Racing greyhound steroid shots continue despite ban

2012-09-07T00:00:00Z 2012-09-07T10:20:55Z Racing greyhound steroid shots continue despite banDarren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 07, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Four years after South Tucson voters passed a law prohibiting dogs at Tucson Greyhound Park from being given anabolic steroid injections, the practice continues.

All the law, initiated to protect the dogs, really accomplished was stopping them from being injected at the race park.

It turns out, South Tucson is the only government in the region that bans greyhounds from being injected with steroids, which are administered to prevent female dogs from going into heat and thus keeping them on the track.

To get around the law, Tucson Greyhound Park has been transporting its dogs a few hundred yards north, into Tucson's city limits, where Dr. Joe Robinson, the track veterinarian, legally injects them.

Experts say prolonged use can result in liver damage, genital infections and an early death for the dogs, according to Susan Via, chairperson of Tucson Dog Protection, a group that worked toward passing the ban. That's why she said more than 104 Tucson-area veterinary professionals signed a petition in favor of the 2008 law.

"It's just common sense. You don't give large doses of testosterone to females," Via said. "It's unhealthy and it's unnecessary."

And that's why City Councilman Steve Kozachik is imploring the Tucson's council next Tuesday to consider adopting a similar law for the larger city.

"The greyhound racing industry is a horrific example of mistreatment of animals. If I could shut it down in Arizona, I would," Kozachik said. "The next best thing is to do what I can to improve the treatment of the dogs, and in this case it's to stop the use of anabolic steroids being used to buff them up and keep them on the track. To justify administering them to the dogs in the name of 'sport' is both inhumane and unethical."

Kozachik said he also wants the county and every other city and town to pass a ban so "these guys don't have any places of refuge in this region to continue abusing the animals this way."

But Tucson Greyhound Park CEO and General Manager Tom Taylor said his operation is being vilified based on misinformation.

He said animal-rights activists misled the public by portraying the practice as barbaric and cruel, which resulted in a bad law being passed.

He said injecting steroids into female greyhounds is the best form of birth control they can give to the dogs and is widely used at dog tracks around the nation and the world.

"It's what's best for the dogs," Taylor said. "And we will always do what's best for the dogs."

And that's why they started driving dogs into Tucson to continue the injections.

Taylor said the misperception arose from past practices, where kennel operators would be the ones administering the drugs.

"They operated under the assumption that more was always better, and that led to a lot of problems with the dogs' health," he said. "But we don't do that. We have a veterinarian who gives all the injections."

Taylor said Robinson performs a physical exam and injects the 400 female dogs at Greyhound Park with 2 cubic centimeters of testosterone every 30 days throughout their entire racing career. Taylor said the average dog has a three- to four-year career.

"We had a tough time finding someone to do this," he said. "And he's willing to stand up to the animal-rights activists."

Robinson has had troubles with the state veterinary board in the past. He was placed on probation by the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board in 2010 for a medical records violation. He was ordered to get a premise license for his practice and to take some continuing education classes.

According to veterinary board Executive Director Victoria Whitmore, Robinson got the license but refused to take the classes, so his probation was extended a second year. A few weeks ago, Whitmore said, the board resolved the case by fining Robinson $1,000 in lieu of the education courses.

Taylor said if Kozachik is successful and gets the ban passed, it would jeopardize his business and the jobs of 140 employees.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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