Studies exonerate more than 99.9% of racing greyhounds, but not necessarily their trainers
GAINESVILLE, Florida––If dogs could do drugs unassisted, the hard-working, short, highly stressed life of a racing greyhound might drive many times more to substance abuse than just the 1,150 greyhounds among more than 700,000 known to have flunked race day urine samples administered at Florida tracks since July 1998.
Of the 1,150 greyhounds who failed drug tests, about a fifth, or 230, just 0.00164% of the 700,000, flunked tests for cocaine and two metabolites of cocaine, benzoylecgonine and ecgonine methyl ester, according to data compiled by the Racing Laboratory at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Newer numbers may be higher
The preliminary numbers, published on March 14, 2018 by the American Veterinary Medical Association, “may be higher when the state publishes data covering July 2016 through June 2017, a period during which complaint documents show dogs tested positive at least 29 times,” cautioned Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association senior staff writer Greg Cima.
“Cocaine could give dogs an edge in racing,” explained Cima, “and Florida state authorities say intentional administration is the most plausible explanation.”
Trainers Charles F. McClellan and Natasha L. Nemeth between them had 16 greyhounds flunk 24 drug tests at the Bestbet Orange Park track near Jacksonville in 2017. A third trainer racing at Bestbet, Malcolm McAllister, had six dogs fail drug tests, all in January 2017.
All three trainers were suspended. But attorney Jennifer Y. Rosenblum, representing McClellan and Nemeth, argued successfully before administrative law judge Lawrence P. Stevenson in December 2017 that imprecise testing protocols did not exclude the possibility that their dogs might have tested positive for cocaine use because they picked up residues from sources other than the trainers.
“Rosenblum and other attorneys representing the trainers have argued that the substances detected could reflect contact with trace amounts of cocaine through contaminated grass, people who handle cocaine-contaminated cash, or cocaine-contaminated hands and faces of people, including the state employees who collect urine samples,” Cima summarized. “The attorneys also claim the metabolites found are indicative of exposure to amounts too small to affect performance.”
Greyhounds don’t normally snort, says state
Prosecutors representing the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, Cima added, “have countered in court documents that cocaine is far more likely to be administered by an animal’s trainer, there is no evidence the positive test results were caused by environmental contamination, and years of drug testing data contradict suggestions that environmental contamination with cocaine is affecting the greyhound industry. Court documents filed by the state in January also note that no authority has set an acceptable amount of cocaine in racing animals, and greyhounds have no “normal physiological level of cocaine.”
The prima facie evidence that environmental contamination with cocaine is not affecting greyhound racing to any significant extent is simply that so few greyhounds have flunked the urine tests over the years, while those who have flunked have been handled by only a small number of trainers.
Two wins in seven starts nothing to sneeze at
Carey M. Theil, executive director of the anti-greyhound racing organization Grey2K USA, told Cima that “environmental contamination claims seem plausible when that includes illegal drug use by people who are around the dogs,” Cima said.
But Theil added, “We would be naive to assume that race fixing doesn’t happen.”
One four-year-old dog who failed drug tests associated with seven races, Theil noted, finished first in two of those races, at a relatively advanced age for a greyhound still competing.
“Grey2K is citing state data on positive test results for cocaine and cocaine metabolites in support of a proposal to prohibit wagering on dog races,” Cima wrote. “At press time, the proposal was before Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission, a body that convenes every 20 years and will vote on proposals to place on the November 2018 general election ballot.”
1.1% of pipe workers flunk drug tests
Florida has nine of the 17 greyhound racetracks still operating in the U.S., with others in Alabama, Arkansas, Iowa, Texas, West Virginia, and New Mexico.
Whatever the source of cocaine found among racing dogs, the odds have been far higher in recent years of finding illegal drugs in a human than of finding illegal drugs in a racing greyhound.
Drug testing data obtained from the Transportation Department by Democratic staff members on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, released to media in February 2018, showed that as of 2016, 0.4% of railroad workers, 0.6% of aviation workers, 0.8% of bus and truck drivers, 0.9% of licensed boat operators, 1% of other transit workers, and 1.1% of pipeline workers had failed drug tests.
The failure rate had increased by 77% in 10 years.
“Casey Jones, watch your speed!”
“Driving that train, high on cocaine,” as the Grateful Dead alleged in 1970, Casey Jones would be 244 times more likely to be using, according to the Transportation Department data, than a racing greyhound.
Quest Diagnostics, a leading provider of drug screening tests, reported in May 2017 that 4.2% of the total U.S. workforce tested positively for illegal drug use during the preceding year.
0.28% tested positively for cocaine use, the highest failure rate in seven years––and 170 times the positive test rate among Florida racing greyhounds.
No greyhound racing in the Mile-High City
But if racing greyhounds were to use drugs of their own volition, they might more likely turn toward marijuana. Marijuana use among humans jumped from 5.1% of U.S. workers in 2013 to 8.9% in 2016, according to Quest Diagnostics.
In Washington and Colorado, where marijuana use is legal, but greyhound racing is not, the figures for marijuana use among the human workforce were 9% and 11%, respectively.