South Tucson no longer will enforce a ban on administering steroids to greyhounds.
The decision came after the city received a letter from Bill Walsh, director of the Arizona Department of Racing, notifying it that state law on racing regulation pre-empts the city from enforcing a ban on steroids.
Voters in South Tucson passed the initiative banning steroids and several other practices in 2008. Supporters argued that the steroids, which are often used to suppress female racing dogs from going into heat, can be detrimental to the animals’ health.
“From our perspective, it has nothing to do with whether or not the greyhounds are being treated humanely or not; we believe they are,” South Tucson City Manager Luis Gonzales said.
“The only issue to us is whether or not, as a municipality, we have the ability to enforce that section of the law or not.”
In an email statement to the Arizona Daily Star, Walsh said: “The law itself was poorly written and failed to make clear who is responsible for enforcing the ban. To have a ban of this sort, some agency must have both the authority and the ability to run the testing program, which carries with it a considerable cost, if it is to be effective.”
During an Oct. 30 City Council meeting, City Attorney Andrea de Castillo advised the board to change the intergovernmental agreement South Tucson has with Pima County Animal Control, which enforces the law in the city.
Where before, the county would be responsible for enforcing the law, it will now rely on the state racing department to investigate cases of steroid abuse.
“We will still respond to any complaints we receive in reference to Tucson Greyhound Park,” said Jose Chavez, enforcement operations manager for the county. “If we come across any evidence we feel we have to forward to the state pertaining to steroid use, we will forward that to them.”
The department conducts biannual unannounced inspections at Tucson Greyhound Park in addition to responding to complaints. Chavez said they last responded in May to an allegation dogs were left untreated for injuries .
“That conflict was resolved,” Chavez said. “There was no basis. They were all in compliance.”
Susan Via, a former attorney who worked on the 2008 South Tucson initiative, disagrees with the city’s interpretation of the law.
“It just shows they have contempt for the welfare of the animals and contempt for the voters that passed this ordinance,” Via said.
She said that unless a state law specifically addresses a smaller municipality’s law, pre-emption is not an issue.
“We have some time and are just going to explore the options and see what legal recourse there may be to overturn this decision,” Via said.
Tucson and Pima County enacted similar bans on greyhound doping after South Tucson’s action. Walsh said in his email statement that there are no plans to contact leaders in Tucson or the county regarding their enforcement of those laws.
“They didn’t come after us,” said Councilman Steve Kozachik, who pioneered Tucson’s measure. “If they had any integrity, they would have sent it to South Tucson, city of Tucson and the Board of Supervisors.”
“What he did was go to the small dog, pardon the pun,” Kozachik said. He added Tucson has no plans to reconsider its ban.