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Greyhound Runaround

Could the state follow the lead of South Tucson and ban steroid injections of racing dogs?



On Oct. 15 ("Ordinance Ignored"), we reported that a Tucson Greyhound Park veterinarian was routinely injecting dogs with anabolic steroids, in direct violation of a new city ordinance forbidding the practice.

Those steroids contain hormones that keep female greyhounds from going into heat, but are also believed to cause genital deformities and severe urinary-tract problems.

Still, more than a month after Dr. Joe Robinson defiantly admitted administering the drug, it's unclear what enforcement action has been taken by South Tucson, where the track is located.

However, City Manager Enrique Serna reports that talks are ongoing with Pima County Animal Care—which is contracted to handle the small community's animal issues—and with the Pima County Attorney's Office.

According to Serna, the legalities aren't so clear-cut as they might seem. "I'm hearing all kinds of different things legally," he says. "I haven't even heard yet whether there's a position by (John) Munger from the track."

Local attorney John Munger, who represents Tucson Greyhound Park, is also a Republican gubernatorial candidate. He did not return phone calls from the Tucson Weekly seeking comment. Nor were calls returned by Robinson or track manager Tom Taylor.

"But the quick of it is that we have been following up," Serna says. "I believe we are well on our way to getting something resolved here."

Nor is Robinson the first Greyhound Park vet to engage in questionable actions. Late last year, Tucson veterinarian Janet Forrer and anti-greyhound-racing activist Susan Via filed a handful of complaints with the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board. Among other things, they alleged that racetrack doctors Paul Pullen and Betty Menke had violated the Veterinary Practice Act by failing to log medications given to the dogs. The board subsequently found both vets guilty of unprofessional conduct.

Dr. Menke died of cancer in July. But the license of Dr. Pullen, who claimed the medical logs had been stolen from his truck, was placed on probation.

Pullen's probation was originally to last one year, says Jenna Jones, the examining board's executive director. But after attending the required continuing-education classes, "he requested that his license be returned to active, which the board allowed in October."

By turn, Robinson's violation of a city ordinance could be fodder for yet another investigation, says Jones. "That's for the board to decide. But I would need a complaint or something for the board to move forward with."

Meanwhile, Serna says South Tucson officials are discussing Robinson's actions with the Arizona Department of Racing. However, since the department doesn't prohibit steroids, it does little to monitor their use. Controlled substance logs "are generally not required to be submitted to the department," says ADR director Luis Marquez. "The (track) is required to keep them if we ask for them. But we have not asked for them."

While department employees are instructed to assist South Tucson officials in the Robinson investigation, "I'm not aware of any requests (South Tucson) has made to my staff," Marquez says. Robinson "is not in violation of any of our rules when he says that he administered steroids."

But if the city found him in violation, "then we would go in and conduct our own review of the situation, and we may find that we would need to sanction individuals or the park, depending upon what the situation is. We do have rules about having good moral character."

Good moral character or not, the core issue remains: Why does Arizona permit steroid injections for greyhounds at all? That question gains considerable heft in light of "model rules" promoted by the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI). Among the ARCI's rules is this one: "Any usage of anabolic steroids involving racing greyhounds is strictly prohibited at any state in their training and racing careers."

The association, which urges states to adopt those guidelines, is currently chaired by Erin Owens, who also chairs the Arizona Racing Commission.

Due to medical reasons, Owens was unavailable for comment. But Ed Martin, president of the Kentucky-based organization, defends Arizona's seeming inattention to such reforms. "Unfortunately, there are a lot of model rules that are not uniformly adopted by the members," he says. "And sometimes that's for a variety of reasons, some having to do with resources."

He says it can take a long time for rules to be put in place, "and it takes somebody to manage those processes. I can tell you that in the time that Ms. Owens has been chair, our association has endorsed the creation of a new interstate compact to jointly promulgate rules, which would be an extension of the model-rules process."

In other words, under the proposed compact, when the association created a new model rule, that rule could then simultaneously be adopted by member commissions across the nation. "This initiative would restructure how the rules of racing—including greyhound racing—would be made in this country to achieve a more uniform adoption of the model rules," Martin says.

To reach that point, his association has been collaborating with the Council of State Governments "to come up with a model piece of legislation that we would hope all states would consider as a way to attain a degree of uniformity and consistency with the ARCI model rules."

That would go a long way toward pleasing Susan Via and other activists, who say that state-level enforcement is the best way to permanently enforce these minimal rules, and ensure better lives for the greyhounds.

In the meantime, says Via, Arizona racing commissioners are applying a double-standard—and none more so than ARCI chairwoman Erin Owens.

"Obviously, the organization that she supports thinks that, from a professional standpoint, (banning steroids) is a good thing," Via says. "So it's not just a bunch of crazies in South Tucson who think it's a good thing."

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