The state Racing Commission unanimously approved the agency's first animal cruelty policy Tuesday.
In doing so, it declined to accept several changes pushed for by the West Virginia Greyhound Owners and Breeders Association. The association's president, Sam Burdette, offered the changes as part of a larger debate as to what actions constitute animal cruelty.
"I think that cruelty is a very relative, subjective subject," Burdette said after the meeting.
"They should have adopted something that lets people understand that dogs need discipline, that they don't need to be treated cruel in fits of rage or temper or anger."
He explained that concept further in a presentation before the commission. When training greyhounds in a group, punishment is at times a necessary tool, Burdette said.
Greyhound owners don't want to see dogs beaten, he said, but force is needed at times. Using terms like "fangs ripping" and "going for the throat" in a description of a hypothetical dogfight, Burdette argued a trainer or breeder might need to take physical action to resolve a potentially dangerous situation.
"He may have to pick a dog up and throw it," Burdette said.
Burdette's changes included a sentence that said the policy isn't trying to change the description of cruelty to animals already in state law. It also included some definitions of cruelty and what wasn't considered cruelty.
Commission attorney Kelli Talbot said state law doesn't define cruelty. She said she "didn't see the need" to define it in the policy.
The commission did not discuss Burdette's proposed changes at length before it adopted the policy. It did not incorporate any of his changes, but commissioners thanked him for the information.
The commission already has the power under state code to punish trainers, breeders or owners who commit acts of cruelty. The policy outlines that authority as well as other actions the commission can take if there is a reported act of cruelty.
The policy was up for approval at the commission's July meeting, but Burdette argued it should go out for public comment before it was officially approved. Commission Executive Director Jon Amores said Burdette was the only person to submit comments offering changes to the policy.
Others sent messages supporting the policy, Amores said.
He said some seemed to have been sent at the urging of Grey2K USA, a national organization that advocates for the end of greyhound racing.
After the meeting, Grey2K USA President Christine Dorchak said she was thankful the commission adopted the policy.
"Preventing cruelty to racing animals should not be controversial, it's something that we can all work on together," Dorchak said. "We really applaud the commission for its move today."
The policy also states the commission will report any instances of animal cruelty, mistreatment, neglect, abuse or abandonment to appropriate local law enforcement. The commission's lone change to the policy was removing the words "for possible criminal prosecution" in connection to referrals.