s to starve to death, some suffer the same fate as them!!!

  • Lisbeth Mønsted Larsen

    It is a shame that the florida tracks are more preocupied with money than the welfare of their poor greyhounds the conditions under which these fourlegged athletes are kept is a sad travesty.
    There are soo many welfare issues that racing should be banned because of the cruelty asociated with keeping greyhounds in unsuitabel conditions. They should not be confined in small cages for hours on end in complete darkness. They should be entered in races whilst injured they should not be fed lousy food they should not be drugged they should not be kept in kennels at all as that is not a healthy inviroment for any dogs and most certainly not for inteligent sensetive sighthounds. As the owner of three ex-racing greyhounds I can say this this bloodsport should be banned for the reasons mentioned above as well as for the configurations of the tracks that endanger the lives of the greyhounds every time they race there. it is high time Florida tiedied up her act and banned greyhound racing for good based on the above mentioned as well as the complete contempt for life shown by those who should ensure the welfare of all racing greyhounds. Lisbeth Mønsted Larsen greyhound Action Denmark.

  • Brittany

    Wonderful video, I really hope lobbyist will be able to shut down these dog tracks.

  • debbie`

    Let’s hope one day all racing of animals will be banned. Greyhounds and other animals dont deserve this kind of life. I love all my rescued greyhounds!!

  • Jackie

    I am SICK of these people stating over and over “how racing use to be”. Well, those days are gone, get over it. Animal abuse is abuse, then and now. You just can’t justify it any longer.

    Go bet on the lottery. At least no one dies that way!

  • Carol Reins

    Outside in the deserts of arizona they have found grey hounds dumped or in mass graves and this is how they treat animals that make them money…who cares if they are injured or starved…laws need to shut these concentrationcamps for the dogs…and not allow these conditions to go on? Despite pleas from the owners that they will suffer a loss of income…the torture of these dogs are the ones who suffer.

    • Penny

      Thank you for telling it so well. The track owners do not want to lose any money,
      so once again, the reason for this suffering is GREED!

  • Judi

    Animals are not ours to use as entertainment, whether it is a circus, zoo, or greyhound racing. The greyhounds are meant to be COMPANIONS not COMMODITIES. It’s unfortunate that money trumps compassion! Everyone should support an end to greyhound racing NOW!!

  • Ed

    What A Wonderful Article About How Greyhounds Are Abused . It lacks just one thing that would make it much better and that would be the truth. It is compelling but sadly it is a bunch of blatant lies and old talking points. Sorry for those that want to believe otherwide but it just aint so.

    • Eric

      So, tell us, Ed, exactly which points in the article do you dispute?



  • Master McGrath

    Greyhound racing made the owners of Hollywood rich men. What Adkins failed to mention is that once he got a license to build a casino, he stopped promoting the dogs. Show me any portion of a business where you not only create new in-house competition, but also promote the new one at the expense of the old one, and I’ll show you a business that will fail. Adkins stacked the deck against racing and now he’s crying that he’s losing money on it. You can safely bet your paycheck that had he been turned down for a casino license, he would’ve been telling us today that greyhound racing was the greatest sport in the world.

  • Greyhounds R great

    I wonder why they make such great pets after the racing days are over?
    It must be all that abuse they recieve in those terrible Air Conditioned kennels of touture.
    Or maybe its the hours of confinement in those cages that are only 6 inches tall.
    Or it must be the poison food they are feed so they can run and break track records.
    It cant be the those terrible trainers and handlers abusing them 24hrs a day.
    It must be the work of GOD that they turn out the way they do.

    • Eric

      Greyhounds make great pets because they’re DOGS. They make great pets DESPITE the treatment they receive in racing kennels and on racing farms (breeding mills).

      The cages are not 6″ tall – what a stupid comment, and an obvious exaggeration intended to distract people from the facts. According to the GRA website, the kennels are actually 33″ x 43″ x 32″ tall. Keep in mind that male greyhounds stand 28″ – 31″ at the shoulder, and are 30″- 34″ in length. That means the cages are too small for many greyhounds to either stand upright or turn around. That degree of confinement is bad, but when you consider that many greyhounds race for years, up to five in some cases, and they are confined like that for 20 hours per day, that makes it inhumane and cruel.

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