Zazzle Shop

Screen printing

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Massachusetts Bid to ban dog racing succeeds on 2nd try

Jim Davis/Globe StaffAdam Johndrow (left) and Anthony Cutillo, track employees, petted Zane, Cutillo's pet, at Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park.
Adam Johndrow (left) and Anthony Cutillo, track employees, petted Zane, Cutillo's pet, at Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

By Stephanie Ebbert Globe Staff / November 5, 2008

The contentious ballot question passed amid emotional ad campaigns by both sides. Proponents used images of sad-eyed greyhounds that they say are caged inhumanely and raced to injury, while opponents put the spotlight on the employees who would be out of work if the ballot passed. A similar ballot question was narrowly defeated in 2000.

The ban, which takes effect in 2010, passed by a vote of about 56 percent to 44 percent, with more than two-thirds of the precincts reporting.

"We did it. We did it for the dogs," a victorious Carey Thiel, executive director of Grey2K SA, said at a postelection party of some 60 supporters at Jillian's Billiards Club.

"For 75 years, greyhounds in our state have endured terrible confinement and suffered serious injuries," Thiel added. "We're better than that."

After the speeches, campaign supporters Jeff and Sandy Bigelow of Boylston embraced for a full minute, gripping the backs of one another's blue T-shirts that read, "Support the Greyhound Protection Act."

"It means everything. We've worked so hard for the dogs and they heard us," Sandy Bigelow, 40, said with tears streaming down her face. "It feels so good. Oh, God, it feels so good."

It was a far different mood at Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park in Raynham, where track employees gathered to watch the results. George Carney, owner of the track, said voters had been misled by "bad information" from the proponents.

"It's not a very pleasant thing right now. Some of these people have been here 40 years," Carney said. "Here's a company that did nothing wrong, paid their federal taxes on time, paid the town on time. The town is going to be a severe loser, and a lot of people here dedicated their life to the company."

The Massachusetts Animal Interest Coalition - funded by the Raynham track - had argued that the ballot question would put the needs of dogs before the needs of people - among them, some 1,000 employees of the state's two dog tracks who would lose their jobs.

It said the dogs are treated well, that the injuries reported include minor ones, and that the dog tracks are following the regulations passed by the State Racing Commission after the last ballot question failed.

Those arguments resonated with many voters. Raynham defeated the question 79 percent to 21 percent, Fall River defeated the ballot question 56 percent to 44 percent, and the vote was divided almost precisely in Dedham, Dracut, and Danvers.

"I think that it's trying to regulate an industry that's already highly regulated," said Maria P. Marotta, 32, a Suffolk law student from Jamaica Plain who voted against the ban. "It's a deeper issue."

But the argument was not enough to stem the tide in other communities. Newton and Boxborough voted 2 to 1 for the ballot question, Concord 70 percent to 30 percent, and Dover 65 percent to 35 percent.

The Committee to Protect Dogs used data kept by the State Racing Commission since mid-2002 showing injuries to more than 800 greyhounds. Formed by Grey2K USA, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Medical Center, the committee spent nearly $500,000 through Oct. 15, campaign finance reports show, and received about $144,000 in in-kind contributions.

"This is a victory for everyone in Massachusetts who cares about dogs," said Christine Dorchak, cochairwoman of the Committee to Protect Dogs.

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Globe correspondents Matt Negrin and John M. Guilfoil contributed to this report.