Greyhound lovers go to great lengths to find homes for racing dogs that have reached the end of their careers. So it's especially heartbreaking for them that between 150 and 200 dogs--ostensibly bound for adoption--seem to have disappeared into thin air.
Tucson Greyhound Park reportedly paid a Colorado man $150 a head to haul the dogs outside the state in order to place them with adoption groups. Over a six-month period starting about a year ago, Richard Favreau, who owns a greyhound breeding and training facility just outside Colorado Springs, made numerous trips to Tucson to load hounds into his white pickup truck and trailer.
Each time, he drove back to Colorado with the dogs, but what became of them after that is anyone's guess at this point. During two hearings with Arizona authorities, Favreau was reportedly unable to produce papers detailing where the vast majority of the dogs had gone, and now he's at the center of a story that is receiving national attention.
That story begins with Susan Netboy, president of the California-based Greyhound Protection League. She started rescuing greyhounds in 1987 and first became acquainted with the racing industry two years later, after 20 stolen dogs were sold by a dealer to the Letterman Army Institute of Research in San Francisco for bone-breaking experiments. With help from others, she filed a lawsuit against the Army and tipped off the media to what was going on, forcing rattled military officials to give up the 19 hounds that were still alive.
"I got a call from some general, who apparently wasn't accustomed to talking to housewives in the suburbs," she said. "His voice was shaking, and he said, 'Can you get these dogs out of here as fast as possible?' I think he just wanted it over with."
Seventeen years later, Netboy is still instigating investigations into the welfare of dogs.
Rumors started circulating through the tight-knit greyhound-rescue community last spring about goings-on at TGP. It was suspicious, she said, for retired dogs to be taken by Favreau from a greyhound-racing state like Arizona to Colorado, another racing state that also has lots of hound breeding.
It's logical that states that permit racing--the American Greyhound Council says there are 14--have too many dogs for a limited number of adopters, while states that don't--such as California--can absorb more.
"It just didn't make sense that there would be homes for that many greyhounds, coming from one racing state into another racing state," Netboy said. "It's just not something you do in adoptions, because there aren't enough homes to go around anyway."
Adding to the suspicion was the fact that Favreau already had a reputation, Netboy said.
"I knew that he was one of the individuals who gave large numbers of dogs to Colorado State University for research and/or euthanasia," she said. A scandal erupted in 1998 when it was discovered that as many as 2,600 greyhounds had been donated to the university for medical research over several years.
Dan Hartman, director of the Colorado Division of Racing, confirmed that Favreau had been fined $500, and had his owner and kennel operator's license suspended for four months in 1998, after two people filed complaints saying their dogs had been euthanized without their permission.
Favreau "didn't have any paperwork to follow up where the dogs had been," Hartman said, foreshadowing his alleged modus operandi with the Tucson greyhounds some eight years later.
Hartman didn't specify if this was part of the Colorado State scandal, but did say that the two dogs were a small part of a much larger disappearance of greyhounds. Only the pair of owners filed complaints, however.
The Weekly phoned Favreau at his home in Calhan, Colo. The 20-minute conversation was amiable for all of 30 seconds, with Favreau saying the animals had been abandoned at the racetrack by owners and were a financial drain.
"The track had been feeding some of them dogs for a year, year and a half," he said. "And then I've been feeding some more of them for another year. So these dogs had been getting fed for 2 1/2 years--some of them. And the owners never took any responsibility."
Favreau's protestations then became far more strident. He denounced the Arizona Department of Racing and its Colorado counterpart. He also denied his Colorado license was suspended in 1998, claiming he was on "probation" and that he never gave dogs to the university. When told the information on his license suspension came from Hartman, the state's racing division director, Favreau said: "Fuck him--he's a liar, too!"
Favreau railed against the media for allegedly screwing up the greyhound industry and said the Arizona Department of Racing wanted a scapegoat after Netboy created a public-relations nightmare.
"They feel like they've got to make somebody pay for it or something--that's all it is," he said. "I didn't do nothing wrong." He called the two October hearings presided over by the Phoenix Greyhound Park Board of Stewards, which handled the TGP case to ensure objectivity, "a kangaroo court" in which it was assumed he was guilty from the get-go. Favreau received the maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and a 60-day license suspension as a result of those hearings for failing to produce documents verifying that 192 greyhounds he had hauled were adopted or returned to owners.
