How We Finally Won the Ballot Question on Greyhound Racing

Article excerpt

Back in 1995, as I held a sign in protest outside Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere, Mass., I was confident that the cruel "sport" of dog racing would end quickly.

After all, this progressive New England state has long been a leader in animal welfare. Not only was it clear that the racing dogs were treated inhumanely, but the competition from casinos and other gambling venues had lured away so many of the tracks' patrons that their revenues were in free fall.

But I was wrong. It took a full 13 years before a gradual phase- out of greyhound racing became law in the Bay State. Finally, last month, a majority of voters said "Yes" to compassion and "No" to cruelty. Fortunately, the lessons we learned over this long and arduous period will help to hasten the decline of dog racing in the remaining states where it still exists.

It was three years after I first rallied at Wonderland that I learned of, and enthusiastically joined, a grass-roots campaign to end dog racing by citizens' vote. With a Black Russian Terrier named Kelsey at my side, I became part of an all-volunteer group that collected more than 150,000 voter signatures to place the first greyhound question on the ballot. We worked day and night to advocate for the hounds.

The campaign used graphic photographs of injured and dead racers from all around the country to support claims of cruelty. Ex- trainers, veterinarians, and rescue workers gave testimonials about the abuse and killing of racing dogs. Even though we had little money, and received little encouragement from established animal protection groups, we swelled with passion and pride - never once thinking that our ballot question would fail.

But the election of 2000 proved a shocking disappointment. In one of the closest votes in state history, the greyhounds lost by 51 percent to 49 percent. Outspent 3 to 1, we had neither the savvy nor the wisdom to effectively counter the unrelenting media campaign of wealthy dog-track owners and their paid spokespersons.

Disheartened, many volunteers chose to walk away. But several of us decided to keep fighting. In early 2001, Dr. Jill Hopfenbeck, Rev. Tom Grey, Carey Theil, and I formed GREY2K USA, a national, nonprofit greyhound protection organization. …