At first glance, Tucson Greyhound Park appears more worn out than wildly controversial. Over the past half-dozen years, annual attendance at this track has slid by more than 10,000 people, while bets have fallen by millions of dollars. And it shows.
As dog tracks go, Tucson is considered a dead-ender, or nearly so. For racers that have reached this point in their downward spiral, the next stop is typically something even worse in Mexico. However, worse may be hard to fathom: In October, state inspectors discovered horrendous conditions at a kennel here. (See "Kennel No. 1," April 23.)
More recently, track manager Tom Taylor was fined by the Arizona Department of Racing after a follow-up inspection found syringes in one of the kennels. Syringes are prohibited on track grounds unless wielded by a veterinarian.
But perhaps even more troubling is that this rundown track is left to police itself with regards to a ballot initiative passed in November by the voters of South Tucson.
Among other things, the freshly minted Tucson Dog Protection Act requires that the track either enlarge its greyhound cages or allow the dogs to remain outside of them for at least six hours each day. It forbids the dosing of female greyhounds with anabolic steroids, which contain hormones to keep them from going into heat. The law also prohibits feeding greyhounds "4-D" meat, so called because it comes from livestock that's "dead, dying, diseased or down" at the time of slaughter. The flesh is stripped from carcasses and frozen raw, and then fed to the dogs, still raw.
Last spring, track officials were defiant as the ballot initiative gained steam. "It'll be too harmful to the dogs to follow these measures," park manager Tom Taylor told the Tucson Citizen in May 2008. "These people don't know the breed."
Regardless, the measure passed in November, 402 yays to 373 nays. But as the dust settles from that electoral fracas, Tucson Greyhound Park may have the last laugh: It seems that no one is actually enforcing the new law.
Theoretically, the Pima Animal Care Center should be keeping tabs, since South Tucson contracts with the agency to provide overall animal management. "All of the South Tucson ordinances related to animals and fowl, they have empowered us to enforce," says PACC manager Kim Janes. That includes the Tucson Dog Protection Act.
But it's not quite that easy, since PACC staffers do not monitor compliance with the new law. "Our workload is such that we only respond to complaints," he says. "Only if a complaint comes in will we go and make sure what's happening."
This seems a rather remote possibility, however, since Tucson Greyhound Park refuses to allow the public—including me—to see conditions inside its kennels. So it appears that PACC will respond only in the unlikely event that kennel operators report themselves. "That is part of the challenge," Janes says.
But should such a freakish thing actually occur, PACC inspectors still couldn't enter the park's kennel compound at will. "Another challenge we have is that, without probable cause, we don't even approach the owners," he says. "Then once we approach the owners, only if the owners will allow us inside the facilities will we look."
Which raises this query: Why did the City of South Tucson farm out enforcement of a brand-new ordinance to a notoriously understaffed agency that's legally shackled in its ability to police the kennels?
According to City Manager Enrique Serna, South Tucson simply doesn't have the resources to monitor the track. "And I think that's why (proponents) of the ordinance decided to do it here," he says. "But if they think we're going to stand at the ready, we're not."
The track is owned by Florida businessmen Joseph Zappala and Robert Consolo Jr. Neither returned phone calls from the Tucson Weekly seeking comment. Nor did track manager Tom Taylor. However, in an earlier interview, we did ask Taylor who was monitoring the new law. "I have no idea," he said. "I don't have to do it. I don't have to turn the dogs out six hours a day. The kennel owners have to do it. It's their law that they have to follow, and they tell me they're doing it."
All of which doesn't sit well with Susan Via, chairwoman of Tucson Dog Protection, the group behind the greyhound law. A career federal prosecutor with the U.S. attorney for Arizona, Via retired in 1998. Then next day, she went out and adopted a greyhound.
Via may have been thrilled with the passage of the law, but words on paper are far different than boots on the ground. And she doesn't buy Taylor's contention that compliance is simply up to the kennel owners. "After all, it's Tucson Greyhound Park's property," she says.
At the same time, she contends that Taylor's policies on who can visit his kennels are a bit fluid. "The night that (the Tucson Dog Protection Act) was discussed in the South Tucson City Council," she says, "he invited anybody who wanted to come back to the kennels."
Either way, it appears that enforcement of the Tucson Dog Protection Act is left up to Tucson Greyhound Park. But the park's record doesn't necessarily lend much confidence. Besides the October discovery of filthy conditions, Taylor was recently fined for the syringes found in a vacant kennel used for adoptions.
According to Luis Marquez, director of the Arizona Department of Racing, the syringes "had canola oil in them, because that's used to increase the weight of the dogs and supposedly doesn't damage them." Taylor was initially fined $500 for the incident. But that amount was reduced after he argued that no dogs were present in the kennel, and those that had been there were no longer used for racing. Apparently, the canola oil was meant to plump up skinny dogs for adoption.
"He raised enough questions to where I lowered the fine to $300," says Marquez. "But I still found him in violation—that he was responsible for the kennel and the syringes found there."