Greyhound racing inhabits a hermitic little world on South Fourth Avenue—one of chain link, barbed wire and sulking security guards. Now that domain could get even smaller, as the Tucson City Council mulls a ban on the doping of racing dogs within our city limits.
Oddly enough, there is no greyhound racing in the city of Tucson—but there doesn't need to be for a problem to exist. Here's why: In 2008, the citizens of South Tucson—a square-mile jurisdiction that's home to Tucson Greyhound Park—passed a ballot initiative that outlawed keeping racing dogs in small cages nearly around the clock, and feeding them raw "4-D" meat ground from dead, diseased, disabled or dying livestock.
That measure also prohibited the doping of female racing greyhounds with anabolic steroids to keep them from going into heat. The drugs are believed to cause genital deformities and severe urinary-tract problems in dogs.
To dodge this doping ban, the track began hauling its dogs outside of the South Tucson city limits, shooting them up with steroids and hauling them back. In April, a source tipped me off about these early-morning escapades by Dr. Joe Robinson, a track veterinarian. After I caught Robinson injecting the dogs in a parking lot near the track, he was forced to move his clandestine operation farther south. (See "Shooting Gallery," April 12.)
However, if an amendment proposed by Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik becomes law, Doc Robinson's mobile-injection squad would be illegal within the city of Tucson as well.
At that point, says Kozachik, he'd lobby the Pima County Board of Supervisors to enact a similar ban countywide, thus forcing Robinson to convene his shooting galleries somewhere down by Nogales.
It's admittedly a cat-and-mouse game. "If this were my perfect world, first of all, I'd shut the track down," Kozachik says. "Secondly, in a less-than-perfect world, I'd expand on what the South Tucson people did in 2008. Those dogs are muzzled, and they're kept in kennels they can barely stand up in for something like 18 hours a day. Then you've got some moron like (track manager) Tom Taylor saying the dogs like it this way, and that people like me just don't understand how to train a dog to be an athlete.
"There are still allegations from some of the track workers that the dogs are being fed 4-D meat," says Kozachik, "and then there's the issue of anabolic steroids. If the track has to operate, I would certainly want to see the dogs exercised more and treated in a more-humane manner.
Kozachik continues: "I can't do any of that, because it's in South Tucson. What I can do, though, is when I find guys like Joe Robinson running dogs into the city of Tucson and administering steroids here, I can get an ordinance that blocks him at the city limits, saying, 'You can't come here.' "
If Pima County were to do likewise, Taylor claims he'd shut the track down, Kozachik says. "And at that point, I will have achieved the primary goal, anyway. My only concern is what he would do with the dogs. And I hope he would have enough humanity to adopt them out."
A phone call to Robinson at the Nogales Veterinary Clinic, where he works as a veterinarian, was not returned.
But Taylor says that moves to ban steroids are misguided. He calls the South Tucson ordinance "an unjust law," arguing that steroids are the most-effective method of birth control for dogs. "It's the safest method used out there, because it will allow the female to go back into heat when they're off it, and have healthy puppies afterward."
But scores of veterinarians who signed a petition supporting the 2008 law disagree. As does Dr. Karter Neal, medical director for the Humane Society of Southern Arizona. In a recent television interview, Neal noted that the steroids can result in liver-swelling, hepatitis and immune-system compromises.
How is Kozachik's effort likely to fare? A poll of City Council members shows some support for the amendment, which is expected to come up for discussion as soon as Tuesday, Sept. 11. Ward 2 Councilman Paul Cunningham says he opposes greyhound-doping, as does Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich. "I think it's incumbent upon us to do everything we can to protect those animals," Uhlich says.
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild sees the need to bring the city's laws into "compatibility" with those of South Tucson.
Council members Richard Fimbres, Shirley Scott and Regina Romero didn't respond to calls. A call seeking comment from Ramón Valadez, chairman of the Pima County Board of Supervisors, was not returned.
If Kozachik's amendment were to become law, the Pima Animal Care Center would be charged with enforcing it. But according to the councilman, a chat with Kim Janes, director of PACC, left him doubtful that infractions would be aggressively monitored.
"I called Kim Janes about a year ago, and he was very dismissive of my wanting to look into it," Kozachik says. "His comment to me was that issues with Tucson Greyhound Park were hyped up by a small group of activists who didn't understand athletic animals."
Kozachik says he also reviewed a report from PACC's inspection of the greyhound kennels, which found no violations. "My response to that is, if, in fact, (kennels) were given passing marks, it speaks to how lame the standards are."
But Janes says he doesn't recall making those comments to Kozachik. Asked how he feels about criticism of the track, Janes says, "We're here to enforce (South Tucson's) ordinances and codes as it's asked us to do. That's my feeling."
Of course, none of this enforcement comes without a price tag. Officials have apparently been mulling the idea of raising revenue by requiring the track's several hundred dogs to be licensed, just as every other dog in Pima County is supposed to be. While this might sound like a no-brainer, Tom Taylor argues that "it has been decided" that his dogs don't need licenses, because they've already been vaccinated.
Apparently, that was "decided" by Tom Taylor alone; Janes says he's just awaiting word from South Tucson to proceed with licensing enforcement at the track. That move could raise several thousand dollars, and offset the cost to South Tucson taxpayers for PACC's services, which topped $57,000 in fiscal year 2011.
But this extra revenue is apparently not a priority for South Tucson leaders—despite the fact that they perennially cry poverty when asked about lax enforcement at the track. Neither Mayor Jennifer Eckstrom nor City Manager Enrique Serna returned repeated phone calls and emails.