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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Post Falls Greyhound Track Called A Real Horror Show By Dog Trainers

Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park has one of the worst reputations in the country, even excluding cruelty allegations.

The National Greyhound Association, the top industry advocate, concedes the Post Falls track is ranked near the bottom of 54 tracks nationwide in betting handle, purse payouts to kennels and in drawing spectators.

A half dozen trainers interviewed say the track is so cheap, it’s difficult to make a living without taking shortcuts on greyhound care. In addition, the $10 the track pays each time a dog starts a race - a supplement to low purses - has the unintended effect of encouraging trainers to run injured animals.

“If the dog can walk to weigh-in, you put him in,” says Steve Bergeron, who left the track and quit the dogracing business in June after three years at Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park. “It encourages trainers to run sick dogs.”

The estimated purse for a first-place finish in Grade A races is $60; about $36 goes to Grade D winners. The Gulf track in Galveston, Texas, for example, pays up to $1,000 for Grade A wins. At Phoenix and Portland, Grade A wins pay $450 to $500.

Gary Guccione, executive director of the National Greyhound Association in Abilene, Kan., calls the track’s purses “absurd.” He said racing greyhounds here is “a tough, meager job to try to cut out a living.”

Ten trainers and greyhound adoption agents complain about poor track conditions, a negligent veterinarian and race-fixing by trainers.

A couple of trainers, including Larry Conarty, who now lives in Colorado, admitted “juicing” their dogs with performance-enhancing drugs or by overworking or overfeeding their animals to slow them down. Bergeron and another trainer who described himself as “clean” admitted to seeing dogs drugged.

“Most (drugs) are not detectable in urine tests,” Bergeron wrote a state investigator in June. “They enable a trainer to fix races for gambling purposes and certainly shorten the dog’s life.”

Trainer Gary Burman, the subject of two current state investigations for allegedly electrocuting his dogs, was the “largest user of injected drugs” at Coeur d’Alene Greyhound Park, wrote Bergeron, who says he saw the drugs in Burman’s truck and refrigerator.

Burman smiled when asked if he juiced his dogs. His only comment was winning is everything at the Post Falls track because of the low purses.

Bergeron also says that many kennels are so cramped, larger dogs can’t lie down. The wooden crates they live in are doused with diesel fuel to reduce ticks. With their paper bedding, the kennels are a potential inferno, Bergeron said in an interview.

His letter to Idaho investigator Tom Beal ends: “I have left greyhound racing and relocated to Las Vegas, Nev., with my wife and my pet greyhound Derby. Hopefully, we will eventually forget all of the things we witnessed over the past three years.”

Robin and Jim McKee, founders of the Otis Orchards chapter of Greyhound Pets of America, recently filed a 23-page complaint with the Idaho governor and sparked the state investigation.

The McKees or their representatives have visited the kennels every week since the track opened in the fall of 1988. Another Greyhound Pets of America member, Sandi Babcock, conducted her own investigation and even hired a private investigator.

All of their allegations except alleged abuse by Burman have been dismissed, said Douglas Ray, executive director of the Idaho Racing Commission.

Commission critics charge it covers up to protect its racing judges, veterinarians and greyhound racing interests.

Dr. Jim Cook, who refused to comment, is the target of many allegations. The McKees, Babcock and a half dozen trainers say that instead of tending to injured dogs, the track veterinarian sleeps, plays video chess or ties fishing flies.

On July 16, a female dog named Tassel Flower fell and was carried from the track. A state veterinarian who Robin McKee believes was Cook gave the dog a sedative and diagnosed her with a pinched nerve.

Eleven days later, Tassel Flower still was paralyzed in the hindquarters and was taken to another veterinarian, who diagnosed a spinal embolism - often treatable if caught early.

According to the second veterinarian, surgery so late was out of the question, so Tassel Flower now is undergoing physical therapy at a Seattle family’s home.

The McKees and 10 other track insiders interviewed also say “leadouts” - high school kids who walk the dogs to the starting gate - are not trained. As a result, some dogs injure themselves or wear themselves out before racing, affecting race outcomes. The Portland track has a two-week training program for lead-outs.

“It’s first-class there,” says Jim McKee, who with his wife and another couple recently returned from visiting the Portland track. “They do it right.”

The McKees also criticize the condition of the Post Falls track. In one weekend, seven dogs fell and broke their legs, they say.

The Post Falls track looks like a washboard dirt road. A tractor sweeps the track in one direction after every four races. In Portland, the track is smoothed after every race and in both directions. It looks like a sheet of glass, Jim McKee says.

The money is better there, too.

At the Post Falls track, live racing and simulcasting - the broadcasting of races from other venues - will generate a betting handle of $21 million to $22 million this year, a far cry from the $50 million that track lobbyists in the mid-1980s forecast from live dog racing alone.

“We’re doing better this year than we’ve done in a lot of years,” says operations manager Al May. “Does that mean we’re doing great? No, but we’re doing better.”

The track’s financial records are not open to the public, but the track doesn’t dispute assertions that it’s never come close to turning a profit.

Part of the problem, Mays says, is that Post Falls is not surrounded by a large metropolitan area. And state lotteries and Indian gaming are drawing away gamblers.

May says the track is not responsible for what kennel owners or state racing officials do. He is so certain of the track’s innocence, he says, that if any wrongdoing is traced to management, “I’ll tender my resignation.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo