Bad Track Record

Almost 70 greyhounds were injured over a two-month period at TGP—and the state handed out no punishment

The reports splash across my screen like a contagion: injury after injury at Tucson Greyhound Park, most of them due to outright neglect.

But the conditions that resulted in no fewer than 68 damaged racing dogs over a two-month period—from broken equipment to shoddy track maintenance—led to nothing more than harsh words from the Arizona Department of Racing.

This, despite the fact that even Tucson Greyhound Park trainers were in full revolt over the number of wounded animals in February and March of this year.

The records are scathing. "Tucson Greyhound Park needs to do a lot better job maintaining their equipment and fix broken equipment immediately," says one ADOR inspector's report, obtained by the Tucson Weekly. "This neglect will not be tolerated."

But considering that the track's malfeasance went unpunished, it's hard to see what will compel long-term change.

Perhaps ADOR officials simply didn't want to spotlight their own failings by slapping a high-profile penalty on Tucson Greyhound Park. Either way, department officials certainly appeared lax in reviewing dog-injury records, until they were contacted by angry trainers.

Such negligence outrages Tucson Ward 6 City Councilman Steve Kozachik, who's been waging a one-man jihad against the track, even though it lies beyond his jurisdiction, in the tiny burg of South Tucson.

Last month, Kozachik successfully prodded the council to emulate South Tucson, where voters in 2008 passed a ballot proposition banning the injection of female greyhounds with anabolic steroids. The steroids keep the dogs from going into heat, but are also believed to cause chronic health problems.

To get around the South Tucson ban, track officials had been hauling dogs into the city of Tucson to conduct injections. Now that the steroids are prohibited in Tucson as well, the track is forced to take the dogs into unincorporated Pima County. Even as Greyhound Park officials contend that female dogs will no longer be used at the track, Kozachik is pressing the Pima County Board of Supervisors to further extend the ban.

According to Kozachik, his effort has run into stonewalling from board Chairman Ramón Valadez, whose District 2 includes South Tucson. "He said he was going to send it to a couple of committees," says Kozachik, "to see if committees agree that elimination of steroids is in the best interest of the animals. I sent him a note back saying that exact conversation happened when the proposition was being voted on in South Tucson. If (he) feels it's necessary to reinvestigate that same question now, four years later, then have at it. But that question has been asked and answered."

Valadez didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

Either way, track-manager Tom Taylor reports that the duties of Dr. Joe Robinson—whose sole Greyhound Park task was the steroid injections—have come to an end. A call seeking comment from Robinson at the Nogales Veterinary Clinic, where he works, was not returned.

Still, the doctor's tenure does not speak well for the integrity of track operations. His license is currently on probation with the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board for insufficient record-keeping. And in August, he was fined $1,000 for failing to attend classes required to end the probation. Continuing to ignore state mandates could result in a license suspension, even as the board has received yet another complaint against him.

As for Kozachik, he's now taking aim at what he considers haphazard Greyhound Park maintenance—and a "dereliction of their duties" by the Department of Racing. "If that is the governing body that's supposed to be looking out for the health and welfare of the animals ... then it strikes me that you wouldn't have the (dog) owners, the track stewards and the trainers saying they're not going to run on the track any more until you fix the conditions."

But Bill Walsh, the department's director, says the dog injuries "all happened in a short period of time," and that his inspectors acted quickly when the situation came to light. "We thought there was a problem with the equipment, and we forced them to get the equipment upgraded, and that's what happened."

As for why the track didn't receive even a slap on the wrist for its slovenly ways, "In order to sanction someone, you have to go through a hearing process, and you actually have to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt," Walsh says.

Contrary to numerous complaints by dog-kennel owners, Taylor says problems were promptly fixed. "We went through every little thing from top to bottom, not knowing what was wrong. We changed the equipment; we changed the way we drove the equipment; we changed the sand on the track. We did everything we could think of, and it worked."

However, tongue-lashings from the Department of Racing aren't the track's only headache. Kozachik has been pressing the Pima Animal Care Center to require licensing of the dogs at Tucson Greyhound Park. That's apparently a first, despite the track's decades of existence.

Pima Animal Care director Kim Janes says he was just awaiting word from South Tucson officials "that there was not reason not to license them. Once the city verified that for me, we decided we could go out and license them."

It seems odd, though, that this situation was allowed to continue as long as it did, considering that proceeds from the licensing could offset the nearly $60,000 that South Tucson pays to Pima County each year for animal-control services.

South Tucson City Manager Enrique Serna says the community's attention was focused more on strays than on licensing. "There has never been a proactive arm that runs around and checks the dogs and who they belong to."

Janes says that South Tucson law allows Tucson Greyhound Park's kennels to simply pay $225 each rather than paying to license each dog individually. That compares to a $400 kennel permit fee in Oro Valley and unincorporated Pima County.

But Kozachik says the track is getting off nearly scot-free yet again, maintaining that the kennel owners are required to pay a fee for the individual dogs, according to PACC's own policies.