A melancholy lingers around Tucson Greyhound Park, the residual from fans who abandoned this track in droves, lured away by tribal casinos or repelled by dog racing's increasingly seedy reputation.
Indeed, the entire industry is a mere shadow of its post-World War II glory days, with only 22 tracks nationwide, down from 49 tracks in the 1990s. And of the 15 states hosting dog races a decade ago, Arizona is among only seven that remain.
But even in its twilight, Tucson's track still raises a ruckus. Much of this turmoil dates from a 2008 ordinance passed by voters in the city of South Tucson, where the track is located. Among other things, the law prohibits injecting female dogs with anabolic steroids, which prevent them from going into heat. It also bans giving any dogs raw "4D" meat, so called because it comes from livestock that's "dead, dying, diseased or down." The meat is customarily fed uncooked to racing greyhounds across the country.
Ever since those laws were enacted, the track has relentlessly mocked them. It installed Crock-Pots in the kennels, for instance, claiming they were being used to cook the raw meat—an assertion even the meat's producer, Victory Greyhound Feed of La Motte, Iowa, called far-fetched. "Nobody cooks it," says Victory owner Jason Haynes. "It would be foolishness."
To dodge the steroid ban, dogs were injected in a parking lot just beyond the South Tucson city limits. But that parking lot was within the city of Tucson, prompting Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik to have the injections banned within metro Tucson as well. Pima County soon followed.
These mounting prohibitions might lead observers to conclude that dog doping has ended at Tucson Greyhound Park. Yet a July 11 inspection of its kennels found that not a single female dog—out of 202 checked—was currently in heat.
Among the incredulous is Susan Via, a retired federal prosecutor who spearheaded the South Tucson ordinance. "It must be some form of magic," she says, sarcastically.
Another skeptic is Jan Lesher, onetime chief of staff for operations with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and now a deputy Pima County administrator. Among Lesher's duties is overseeing the Pima Animal Care Center, which handles animal issues—including Greyhound Park—for South Tucson. Based on the July inspection, she ordered a second surprise inspection on Aug. 5. The results were the same.
Here's where things get hinky: The Arizona Department of Racing demands to be notified of any pending PACC inspections at Greyhound Park and there have been suspicions that state officials might be tipping the track off. Adding to this is the department's inherent conflict of interest, given that its own budget consists of racing proceeds. If that weren't weird enough, PACC must also rely on drug-testing results from the Department of Racing—which does not prohibit anabolic steroids.
To suggest there's a wee trust deficit here would be charitable.
"I'm not calling anybody liars, and I don't know anything about dogs," Lesher says. "But I just wonder why two times in a row, every female that we investigated was not in heat. To me, that's just counterintuitive."
Meanwhile, PACC's very presence at the track apparently rankles Racing Department Director Bill Walsh. This tension was noted in an Aug. 1 letter from Lesher to her boss, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. In it, she wrote that "the Authority of PACC to regulate or monitor operations at TGP is regularly challenged by the State ..."
In a past interview with the Weekly, Director Walsh asserted that only his inspectors are legally mandated to monitor Greyhound Park, and they don't enforce the ban on anabolic steroids or 4D meat. "I don't want to get involved in this situation, because it's between the racetrack and the local authorities," he told the Weekly. "But it appears that local authorities want to extend their authority on to the racetrack."
Instead, he defended the injections. "The (track) veterinarian treats these dogs once a month with really low doses, just to allow them to settle down and not go in season while the racing is going on. Find a report that shows that this does any type of damage to dogs at the levels at which they give them. I'll bet you can't, because I don't think there has ever been a report on this."
But scores of veterinarians who signed a petition supporting the 2008 South Tucson law apparently disagreed. As did Dr. Karter Neal, former medical director for the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, who told a TV host that the steroids can result in liver swelling, hepatitis and immune system compromises.
However, with Lesher now cranking up the pressure—and even questioning the veracity of his department's drug testing—Walsh has suddenly become a bit more conciliatory. He's even pledged to squeal on kennel owners caught doping their dogs with the steroids. "They're required by law to follow all the laws and we can go after them if we have to," he explained in a recent interview. "It's that simple."
Amid this shell game linger questions about Tucson Greyhound Park's very survival. Of course, it does still enjoy a sweetheart deal, courtesy of the citizens of Arizona. Along with other tracks, it has received an almost-free tax ride since 1994, as a hedge against competition from Indian gaming. Under this law, tracks can make special deductions for capital improvements and enjoy a "hardship tax credit," which often allows them to avoid paying any taxes at all.
Still, eyebrows were raised July 3, when combative track manager Tom Taylor was fired by the track's owners, Florida businessmen Joseph Zappala and Robert Consolo Jr.
Filling Taylor's position is Tony Fasulo, who arrives toting his own questionable credentials. It so happens that Fasulo was the track's CEO in 2005, when it released 150 greyhounds to Colorado-based dog transporter Richard Favreau. Nearly all of those dogs later disappeared.
According to records, Fasulo knew beforehand that Favreau's transport license had already been suspended by Colorado racing officials, after he'd been caught selling dogs for research without permission from their owners.
When we called Fasulo to ask about the Favreau scandal, he quickly hung up. We then called track operations manager John C. Scott, who's best known as a longtime local radio host. Scott responded to our questions with a bizarre, expletive-riddled tirade.
In the end, Scott blamed Greyhound Park's plight on biased media coverage. But others tend to blame the park's problems on the park itself. Among them is Kozachik, who isn't encouraged by Fasulo's arrival. "They're not bringing in anyone who's going to change the culture of the track," Kozachik says, "or take any better care of the animals than they have in the past."