Milwaukee Racing Greyhounds Have More Injuries Than Previous Years
Is this a trend across the US and the world?
Thanks to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal for this article.
Dog racing injuries increase
More greyhounds broke legs at Dairyland racetrack in 2007
By DON WALKER
Posted: Feb. 24, 2008
Seventy-six greyhounds broke their legs racing last year at Dairyland Greyhound Park, an 18.7% increase over the year before, state records show.
A broken leg, or hock, is considered to be one of the most serious injuries a greyhound can suffer at a track.
In all, a total of 462 injuries were reported at the track last year, a 19% increase from 2006.
Of those 462 injuries last year, 363 involved dogs that suffered muscle-related injuries, sprains or fractures. Track owners have complained for several years that the state's Gaming Division, which regulates the track and compiles injury statistics, throws together relatively minor injuries like nail or tail injuries along with the more serious injuries.
The 2007 report makes a distinction between the more severe injuries and the minor ones.
Asked to explain why more dogs are breaking their legs, state officials pointed to a number of factors, including the condition of the track, the race quality of the greyhounds and the weather. Greyhounds run year-round at the track, which opened in 1990 and is the state's last remaining dog-racing track.
Jenifer Barker, a state veterinarian on site at Dairyland who treats most of the injured dogs at the track, cited the condition of the track's surface and the overall deterioration of the greyhound industry in general as reasons for the increased injury rate.
The track has not been completely resurfaced since at least 1995, according to Bill Apgar, the track's general manager. However, he said, the track is constantly maintained and groomed for the dogs.
"Nobody likes injuries," he said. "This is an athletic contest, and injuries do happen. We spare no expense in making the track as safe as we can."
Apgar said the track employed four full-time employees to groom the track, plus three part-timers. In addition, a maintenance director, the track's racing director and Apgar himself monitor the track, he said.
Apgar said that not every injury is attributable to the track itself. "A third of these injuries were injuries when the dogs were bumped in turns. Other injuries could be the result of genetics. Maybe the dog got bumped, didn't show any effects right away and the next time he ran, he broke down," he said.
Barker said her veterinary peers around the country did not have a set policy on how often a track needs to be resurfaced, but said a rule of thumb is every three to five years.
Industry experts have differing opinions on what constitutes a well-maintained track that minimizes injury. Some say a hard surface is the best surface; others say a more forgiving surface can minimize injury.
Barker also said the greyhound industry has been in decline for years, a victim of differing tastes and the growth of casino gambling.
"Some have called it a dying industry," she said. "There's not much money in it, and there isn't as high caliber of help as there used to be."
Barker recalled a time in the 1990s when each kennel at a dog track would have several helpers on duty. Today the average is more like two helpers per kennel.
Dan Subach, the Gaming Division's chief steward at Dairyland, said a number of factors played a role in the number of injuries. But all parties are trying to address the frequency of injuries.
"It will take enormous efforts by numerous parties. . . to hopefully have a positive impact on this," he said.
According to Subach, weather plays a role in injuries at Dairyland. The dogs are subjected to rain, wind, snow, sleet and very dry conditions.
"And there is a concern that the quality of dogs Dairyland is getting is not as good as they've seen in the past," Subach said. "And that quality may be related to past health issues, or previous injuries. Finally, when dogs run well, they tend to be moved out to other tracks.
"We want to look at the kennels and the education and training at the kennels, and make sure they are putting a sound animal on the track."