It's been almost three years since residents in the mile-square burg of South Tucson passed a law to protect greyhounds at their rundown race track.
For most of that time, city officials have either ignored the ordinance or done their best to dance around it—to a degree that suggests either collusion with track officials, or remarkable indifference toward their constituents.
Approved by 52 percent of South Tucson voters, the Tucson Dog Protection Act was aimed at making life a bit more tolerable for the 700 or so dogs caged in the park's kennels. Among other things, it explicitly prohibits the dosing of female greyhounds with anabolic steroids to keep them from going into heat. Those steroids are believed to cause genital deformities and severe urinary-tract problems.
Yet the dosing apparently goes on. Dr. Joe Robinson, a veterinarian from Green Valley, has admitted to the Tucson Weekly that he administers steroids at Tucson Greyhound Park. He defiantly repeated that admission to the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board, where he was disciplined for record-keeping violations. One condition of Robinson's probation was that he obtain a "premise" license to work at Tucson Greyhound Park; he did so in February.
As Robinson explained to the Weekly in an earlier interview, his function at Tucson Greyhound Park is to drive up every three weeks and administer the drug. He argues that the city of South Tucson has no right to prohibit the practice, and track manager Tom Taylor has asserted that administering the steroids is not in violation of the ordinance.
Despite this defiance of the law, South Tucson officials claim they lack the enforcement resources to respond—and question whether a response is even necessary.
"There haven't been any other violations," says city attorney Hector Figueroa. "Frankly, with the budget restraints and stuff, we've kinda done like the state and federal government, and have to be selective as to where we spend our efforts and time on prosecutions."
When pressed, Figueroa simply hung up.
City Manager Enrique Serna didn't return numerous calls seeking comment.
Still, the question lingers: Just how many resources would it take to investigate a veterinarian who admits breaking the law at the very same track, time after time? For instance, it appears that neither city officials, nor the Pima Animal Care Center—which conducts kennel inspections for the city—have managed the simple step of simply asking to see Dr. Robinson's track records.
Meanwhile, another provision in the Tucson Dog Protection Act prohibits feeding dogs raw "4D" meat, so called because it comes from livestock that's "dead, dying, diseased or down" at the time of slaughter. The meat is customarily fed raw to racing greyhounds.
Recently, the Massachusetts-based group Grey2K USA, which works to ban all greyhound racing, obtained several Tucson Greyhound Park investigation reports from Pima Animal Care. One report, provided to the Weekly, documents a January 2010 phone conversation about the dogs' food between Pima field investigator Debra Tenkate and track manager Tom Taylor.
"Mr. Taylor said it is 4D grade meat not for human consumption," Tenkate writes in the report. "Mr. Taylor also said the meat can consist of beef, deer, elk, cattle and that the animals may have been sick, dead (died in truck) or road kill."
Tenkate followed up with a call to the track's supplier, Victory Meat in La Motte, Iowa. She spoke with Victory owner Jason Haynes, who explained that his product is composed of "animals that are condemned from plants and none (sic) productive animals from farms."
But by the time Tenkate made a follow-up call to Taylor, the track manager had changed his story, telling the investigator that Victory "does not utilize any dying or disabled animals in their meat supply."
At the end of her report, and despite these contradictions, investigator Tenkate found the track to be in compliance with the South Tucson law.
Tenkate tells the Weekly her judgment was based on Taylor's assertion that the meat was being cooked before it was fed to the dogs, and she saw that each kennel was equipped with a Crock-Pot-type cooker. "My inspection was completed," she says. "They were in compliance at that point."
If that 4D meat is cooked, then it would not violate the Tucson Dog Protection Act. However, when the Weekly contacted Victory Greyhound Feed owner Haynes, he told us that no tracks in the country cook the meat before feeding it to dogs. "You'd lose all the enzymes if you cook it," Haynes says. "... It would defeat the whole entire purpose. ... The dogs would not be able to function at the level that they're functioning now."
A call to Tom Taylor was not returned.
And so, three years after the Tucson Dog Protection Act went into effect, it seems that this ongoing shell game, coupled with government apathy, has allowed the track to simply thumb its nose at the citizens of South Tucson. Nor has there been enforcement at the state level; officials with the Arizona Department of Racing say they have no jurisdiction to enforce city ordinances, and the Arizona Attorney General's Office has yet to examine these apparent violations. Such attention would likely be sparked by someone filing a complaint, says attorney general spokeswoman Amy Rezzonico.
Nonetheless, South Tucson Mayor Jennifer Eckstrom says her city is doing its best to keep tabs on the track. "When we go down there to respond to complaints, if we happen to not catch them giving steroids ... I don't know what more we need to do—put a security guard out there?"
Asked whether the city's cops have simply requested a peek at Dr. Robinson's records, Eckstrom has no answer. "We have other things that we need to deal with, with regards to the Police Department," she says. "And I'm not even sure what they would be looking for."
But that's not exactly rocket science, say critics of the track. Among them is Susan Via, a retired federal prosecutor who spearheaded getting the Tucson Dog Protection Act passed. She's grown increasingly frustrated at watching South Tucson officials trot out one excuse after another.
"The city attorney has never prosecuted, despite the fact that they have all the records from the vet board proving that Robinson was doping the female greyhounds," Via says. "He freely admitted doing it, but Figueroa has never done a thing, even though it's a slam-dunk case."