Carey Theil: Why no details on greyhound abuse?
When it comes to cases of greyhound neglect, the West Virginia Racing Commission has fallen far behind the pack.
Unlike other dog track regulators, the commission is refusing to fully document incidents of cruelty and abuse when they occur.
This wrongheaded policy makes West Virginia an outlier among dog-racing states, and could hamper criminal investigations of animal cruelty.
At commercial racetracks across the country, disciplinary issues are often addressed first by a board of judges, a panel comprised of state and racetrack employees.
This board conducts an initial investigation into allegations of misconduct and, if necessary, issues a ruling that is then forwarded to the State Racing Commission for further action.
In West Virginia, the board of judges apparently has the final word on greyhound neglect cases.
In a recent interview with the Daily Mail, commission executive director Jon Amores declined to provide details about three cases in which individuals were suspended or lost their licenses due to greyhound neglect or abuse.
Amores went on to say that judges are not allowed to speak about these cases, and supporting documents like witness statements are not retained by the state.
This failure to document greyhound neglect is not a new phenomenon to us.
As a non-profit greyhound protection organization, we have been submitting public information requests to the Commission for years.
Since 2007, we have received 619 greyhound board of judges rulings from the West Virginia Racing Commission, and of these, 98.2 percent contained little to no detail about the incident in question.
This lack of regulatory oversight is significant for several reasons.
First, it could hamper attempts by law enforcement agencies to follow up on commission rulings and prosecute individuals under the state's anti-cruelty law.
Further, it gives the industry itself, through the National Greyhound Association, little information on which to make an informed decision about the membership status of individuals who commit cruel acts in West Virginia.
Finally, it ties the hands of regulators in other states, who could otherwise use data from these neglect cases to decide whether to issue licenses to prospective greyhound trainers.
This policy also makes West Virginia an outlier when it comes to dog-racing states.
In Florida, state reports of greyhound cruelty take the form of full investigative reports, the model for addressing greyhound neglect.
In Texas, Iowa, Arizona and Arkansas, judges' rulings include a narrative section with a detailed explanation of the incident.
When appropriate, supportive documents accompany the case file.
Only Alabama provides as little information as West Virginia.
Alabama has the least effective dog racing regulatory structure in the country, and is hardly an example to follow.
Amores defended the commission's policy of not fully documenting greyhound neglect by claiming it somehow speeds up the ruling process.
That is refuted, however, by the fact that the regulatory agency with the largest number of dog tracks, Florida, is also the jurisdiction that is most meticulous in documenting this problem.
Of course, hiding the facts about cases of greyhound neglect does serve a more nefarious purpose.
Whether the commission intends to or not, through this policy it is putting the interests of the private dog racing industry ahead of the public interest.
The agency is effectively playing hide and seek with this information, and sweeping data on greyhound abuse under the rug.
The commission should acknowledge that it is wrong about this policy, and begin fully reporting all cases of greyhound neglect and cruelty.
Theil is executive director of GREY2K USA, which favors stronger greyhound protection laws and an end to dog racing. For more information, go to www.GREY2KUSA.org.