Nearly 50 area residents joined four national animal-rights groups Tuesday in urging Idaho Gov. Phil Batt to close Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park because of cruelty and corruption.
Batt is investigating dog electrocutions, other acts of abuse and possible state rules violations.
Meeting at a restaurant near the track Tuesday night, residents planned to pressure the Idaho Legislature to outlaw dog racing.
They agreed to flood Batt and legislators with letters and to picket financial backers of the track. The greyhound park has a history of abuses dating to its 1988 opening, said Rollin Putzier, who helped organize the rally.
Putzier and others said the Idaho Racing Commission ignores or covers up complaints.
“Abuse is not new at Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park,” said former greyhound trainer Florine Caldwell. “It happened five years ago, it’s happening now, it needs to be stopped.”
Caldwell, 25, who ran a kennel when the track first opened, said she’s not proud of it, but admitted pouring bleach and salt down her greyhounds’ throats to make them vomit to lose weight.
“I did things I thought I’d never do, just for the money,” Caldwell said.
Added former trainer Kathy Blake: “Management there doesn’t care about anything, just their money.”
Telephone calls to track managers during business hours were not returned Tuesday.
Meanwhile, four animal-rights groups groups that claim more than 3 million members nationwide urged Batt to close the track, which probably would take an act of the Legislature. Lawmakers legalized racing in 1987.
“It will help end cruelty to animals by ending the state’s sanction of a particularly heinous form of exploitation,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote Batt.
Batt, who as a state senator opposed greyhound racing, has said lobbyists led by Coeur d’Alene businessman Duane Hagadone pressured the Legislature to approve the track.
Former state Sen. Mike Blackbird, D-Post Falls, said he now regrets his yes vote for the track. He did it because Hagadone promised it would be built on Lake Coeur d’Alene - where his golf course now sits - and employ 600 people with annual betting handles of $60 million.
The track never has made money and has drawn one-third of the betting interest and employed onefourth of the workers promised.
In the early 1990s, Hagadone withdrew his financial interest in the Post Falls track, which is owned by Paul Bryant Jr. of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and United Tote Co. of Montana.
An investigation by the Idaho Department of Law Enforcement recently confirmed dog abuse by one trainer, who was barred from racing here earlier this month, but dismissed many other allegations, saying they could not be proved. Many people connected with the track said they never were interviewed by the Idaho Department of Law Enforcement or were questioned only about the rogue trainer.
Batt’s press secretary, Amy Kleiner, said the governor is not content with that investigation. He is contacting members of the Racing Commission, she said, to find out what they knew about conditions at the park.
Batt also is getting pressure from the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Humane Society of the United States and In Defense of Animals.
“Greyhound racing is a horrendous industry overall, and this is the worst of the worst,” said Will Anderson of PAWS.
Dr. Elliot Katz, a veterinarian who founded In Defense of Animals, said the Idaho facility has a “horrific history” in an industry with minimal standards for animal treatment.
“It seems like they have reached a point that slaps on the wrist aren’t going to help anymore,” Katz said. “It’s time to shut them down.”
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