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Michelle Weaver feels she could do so much more.

Weaver, who, with Jerry Deitch, operates the adoption agency Friends of Greyhounds in Hialeah, found new homes last year for 160 retired greyhounds. But Weaver realizes that's only a fraction of the homes needed for these retired athletes.

According to David Wolfe, director of National Greyhound Adoption based in Philadelphia, Pa., as many as 18,000 greyhounds were adopted last year through 200 organizations such as Weaver's throughout the United States. But thousands of other greyhounds were euthanized once they couldn't keep up at the track.

"There's a lot of good homes out there and we feel we could do so much more if only we had [full-time] veterinarians, a new kennel, and we could offer adoption seven days a week instead of just on weekends," Weaver said.

That's the hope if an amendment passes March 8 allowing South Florida's seven pari-mutuel facilities to operate slot machines.

Though no promises have been made, greyhound and thoroughbred advocates would like to see a percentage of revenue generated from the slot machines go toward adoption and retirement facilities throughout the state.

"The greyhound industry says they need help with the amendment," said Sergio Cortella, who operates the greyhound adoption agency HollyDogs in Hollywood. "If they get the help, they should assign a percentage of the [revenue] by law to adoption efforts. Yes, put the money toward schools. But put a percentage to help the [adoption] programs."

Like greyhounds, retired thoroughbred horses have been helped significantly in the past several years by retirement and adoption programs throughout the United States. Still, as many as 10,000 thoroughbreds are slaughtered each year in the United States, Canada and Mexico for human consumption overseas.

Some retired thoroughbreds have been cared for the past several years by inmates at the Marion County Correctional Facility outside Ocala, a program funded by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation (TRF) and Calder Race Course.

Diana Pikulski, executive director of the TRF, says more needs to be done.

"I hope the Legislature will consider having a portion of the new revenues go to social security for equine athletes," Pikulski said. "It only makes sense to provide for a horse post-racing during his working years ... just like with people. If such a plan is in place, people will feel better about going to the racetrack and enjoying the races knowing that the horses will be OK when they can no longer race."

Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association, said the amendment allowing slots at pari-mutuel facilities, including Calder and Gulfstream Park, could be a benefit to thoroughbred adoption programs.

Stirling, whose association supports the TRF, said he expects funding from slot revenue "for a bunch of things we want to do."

Wolfe hopes the amendment fails to pass.

"The industry doesn't qualify for perks," said Wolfe, whose organization has adopted out more than 6,000 greyhounds since 1990. "The fact they have a pari-mutuel license doesn't make them nice people. Why give them the wealth from slot machines? They shouldn't benefit. They exploit these dogs."

Jennifer O'Connor, animal and entertainment specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said slots at pari-mutuel facilities are "a last-ditch effort to save a dying industry ... and I'm glad they're dying."

Dan Adkins, general manager of Hollywood Greyhound Track, which gives 10 percent of unclaimed winning tickets to Friends of Greyhounds, said supplementing purse money through slots would "reduce the amount of live racing" for the dogs.

"We would love to operate only five or six performances a week, maybe have trainers on staff, and have strict requirements after a greyhound's career is over," he said. "That's a big deal to me."

Weaver, who has two greyhounds at home, would like to see a decline in the number of weekly performances as well as money set aside for adoption programs. "The breed is so wonderful," she said. "[Hollywood] helps us, but there's a bridge that needs to be completed. We'd hope some money would be used for new kennels, full-time veterinarians and adoption programs. That's all I hope for."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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