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Greyhound Advocate Says Lawsuit to Overturn Racing Ban Is a "Slap in the Face to Voters"

Dogs still race at Palm Beach Kennel Club, but not for long. A ban on dog racing in Florida is set to kick in at the end of 2020.
Dogs still race at Palm Beach Kennel Club, but not for long. A ban on dog racing in Florida is set to kick in at the end of 2020.
Photo by Ian Witlen / TheCameraClicks.com
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The greyhound industry isn't taking defeat well. After unsuccessfully suing to keep a measure banning dog racing off the Florida ballot last year, greyhound breeders and trainers are headed back to court. This time, they're arguing that the ban — approved by 69 percent of state voters in the 2018 election — strips their dogs of their earning potential. The federal lawsuit, filed Friday by the pro-racing group Support Working Animals and eight other plaintiffs, also says the measure was unlawful because it altered the state's constitution without first being approved by the Florida Legislature.

"No due process was awarded to those that have been and will be affected by Amendment 13," the complaint reads. "This sets an extremely dangerous precedent that an individual may now be dispossessed of personal property at the pleasure of the mob in violation of one of the bedrock principles of the laws of the United States that our nation is not a pure democracy; instead it is a democratic republic."

Amendment 13 prohibits any kind of betting on dog racing in Florida, although residents can still bet on races in other states. Florida race tracks have until the end of 2020 before the ban begins.

The impending amendment has hit the industry hard. There were 11 greyhound race tracks in operation after the measure passed last November. Since then, five tracks have shuttered, and other closures are on the way.

Facing its last days, the racing industry is doing anything it can to soften, if not prevent, the blow. One strategy has been to give up on overturning the amendment and concentrate on getting compensated for damages: A Pinellas County greyhound-kennel owner recently filed a lawsuit in state court demanding the state pay tens of thousands of dollars for the value of his racing dogs.

Friday's lawsuit, which lists Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials as defendants, is a huge Hail Mary. In a recent Facebook post, Support Working Animals treasurer Theresa Romano, who also goes by Theresa Yon, admitted any litigation was a "long shot" but that "long shots do sometimes come through." Anti-greyhound-racing groups don't agree.

"It's an insult to long shots to call this a long shot... We view this as a slap in the face to voters," says Carey Theil, executive director of Grey2k USA Worldwide, one of the groups that helped lead the movement to approve Amendment 13. "Let's just say I'm not losing any sleep over this lawsuit. I'm more worried about what's going to happen to these greyhounds once all the racetracks close down."

The months after the measure's passing have been a scramble for the racing industry and anti-racing groups alike, albeit for very different reasons. While supporters of greyhound racing have dug their heels in against the new amendment, advocacy groups have been working to find homes for what could be thousands of race dogs, Carey estimates.

According to Theil, the racing industry has limited access to adoptable greyhounds to only the organizations that came out in opposition to Amendment 13. Members of the industry have insisted there are more than enough organizations available to help every dog find a home.

"I find it strange that they're taking such a long shot, but part of me gets it — for breeders and trainers, their identity and community is up in racing. Now, it's not only economically nonviable, but society is saying we don't want to allow it," Theil says. "I have empathy for them, but I have more empathy for the dogs that have died as a result of this inhumane practice."

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Theresa Yon, also known as Theresa Romano, as treasurer of a greyhound adoption group. Mrs. Romano, whose maiden name is Yon, is the treasurer for Support Working Animals.

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