Triple Crown season begins this Saturday with racing industry under a cloud over horse deaths, train
By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
For decades, some trainers have used the absence of clear national medication standards to push horses to their limit with the use of drugs that can be harmful and even deadly for the animals. Photo by FatCamera/iStock.com
The coronavirus pandemic is not the only problem plaguing the horse racing industry as it prepares for the first of the Triple Crown races at Belmont Stakes this Saturday with altered schedules, shorter race times and a TV-only audience.
This past year has placed the sport—and its key players—under more scrutiny than ever before because of a string of horse deaths, including 18 this year alone at Belmont Park and dozens more at Santa Anita and other racetracks throughout the nation. On top of that, the indictment earlier this year of 27 trainers, veterinarians, pharmacists and drug distributors in a doping scandal has generated more suspicion and skepticism among the sport’s watchers.
As a result, the industry is in greater need than ever before of convincing its dwindling audiences that it cares for the health and welfare of the horses it depends on.
There is no doubt that the horse racing industry today is in disarray and crisis. For decades, some trainers have used the absence of clear national medication standards to push horses to their limit with the use of drugs that can be harmful and even deadly for the animals. The problem began when Congress, in 1980, decided to leave it up to states to come up with their own rules on what drugs to allow in horse racing, leading to a confusing patchwork of state laws with no uniform national standard regarding which drugs are permitted or penalties for doping—a loophole irresponsible trainers take full advantage of by moving horses between states. Congress has since tried to fix the problem over the past four terms, with no success.
The horse racing industry itself, instead of penalizing such trainers, has rallied around them by creating a system that does not even require the bare minimum of accountability. For instance, at present racetracks are not required to report horse injuries; the only ones who do so do it voluntarily. According to The Jockey Club, only 35 out of 113 operating North American racetracks participate in its voluntary Equine Injury Database, a national database of racing injuries that tracks the frequency, types and outcomes of such injuries.
It is not too much to ask all racetracks to report all incidents of fatality and injury. Expanding this database will allow better monitoring of racehorses throughout their careers. Since different states now have their own policies on which drugs are permitted and penalties for doping, horses could be receiving different drugs when they travel to different states for races. All of this needs to be tracked in one single place for the welfare of the animals.
The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund are urging all 38 state racing commissions to voluntarily report all racehorse injuries and deaths into an electronic database and make such information available to the public. This crucial information can be used to not only assess injuries at specific racetracks and compel safety changes, but to improve transparency into racehorse health and injuries throughout a racehorse’s career.
It is also time for Congress to set things right, and we are pushing for the passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act, which will establish a single set of national medication standards as well as create the necessary regulatory force to implement them through an independent regulatory body led by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). USADA polices medication policy for our Olympic athletes and is the gold standard for ensuring that sports are clean, and athletes protected from trainers who place winning above all else.
There is reason to hope that we will succeed this year in getting this important bill through. The rising number of horse deaths and the indictment of trainers and veterinarians who were allegedly participating in irresponsible drugging has finally focused greater attention on the problems in the racing industry, and it is heartening that even stakeholders on the inside are now speaking out for change. In a scientific report issued last year, The Jockey Club called for reform, warning that “without these reforms, the future of the sport will continue to wane.” Trainers, including Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, have called for passing the Horseracing Integrity Act “to protect the horses who are the stars of the show.”
We simply can’t afford to wait any longer while animals continue to suffer. It is time for horse racing to change course and put the animals it relies on above its profits.
To coincide with the start of the Triple Crown season, we are launching a new campaign, #NotAnotherHorse, focusing on the safety and welfare of all horses. We are demanding that not one more horse should be slaughtered, trained abusively through the cruelty of soring, or die on a racetrack. And to do so we need to pass three key federal horse protection bills: the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which will permanently end the slaughter of America’s beloved horses, both here and abroad; the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which will finally stop the decades-long torture of Tennessee Walking Horses, forced to perform an artificial, high-stepping show ring gait through painful practices; and the Horseracing Integrity Act, described above. Please contact your members of Congress and ask them to support these important bills so no horse ever suffers at the hands of a bad trainer or is slaughtered for food.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
Published at Tue, 16 Jun 2020 19:50:11 +0000
As this is our 29th annual Expo, we are offering animal welfare professionals and others the opportunity to participate at a registration fee of just $29 through July 7. Photo by Kevin Wolf/AP Images for the HSUS
Animal Care Expo, our marquee training and exhibition event for animal welfare professionals, has moved online this year because of the coronavirus crisis. From the comfort and safety of their homes, participants can enjoy an interactive virtual conference experience during a three-day event packed with more than 30 sessions.
As this is our 29th annual Expo, we are offering animal welfare professionals and others the opportunity to participate at a registration fee of just $29 through July 7.
Expo has always been one of my favorite events. The energy and spirit is infectious, and it is exciting to meet and interact with so many people doing incredible work in the animal sheltering and rescue field. With the pandemic raging through the nation, we decided in March that canceling the in-person event, scheduled for San Antonio, Texas, was the best and safest course for everyone.
But we never gave up on creating an opportunity for animal protection workers to convene and learn together, and I’m confident that the online conference will offer the same value and experience that attendees have come to expect. Expo is known for featuring some of the best and the brightest speakers in the field of animal care and services, all sharing their innovative thought and their knowledge of good practices with participants from around the world. This year’s event will feature timely sessions on best protocols for transporting animals between states and nations, winning grants for animals, reducing community cat overpopulation, increasing access to veterinary care, and engaging audiences via social media, among others.
World-renowned dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, best known as the star of the hit TV series “It’s Me or the Dog,” will teach “Coping strategies for every dog.”
We’re also featuring sessions to help shelters navigate issues tied to the global pandemic. Sarah Aguilar, foster program manager of Greatergood.org, and Kristen Hassen-Auerbach, director of Pima Animal Care Center, will host a session on #StayHomeAndFoster, a nationwide campaign to pair shelter pets with foster families. The campaign received more than 70,000 foster registrations, and speakers will share the lessons they learned concerning marketing strategies, budgeting for recruitment, and the social and economic impacts of the pandemic on shelter operations.
The welcome session this year will feature Larissa Wohl, host and pet rescue expert for the “Adoption Ever After” initiative for Hallmark channel’s morning show, “Home & Family.”
Online participants will be able to engage with exhibitors in our virtual exhibit hall, earn continuing education credits and connect with other attendees.
Responding to the coronavirus crisis, rescues and shelters pivoted swiftly to ensure that no animal was left out or left behind, and this year’s online Expo will be a networking event that celebrates the amazing good that animal protection advocates everywhere have been able to do in their communities. I am inspired every day by the stories coming out of the field in these difficult times, and I expect to hear a lot more about that work during Expo. One of the most important lessons we have all learned is that by working together, we can turn crisis into opportunity in our effort to make this a better world for our companion animals. Expo offers that unique opportunity for collaboration, networking and lifting spirits, so if you haven’t already registered, please do so here. I’ll look forward to seeing you there.
Published at Mon, 15 Jun 2020 19:27:25 +0000