‘It’s Abhorrent’: Racing Dogs Keep Testing Positive for Dope

A New Zealand racing greyhound that tested positive for methamphetamine has drawn attention to the practice of “dog-doping” and fuelled calls for greater scrutiny of the industry at large.

Three-year-old greyhound Zipping Sarah finished first in a race at Christchurch’s Addington Raceway on November 12, winning dog trainer Angela Helen Turnwald a prize stake of more than $2,800. But that prize money was ultimately withdrawn after post-race urine samples revealed methamphetamine and amphetamine in Zipping Sarah’s system.

New Zealand’s Judicial Control Authority for Racing last week issued Turnwald a four-month disqualification and a $2,500 fine. Panel chairman Warwick Gendall said that methamphetamine poses “significant animal welfare issues” and the level of amphetamine, which is metabolised from methamphetamine, in the sample was “particularly large.” Turnwald denied doping her dog, but ultimately pleaded guilty to racing a greyhound that had a prohibited substance in its system.

The disciplinary action came just days after the New Zealand government announced a review of the country’s greyhound racing industry, following a major report in late 2017 that revealed “unacceptably high” rates of dog euthanasia and injury. But animal rights group SAFE claims this is the third doping case in the greyhound racing industry in the last six months – and insists that the sport should be halted altogether until the government has completed its review.

“Giving a dog methamphetamine to improve their race performance is depraved, it’s abhorrent. It’s a reality in greyhound racing in New Zealand at the moment," SAFE spokesperson Will Appelbe told Radio New Zealand. “The government’s review is promising, but every day that dogs are raced, the risk of painful injury is high and death is never far away.

“To protect dogs, the Minister should immediately halt racing until the review is complete.“

While there’s scarce evidence that dog-doping is endemic in the greyhound racing industry, Appelbe is right to say that it is a “reality” in the sport. In countries like New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States, greyhounds have variably tested positive for amphetamines, cocaine, ketamine, morphine, codeine and caffeine. They have also tested positive for erythropoietin, known as EPO, a stimulant that enhances performance by increasing red blood cell mass and was the drug of choice for disgraced Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong.

Between May 2015 and September 2016, 51 Australian greyhound trainers were fined or suspended for doping dogs. In 2017, one trainer was found to have injected her dogs with EPOs on four separate occasions. In the UK, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain and its Irish equivalent, the Irish Greyhound Board, recorded at least 261 positive tests for banned drugs between 2012 and 2016.

The 2017 report into welfare issues affecting greyhounds in New Zealand observed that, despite the high risk of detection and the serious penalties involved, a total of 52 people had been convicted on the charge over the previous six years – equating to an average of a little over eight per season.

That report described use of a prohibited substance as the “most serious” offence in greyhound racing. But it also noted that, in most cases, the prohibited substances detected in racing dogs are found to have been ingested by accident. It’s a common defence. There are so many drugs and remnants of drugs in the environment at large, trainers argue, that a greyhound could easily test positive after simply licking a surface that contained trace elements of a particular banned substance – a bank note carrying cocaine, for example, or a toilet seat containing ketamine.

In Turnwald’s case, the Judicial Control Authority did not reach a conclusion on when Zipping Sarah had ingested methamphetamines, but noted in its judgement that Turnwald had not carried out “a deliberate wrongdoing”. It is not clear how the “particularly large” sample of the drug ended up in the dog’s system, and Turnwald herself could offer no explanation for the positive result.

Another member of her racing syndicate initially suggested that someone might have smoked meth and then touched or patted the dog at the winner’s podium post race – but this defence was later abandoned. Scientific analysis also noted that the drug’s stage of metabolism at the time of the urine test indicated it had been ingested “at some time before the race meeting”.

“Whatever the motivation, the fact remains that she [Turnwald] has pleaded guilty to the greyhound being presented to race with the Prohibited Substance in its system,” the JCA concluded. “And she could not argue otherwise.”

No products likely to contain derivatives of amphetamines were found at Turnwald’s premises.

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