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By David K. Li
Florida voters dealt a surprisingly decisive blow to greyhound racing, approving a measure that’ll ban the sport in their state by the end of 2020.
Amendment 13, which needed 60-percent approval to become law, got more than 5.3 million votes on Tuesday, good for 69 percent.
Passage of the sweeping measure means dog racing at 11 Florida tracks, with anywhere between 5,000 to 7,000 greyhounds, will be out of business by Dec. 31, 2020.
Officials on both sides of the ballot measure on Wednesday promised they’ll find these unemployed greyhounds new homes.
Jim Gartland, executive director of the dog racing industry’s umbrella group National Greyhound Association, said 98 percent of retired racers are regularly adopted to families. And an overwhelming majority of the remaining 2 percent live out their days on farms, working as breeders, he added.
“We will do everything we can do to make sure that every one of them gets adopted,” Gartland told NBC News on Wednesday.
Humane Society Florida Director Kate MacFall, at the forefront of Amendment 13 campaigning, said her phone has been ringing off the hook on Wednesday with calls from prospective greyhound owners.
“They’re amazing pets, so gentle and sweet,” MacFall said. “They really are gentle giants.”
But Brooke Stumpf, president of the adoption group GreytHounds of Eastern Michigan, said she worries about untold thousands of greyhounds now at breeding farms throughout the South and Midwest.
With a majority of the nation’s dog tracks slated to close by the end of 2020, young greyhounds that never make it to the track will need homes too.
“This will be a burden. We’re mobilizing now,” said Stumpf, whose group arranges 50 to 100 greyhound adoptions a year — but will now aim for an annual goal of 200. “We’ll do the best we can. Some of these dogs might end up at shelters and they’re not all no-kill. That’s the scary part.”
All of these Florida active-racing greyhounds won’t be cut loose immediately, as dog racing won’t be illegal in the Sunshine State for another 25 ½ months. Both sides expect a gradual shutdown of these tracks in the next two years.
The state is home to 11 of America’s 17 dog tracks, with greyhounds also running in West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas and Iowa.
Even before Tuesday’s vote, dog racing in Florida has been losing business for years. Back in 1992, there were $1.5 billion in dog-racing bets, adjusted for inflation, compared to just $200 million in 2017, according to state records.
“This is a crushing blow to this industry,” MacFall said. “This (vote) shows people care about dogs and people know this (dog racing) is cruel and inhumane.”
MacFall admitted she and other supporters were surprised by the final margin of victory.
“We thought it’d be close, we didn’t think it’d be that high. It turned out to be a landslide,” MacFall said. “I mean we can’t agree on anything here in Florida. But on this, we had bipartisan support.”
Gartland also said Tuesday’s final tally floored him.
“It was fairly stunning, I was very surprised,” a downcast Gartland said.
Associated Press contributed.