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While controversy surrounds Florida greyhound racing, the sport is quietly fading away

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PHOTO BY JEREMY REPER
  • Photo by Jeremy Reper

Havernick says it was a shame, but they'll just keep soldiering on.

"They killed the bill," he tells Orlando Weekly. "We'll just keep trying. Hopefully something will eventually do something that's best for the tracks. Hopefully it will be good for everyone one day."

Smith, speaking about his own failed bill, says he was disappointed but determined to press on with future bills in the same arena.

"Passing a new greyhound protection bill in the House during my first session was a heavy lift, but we got it done," he wrote in a Facebook message to Orlando Weekly. "Unfortunately, the dog racing industry is a powerful special interest with friends in both parties. That's why the bill failed to pass the Senate. It's why Florida is one of the only states left where cruel and inhumane dog racing continues. Make no mistake – I'm not going anywhere, and I won't stop fighting to protect these greyhounds as long as I'm in the Legislature."

In his office at the Melbourne Greyhound Park casino, O'Brien bemoans the state of the greyhound racing industry.

"It's a sad thing," he says. "The industry is spiraling downward."

He maintains, as some other greyhound racing owners do, that the dogs are all kept safe and no harm comes to them. But PETA claims that "countless" greyhounds are killed each year if their owners decide that they aren't fast enough to win races. "Dogs have been shot, bludgeoned or simply dumped to fend for themselves. Those who make the first cut live on borrowed time: Their lives are secure only as long as they make money for their owners. Illness and injuries – including broken legs, heatstroke and heart attacks – claim the lives of many dogs," O'Connor writes.

Unable to hide his irritation toward some of the animal activists who have demonized his industry, O'Brien says they should educate themselves further and visit places like Melbourne Greyhound Park to see that not all of it is so dire.

"We're doing it right," he says. "We care."

He gestures to the pictures on the wall of his office, several of which depict dogs sitting in various peaceful settings, and says they're "dog people" there.

As for the industry itself, O'Brien has no illusions – it isn't the same as it once was.

"It's an industry that has seen its time," he says. "I wish it was better, but it's not. It's nobody's fault. The world changes."

Due to a reporting error, this story originally quoted Rep. Smith as saying sterilization was a side effect of steroid usage. We misheard him; what he actually said was virilization. We regret the error.

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