Stewards oversee regulations at Arizona racing tracks. Generally, there are three at each track--two from the Department of Racing and one from the track itself. Together, they act as the "justices of the peace," or the first line of judicial review when complaints arise, according to Geoffrey Gonsher, director of the Arizona Department of Racing.
Favreau saved some of his harshest criticism for Netboy and the Greyhound Protection League, which he continually associated with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and called "a nuisance that has ruined the greyhound business." The league isn't affiliated with PETA.
"Why is a lady running around saying, 'Where are all these dogs?' All she has to do is call the owners of the dogs," he said angrily. "They're not her dogs. She didn't pay the money to raise them. She didn't pay the money to haul them. She didn't pay the money to feed them. She didn't pay the money to adopt them out. She never made a donation to adopt them out. She doesn't know the rules of racing. She accused me of taking dogs to the college and all this other stuff, which is completely bogus."
Netboy's response to Favreau's statements was brief: "Where are the dogs? Why aren't they with adoption groups, as he said they were going to be?" She said a handful of dogs had been located, including a few that had been given to a neighbor of Favreau's. "But there are still 100-plus dogs unaccounted for," she said. "The numbers are not panning out. He could get all the heat off of him if he would just say where the dogs are, collect them and get them to the adoption groups as he was supposed to in the first place."
She theorized that Favreau gave or sold the hounds to people who put them to work hunting coyotes or other animals. The Greyhound Protection League is investigating tips that the dogs are on a sod farm doing "rabbit patrol" or that Favreau had taken the animals up to a racetrack in Canada. "But we're talking about 10 here, 15 there, 20--you know, that kind of thing," Netboy said. "So I think that they've been dispersed through a number of different parties.
"I believe very possibly the reason he will not tell the racing authorities or anyone, like the press, and give them any specifics about where the dogs are, is because he did resell something that wasn't his to sell. So he's in the middle of this squeeze."
Netboy said sources have told her that one haul of greyhounds was injured, and she fears they may be dead: "It would be hard to find anyone who would give you a dime for an injured greyhound."
According to Favreau, all the dogs--except for about a dozen still at his house--"were either returned to their owners or adopted out." He said there was never any agreement for the dogs to be given up for adoption, but that assertion has been contradicted by numerous people.
Dr. Andy Carlton is the state's chief greyhound veterinarian for racing, and he inspects dogs at TGP before they leave to make sure they're healthy. Under state regulations, there are only four ways for a greyhound to leave a facility once a trainer is done with it: The dog would have to be transferred to another trainer, returned to its owner, sent to another track or placed in an adoption facility. Carlton said it was his understanding that all the dogs in Favreau's hauls were meant for adoption.
One former kennel operator, who asked that her name be withheld because she feared that her livelihood in the greyhound industry might be threatened, said she paid fees out of her purse earnings for 18 of the dogs housed with her and hauled off by Favreau to be adopted--a standard procedure at TGP. Netboy provided the Weekly with sign-out documents showing these deductions.
"There's no doubt that everybody at the track including Chris McConnell, the stewards and everybody else said these dogs are going to go to adoption," Netboy said.
McConnell, TGP general manager, refused to say if the dogs were meant to be adopted or talk about any other aspect of the Favreau case, citing the ongoing investigation.
TGP is also being investigated as part of this case, and many greyhound-welfare enthusiasts say the park doesn't have a good track record.
Mary Freeman, president of Arizona Greyhound Rescue in Tucson, didn't want to speak about TGP's reputation directly, but did note that in the industry, it's known as an "end-of-the-line track," where dogs often finish their careers. The purses are smaller than at most other tracks, she said.
Revenues are skimpier, too. According to the 2006 Arizona Department of Racing annual report, TGP brought in slightly more than $4.8 million during that fiscal year. Compare that to Phoenix Greyhound Park, with revenues approaching $14 million.
Netboy and Joan Eidinger, editor and publisher of Greyhound Network News, said TGP has a reputation for shoddy recordkeeping with its paper-based dog-tracking system. Greyhounds are required to have a passport of sorts that contains identifying information when they're taken from one track to another.
Eidinger's disdain for TGP isn't relegated solely to the recordkeeping, however. The racetrack surface isn't maintained properly, she said, resulting in broken bones for the dogs. The Arizona Department of Racing forced TGP to amp up its maintenance of the track, which it did for two or three months, Eidinger said, and then it was "back to business as usual."
