Shooting Gallery

South Tucson's greyhound track skirts the law by doping dogs outside of the city

In morning's early light, Dr. Joe Robinson pokes the syringe in a tiny bottle, raises it above his head, and draws back the plunger.

Robinson apparently doesn't wish to publicize his finesse; each time I try to photograph this handiwork, the longtime veterinarian spins his back to me. And so, for minutes on end, we engage in an odd little dance.

Similarly, whenever I ask Robinson about this crack-of-dawn exercise, his response is uniform: "None of your business," he says.

"None of your damn business," his assistant pipes in, from the open gate of a red pickup truck where she has yet more syringes arranged in a tidy little row.

This most certainly is the business of residents in the city of South Tucson, given that its jurisdiction begins just a few hundred feet away. You see, Robinson has come to this parking lot, just beyond those city limits, to dope dogs from the Tucson Greyhound Park. Were he to do so in South Tucson, where the track is located, he would be breaking the law.

In 2008, voters in the mile-square burg passed the Tucson Dog Protection Act. Among other things, the new law banned the injection of female dogs with steroids at Tucson Greyhound Park. While those steroids contain hormones to keep the dogs from going into heat, they're also believed to cause genital deformities and severe urinary-tract problems.

Approximately six months ago, the track and Dr. Robinson came up with this nifty, early-morning method to dodge the law. So now, nearly every Monday, Robinson does his injections here in the parking lot of Tucson Iron and Metal.

Today, dog trailers fill a corner of the lot. One by one, kennel owners open small doors on the trailers, and muzzled greyhounds peek out, as Robinson reaches in to deliver a shot. When an entire trailer is done, the dogs are hauled back to the South Tucson track.

Though technically legal, this little ritual seems contemptuous of the law passed by South Tucson voters.

But Tucson Greyhound Park manager Tom Taylor offers a different take. "Basically, the law was written wrong," he says. "In fact, the (state) veterinarian board claims that the city can't tell the veterinarian that he can't (inject steroids). The veterinarian could be doing it on our property, and not be breaking the law. It was decided that the state law trumped the city law."

Actually, the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board decided that it had no jurisdiction over a city ordinance, says executive director Victoria Whitmore. For its part, the Arizona Department of Racing has no prohibition on such injections.

However, Whitmore did confirm that Robinson's license was placed on probation for a failure to maintain adequate medical records. Though he was the third track vet punished for record-keeping violations, it's unclear whether Dr. Robinson has changed his ways. While I watched him rapidly inject dog after dog on the morning of my visit, there was no paperwork to be seen.

Susan Via is a retired federal prosecutor who helped craft the Tucson Dog Protection Act. Since its passage, she's grown exasperated at consistent failures to enforce the law.

"Of course, I am certain Dr. Robinson now takes vital signs, does an exam, takes each dog's temperature and carefully notes everything in a chart every time he injects the dozens of female greyhounds with anabolic steroids in the parking lot," Via writes sarcastically in an email to the Tucson Weekly. "Isn't this just how every dog owner would hope their veterinarian would compassionately and professionally care for their beloved dog?"

Robinson has a license with the Nogales Veterinary Clinic. The clinic is owned by Dr. Simon Escalada, who didn't return a call seeking comment. Robinson is also licensed to work at Tucson Greyhound Park, and last June, he obtained a mobile-unit license from the state board, allowing him to conduct the off-site injections.

It was about that time that Tucson Iron and Metal was approached by track officials, says scrap-yard manager Doug Cohen. They asked to use his parking lot early on Monday mornings, and Cohen conceded, "because they are our neighbors." He says he knew nothing about the steroid injections.

Ironically, Taylor says he made the move at the request of South Tucson City Manager Enrique Serna.

According to Taylor, Serna was tired of being hounded by greyhound-racing opponents. "He was being harassed because Dr. Robinson was doing the shots in our compound, and we were being allowed to violate the city ordinance," Taylor says. "So the city manager asked if I would take it outside of South Tucson so that I wouldn't be violating the city ordinance."

Serna says that's not the case. "The comment made by Tom Taylor is absurd," he says. "My conversations with him, from the very beginning, dealt with why he was allowing these people to continue to do that stuff in violation of our ordinance. He himself suggested that they'd just have them move off the property. And I said, 'Well, you can do whatever you want to do, but that needs to be resolved.'

"If he wants to interpret that as me telling him to go outside the jurisdiction, he can do that. But my comment had to do more with why he would let (Robinson) continue to violate our ordinance."

Still, that may be just one violation among many that critics believe are ongoing at the track. Others may include leaving greyhounds caged for too many hours at a stretch, and feeding them raw, unsafe meat (a practice that Taylor insists no longer occurs). Given the highly secured kennels, it's impossible for outsiders to gauge whether such violations occur.

Then there is Dr. Robinson, a tall man in blue jeans who's just now finishing the latest batch of greyhounds. While I continue snapping away, Robinson's assistant waves off yet another trailer pulling into the lot. Then the good doctor jumps into his truck, blocks his face with an upraised hand, and beats a hasty retreat.

So I follow, making the 30-second walk into South Tucson. I watch from the curb as Robinson parks outside of the track's kennels, and goes inside. I'm still watching as a husky fellow marches out from those kennels, apparently to set me straight.

When I raise my camera, the chap abruptly turns, pulls up his hood and marches straight back.

Just the beginning of another day, it seems, at Tucson Greyhound Park.