Last year, South Tucson voters gave a thumbs-up to helping the beleaguered dogs of Tucson Greyhound Park.
Among other things, the new law makes it illegal to inject female greyhounds with anabolic steroids. Those steroids contain hormones to keep the dogs from going into heat, but are also believed to cause genital deformities and severe urinary-tract problems.
Since passage of the Tucson Dog Protection Act, however, questions have emerged about whether this law is actually being enforced, and if so, by whom. Those concerns crystallized recently when the Tucson Weekly learned that a Green Valley veterinarian is regularly injecting the dogs, in direct violation of the South Tucson city ordinance. Furthermore, Dr. Joe Robinson isn't planning to stop.
"It's licensed under the state of Arizona," he said, "and I'm doing what I'm licensed to do."
Susan Via heads Tucson Dog Protection, a group that helped pass the ballot measure. "I am appalled but not surprised that a veterinarian would openly and flagrantly violate the law," she said.
By Robinson's rationale, "I guess that means that he can drive 75 mph in a school zone—or in a populated area where a city has posted a 25 mph speed limit—because the state's speed limit is 75 miles an hour," Via said.
Meanwhile, Tucson Greyhound Park manager Tom Taylor is taking Robinson's defiance to Orwellian extremes.
"It's not in violation of the South Tucson ordinance," Taylor said angrily several times when asked about Dr. Robinson's injection routine. "Our attorney is John Munger. Go ahead and reach John Munger, and he'll give you any comments that you would like to have."
Then Taylor hung up.
Munger, a Tucson attorney and recently announced GOP gubernatorial candidate, didn't return several phone calls seeking comment.
But here's exactly what the South Tucson ordinance says: "No person shall give or administer anabolic steroids as defined in the United States code and relevant sections of the code of federal regulations to any dog to artificially enhance performance or enhance estrus."
That seems remarkably clear-cut. But we called to discuss the apparent dichotomy with Hector Figueroa, an attorney for the city of South Tucson, and he wasn't much help. "I don't know what a veterinarian or anybody else said," said Figueroa. "I can't make any comment with regards to any legal matter." Click.
This might be just another case of municipal apathy, except for the fact that Via and others consider steroids to be an ongoing health threat to the dogs of Tucson Greyhound Park.
Nor is it the first time that South Tucson officials have been made aware that track officials may be ignoring the law. In April, the Tucson Weekly reported that South Tucson outsources its animal services—including oversight of Tucson Greyhound Park—to the county's Pima Animal Care Center or PACC. (See "No Shot of Enforcement," April 30, 2009.)
But Pima County hasn't monitored compliance with the new law. "Our workload is such that we only respond to complaints," PACC manager Kim Janes said at the time. "Only if a complaint comes in will we go and make sure what's happening."
Any griping from Tucson Greyhound Park seems unlikely, however, since Taylor refuses to allow the public—including reporters—to see conditions inside the track's kennels. Subsequently, it appears that PACC will only respond should kennel operators suddenly decide to report themselves.
Perhaps Dr. Robinson's remarks will suffice. While Robinson is licensed to work at the track, he is not a staff veterinarian. That role is shared by Drs. Paul Pullen and Gretchen Green. Instead, Robinson drives up from his Green Valley home every three weeks and injects the female greyhounds to prevent estrus. This routine began about six months ago, he said, at the request of the park's kennel owners.
Is Robinson concerned that, by administering the steroids, he's violating a city law? "Nope," he said. South Tucson voters who passed the ballot initiative "involved themselves in other people's business that they had no right to be involved in. That's the owners of the dogs' rights, not the city of South Tucson."
While Robinson's admission doesn't surprise Via and other opponents of greyhound racing, this proof of illegality does add a relishing touch to their efforts, which have even included a $2,000 reward for proof of the track's violations.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Racing hasn't exactly been at the top of its game, either. When contacted earlier by the Weekly, Dr. Andy Carlton, the department's chief greyhound veterinarian, said he doesn't regularly review medical records of the tracks, although those records must be available if needed. Still, during inspections, "We have seen no signs of steroids at the track," he said.
Later provided with a recap of Robinson's remarks, Carlton said he would have no comment until the department can review the allegations.
Closer to home, South Tucson City Manager Enrique Serna said he'll "get with the city attorney" regarding Dr. Robinson's actions. "But (Robinson's) professional license would be on the line, wouldn't it?" Serna asked. Beyond, that, the city manager promised no specific action.
As for the city's failure to monitor the track since the Dog Protection ordinance took effect, Serna said his hands have been tied: "I can't send the cops down there when I'm not aware of any laws being broken there." He also blamed Via for "failing to do her due diligence," saying that she was aware that South Tucson—and its Police Department—are perennially cash- and-manpower strapped. "So if she has some action plan that she thinks will work, I'd be happy to listen to her."
For her part, South Tucson Mayor Jennifer Eckstrom said she needs to examine the ordinance—nearly a year on the books already—to see if it's been broken.
To Via, however, Tucson Greyhound Park has been allowed to exploit South Tucson's fiscal straits and make a mockery of its electorate. Taylor "had no intention of even trying to follow the law," she said. "And if you believe a law is not a wise law, you go to a legislative body, or you go through the initiative process, and you try to change it. You don't just violate it."
As for Robinson, he appears supremely undaunted by all the fuss. When asked whether he'll continue injecting dogs at the track, his answer was succinct: "Yep."