There are documented incidents of neglect in TGP's recent past. Four men, including the TGP general manager at the time, Marshall Kueker, were sanctioned after eight of 35 dogs died while being transferred to a racetrack in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, in June 2005. The dogs were loaded into a trailer meant to carry only 20 animals, and the Arizona Department of Racing director's order noted that "insufficient care, attention and protection were given the greyhounds" at every step of the trip.
"The incident, from beginning to end, was very disturbing," the director's order stated.
Netboy said that nationwide, there's insufficient oversight for the greyhound-racing industry, which generally polices itself. "One of the things that makes my opinion of dog racing so harsh is that it's touted as a regulated industry, and I've watched for 18 years how inadequate regulations are," Netboy said. "So I'm not impressed by that in the least. I've seen people get around the regulations and do things that they shouldn't be doing time and time and time again, in every racing state in the country."
The industry keeps a tight lid on horror stories, according to Eidinger.
"There are kill farms, there are kill haulers that take dogs here and there, and then they're never seen again," she said. "The industry doesn't really want people to know that, and, you know, you need to be able to find the bodies. But look where we live."
Netboy concurred, noting that the disappearance of greyhounds occurs all the time.
"That's not limited to Arizona," she said. "There are probably 10,000 to 15,000 dogs, according to our statistics, that disappear every year (nationally). The only difference between this situation and all of those other dogs that disappear is that we have some leads on where they might have gone and whom they might have gone with. But normally, these hauling rigs come in the middle of the night, and they disappear into the dark. There is no nationwide tracking; there is no recordkeeping. They're private property, and people pretty much can do what they will with them.
"You know, in the bad old days, which aren't that old--you know, 10 or 15 years ago--there were piles of dead greyhounds found here and there, including Arizona. Starved dogs. I do feel the regulations aren't stiff enough to the degree that people who want to do these kinds of things feel they're only going to get a slap on the wrist."
So what can be done to stop abuses? Gonsher, the Arizona Department of Racing director, said he'd like to prevent future disappearances with a more sophisticated tracking database than the current paper trail.
"For about six months, we've been talking about how to create a database," he said. "We have a greyhound task force that has recommended that we do one." In addition, Gonsher told the Weekly his department is "proceeding with a mechanism to license people who transport dogs." He said such licensing isn't the industry norm.
"They (dog transporters) are just as responsible for the care and welfare of the animals as an individual who's working at the track," Gonsher said.
Eidinger said she has faith in Gonsher and his proposals--but faith might not be enough.
"I think he's the fifth director that I've worked with since 1992, and he's very thorough," she said. "I think he's the best director we've ever had. But, you know, he's made several proposals. You have to understand the chain of command here: The Arizona Racing Commission is over and above the racing department; that's the way the statutes were set up in the 1940s when dog racing came in here. I find that the racing commissioners--there are five of them--are very racetrack-friendly. The racetracks have to do something really egregious before the racing commissioners agree with Director Gonsher."
And even with all these reforms, which are still on the drawing boards, Gonsher admitted there's not enough funding for his department to oversee all the operations in the state to the extent that he'd like. The vast majority of the department's money comes from Arizona's general fund, and he said the department has tried to win legislation that would allow them to draw more money from the racing industry.
"We have been attempting to increase our revenue for the last four years that I've been here, in an attempt to increase our regulation--and we have not been successful," he said. "We certainly need more field inspectors and other individuals to make sure that we can regulate at an adequate level." The budget for fiscal year 2006 was slightly more than $2.9 million, the department's most recent annual report shows.
In the meantime, Favreau is set to go before Gonsher at a Nov. 29 hearing, in which his fine could be upped to a maximum of $5,000--and his owner's license could be permanently revoked. He said he hasn't made up his mind if he's actually going to participate in the hearing.
"I don't know," he said, sounding exasperated. "I have to talk to my lawyer; I may or may not. I mean, what difference does it make? What difference does it make? That guy (Gonsher) has already said in the paper--I read it; I'm not stupid--he said, 'I can charge him $5,000 and suspend him for life.' Well, big deal! He's the governor's buddy; that's why he's got that job. He does nothing--nothing--for a living."
Regardless of whether Favreau participates in the hearing, Netboy said she won't be satisfied until the dogs are found.
"We need to know where they are now," she said. "We have a single-minded goal, and that is to find these greyhounds and to get them into the hands of responsible adoption groups, which is where they were supposed to go to begin with."