The Dark Side of Working with Animals

There’s a very dark side to working with animals, one that puts animals, and sometimes people, in danger.

Horse and greyhound racing, puppy mills and dog fighting are all dangerous activities that bring more harm than good, but because they turn a nice profit, aren’t going anywhere for a while.

Regarding the “sport” of dog fighting, the Humane Society of the United States recently ranked the 50 states in four tiers according to their punishments regarding participating in dog fighting itself, being a spectator, or possessing fighting dogs. The results were across the board, with punishments ranging from felony, to misdemeanor to nothing because the action is legal. While some form of involvement in dog fighting is a crime in every state, and in states like New Jersey all aspects are third-degree crimes with three to five years, max $15,000, in states like Montana and Hawaii and Nevada, it’s either legal to watch or possess the dogs, but a felony to engage in dog fighting.

Greyhound racing is an equally deplorable “sport,” but perfectly legal in states such as Arizona, where the Tucson Greyhound Park is located. Commonly, racing greyhounds are fed uncooked byproducts that are unfit for human consumption, and they are kept in small cages 22 to 23 hours a day for their entire racing careers. In addition, female greyhounds are routinely given anabolic steroids to prevent heat cycles, which can result in serious physical problems. When dogs are deemed unfit to race, or sustain injuries that cut their careers short, they are often hung, drowned, shot or dumped.

Puppy mills grabbed national attention when Oprah spent an hour discussing them on her talk show, where she featured the life’s work of Bill Smith, founder of Main Line Animal Rescue, a nonprofit that rescues hundreds of abused, unwanted or abandoned animals, rehabilitates them and then adopts them out to families. According to The Humane Society of the United States, there may be as many as 10,000 puppy mills operating across the U.S., and they are all legal, although the animals are often treated so inhumanely it’s borderline torture. Most are kept in small wire cages their whole lives, kept in inhumane conditions and rarely if ever taken out or even touched by human hands.

Thoroughbred horse racing is along the same lines as greyhound racing, although arguably the horses are much better cared for, most likely because they represent a much more substantial investment of time and money.

According to Steven Crist, publisher of the Daily Racing Form, a horse breaks down on the track 1.5 times for every 1,000 starts. A break down usually refers to a limb fracture, and more often than not, will result in the swift euthanasia of the steed. Only very rarely, such as in the case of Barbaro, does an owner try to rehabilitate the horse and exhaust all other possibilities before killing it. The issue is that horses often weigh in at 1,100 to 1,200 pounds, 99 percent of which is upper body on spindly legs traveling 35 or 40 miles an hour.

Sign up for our newsletter!