In November of 2018, Floridians voted on Amendment 13 which would essentially end commercial dog (greyhound) racing involving wagering by 2020. Currently, there are about a dozen race tracks still operating in Florida. The reason for the amendment is that dog racing has drawn criticism from animal rights advocates who assert that the practice is inhumane. Well, the vote came and Floridians overwhelmingly voted it in. So what now? Closing the tracks down is one thing, but what happens to the dogs? When greyhound racing ends, where do the dogs go?
Who Is Sonia Stratemann?
In Loxahatchee, Florida, Sonia Stratemann has dedicated her life to rescuing retired greyhounds from Florida’s race tracks. She has taken them in when they’ve grown too old to compete or after they suffered terrible injury. She would rehab the dogs until they could be placed in a loving home.
For sixteen years Stratemann worked with the greyhound racing industry, adopting out over 2,300 greyhounds through her rescue, Elite Greyhound Adoptions. But all of that has changed, now.
Now, Stratemann has joined forces with animal rights groups to highlight the greyhound industry’s treatment of dogs. She advocated for Florida’s Amendment 13, which effectively banned greyhound racing in the state by December 2020. Voters vehemently approved the amendment in November by a margin of 2 to 1.
“They’re all special. Every single one of them has a story,” Stratemann said. “Everything my family and I have been through with these dogs for so long,” Stratemann said. “Just to see that if you fight hard you can actually make a difference and end it.”
The Stratemann Backlash
When Amendment 13 passed, there were about 4,000 greyhounds still racing in the state of Florida. Many tracks have already closed before the deadline. Many of these greyhounds have already been retired. By the time December 2020 rolls around there could potentially be 1,500 greyhounds in need of homes. It is not easy to find homes for these dogs. Such a large number can only make this a much more pressing situation.
If the industry has its way, Stratemann and her rescue will not get one of them. Stratemann said she feels that she has been blackballed.
“I was told the Palm Beach Kennel Club informed their trainers that they would be kicked out if they worked with me. I just had a postcard sent to me wishing that I’d have cancer. So yeah the industry is very, very upset and have said they will never give me another dog ever again.”
Jim Gartland is the executive director of the National Greyhound Association based in Kansas. He confirmed that the industry is bitter about the Florida vote and through Greyhound Pets of America will only work with the 105 rescue groups that supported the industry.
He said pro-ban activists have no business trying to help all the dogs that will eventually need new homes.
“It’s tough for us to swallow. The same person who was out there telling people to vote to shut down racing now wants to benefit,” Gartland said. He said the industry has always stepped up and done the right thing and will continue to do so.
“They were used and abused for profit and that’s something we’re hoping to change,” Christine Dorchak, president and general counsel for Grey 2K USA Worldwide, said.
Dorchak has been at the forefront in the battle to end greyhound racing in the U.S. and now around the world since 2001.
Until twenty years ago, retired greyhounds were routinely euthanized. She said the industry caused its own problems and eventual demise because it refused and obstructed reforms.
Dorchak said in Florida a dog dies every three days and dogs are kept confined an average of 20 to 23 hours a day at racing kennels. But a new day is dawning for the remaining greyhounds still racing in Florida.
So What Happens to the Dogs?
Michelle Weaver, who since 2001 has adopted out more than 2,400 dogs, is praying the industry can just leave the politics out of it.
“Once that dog is not racing, why do you care? Give to somebody who’s going to find it a good home. It doesn’t have to be a pro-racing home. It’s a home,” she said.
Stratemann said she is concerned about what’s going to happen to the dogs as the 2020 deadline nears.
“If all of those tracks close at the end…we’ll be scrambling and then they’re going to need help,” Stratemann said. “They’re not going to be able to use the 100 groups that they say. They’re going to need help from everybody.”
But Dorchak isn’t worried. She’s faced this pushback from the industry before and said the dogs always win.
“Historically speaking, when dog tracks have closed over these last 20 years, there had been a wonderful exodus of greyhounds into adoptions,” Dorchak said.
Stratemann also remains optimistic.
“The day after Amendment 13 passed, we started getting applications in, and we’ve probably had 400 since then,” Stratemann said.
Stratemann firmly feels that the battle to end greyhound racing is well worth the backlash.
“The dogs look at them. They’re just the best and no one else was doing it. They needed us.”
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