Special News Story


Thousands of Racing Dogs Found Dead


05/22/02 - Filed at 3:19 p.m. ET

LILLIAN, Ala. (AP) -- The remains of as many as 3,000 greyhounds were found on the property of a former racetrack security guard who said he killed the dogs humanely for profit for four decades.  

District Attorney David Whetstone said animal torture charges were being considered against Robert Rhodes, who said he sometimes received $10 for shooting a dog. 

``I guess there are laws against it, but I haven't read those books, so I don't know,'' said Rhodes, 68.  

Rhodes said tracks brought him unwanted greyhounds, usually those too slow to win, for the 40 years he has raised and raced the animals.  

``I wouldn't condone or use torture at any time,'' Rhodes said. ``It was quick; they didn't feel a thing.'' 

State officials obtained a warrant Tuesday to search 18 acres owned by Rhodes after receiving a tip and looking at satellite images that showed animal bones strewn about the property.  

Florida officials were investigating allegations that dogs from Pensacola Greyhound Park, where Rhodes used to work, have been improperly destroyed.  

Rhodes was fired from Pensacola Greyhound Park as a result of the investigations, said Daniel R. Wilson, the park's assistant general manager.  

Rhodes declined to say which tracks brought him the dogs but said none was from the Mobile Greyhound Park.  

Whetstone said autopsies of four dogs found that only one had been shot cleanly through the brain. The others received bullet wounds through the neck and elsewhere, indicating they suffered before dying, he said. Animal torture is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.  

Susan Netboy, president of the Greyhound Protection League in Sacramento, Calif., said she believed the extermination of aging greyhounds is common.  

``The evidence that was brought to light by the district attorney destroys the ongoing propaganda from the racing industry that greyhounds are treated humanely and are not killed,'' she said.



Killings of race dogs spur probe

Possibly 3,000 greyhounds found destroyed at Lillian farm

Brett Norman

During the last 40 years, Robert Rhodes figures he has shot and buried maybe 2,000 greyhounds on his 18-acre farm in Lillian, Ala.

It was not until earlier this month the 68-year-old farmhand learned he might have been doing something wrong.

Rhodes and Pensacola Greyhound Track kennel operator Clarence Ray Patterson are under investigation for transporting the past-prime animals across state lines and inhumanely destroying them.

Baldwin County District Attorney David Whetstone said investigators served a search warrant Tuesday morning and unearthed 40 freshly killed canines. A veterinarian autopsied four.

"It was bizarre, almost like a Dachau (concentration camp) for dogs," Whetstone said. "Three of the four (autopsied) dogs appeared to be shot in places that would not cause instant death, not through the brain but through the neck or mouth. We don't know how long they may have suffered, or if they were alive when they were buried. ...  We're going to pursue it hard. Really what I'm after is the person who is profiting off this; (Rhodes) isn't making much money.  The question is: `Where is this investigation going to lead?"'

To the right:  Robert Rhodes shows how he would hold the collar on a dog while using a gun to euthanize the animal. "It was quick; they didn't feel a thing," he said.

Jim Sands

Rhodes, who helps raise greyhounds in a kennel on his land, said he sometimes was paid $10 per dog, especially when he had to use his tractor to dig a new mass grave.

Whetstone said satellite photos show the property littered with the skeletons of as many as 3,000 greyhounds.

The investigation began in early May when Pensacola Greyhound Track racing director Albert Kelson caught wind of a rumor that dogs were being slaughtered in Lillian, said Daniel R. Wilson, assistant general manager for the track.

"He immediately notified investigators and started helping them collect evidence," Wilson said.

The investigators were with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering.

Once investigators determined the involvement of Patterson, who operates one of nine kennels under a contract with the track, he was fired, Wilson said. Rhodes, who worked as a kennel- compound security guard for the past couple of years, also was fired.

Pari-mutuel wagering investigators then contacted Whetstone's office and requested further investigation.

In Florida, it is illegal for pets to be killed by anyone other than a licensed veterinarian. Whetstone said sick or threatening dogs can be shot in Alabama, but he believes it is a misdemeanor to put down a healthy one.

However, it is a felony to torture them, and Whetstone believes the way the greyhounds were killed might qualify.

"If you've got an animal, and you want to kill it, take it to a vet and have it put to death in a way that is consistent with standards of human decency," Whetstone said.

Rhodes, who grew up in Wyoming and South Dakota, took his first job out of high school handling greyhounds at the Black Hills Kennel Club.

"I've made my living off these dogs my whole life," he said. "You have to understand I would not condone or use torture at any time.  It was quick, they didn't feel a thing."

He demonstrated.

Rhodes said he loosened the dog's collar, laid a .22-caliber rifle across the back of his left hand against its head and fired. The dog then fell dead into the prepared grave, he said.

Rhodes said it's just what he has done for the 40 years he has raised and raced greyhounds.

"I guess now that there are laws against it," he said. "But I haven't read those books, and so I don't know. But I'm learning ... I don't see how it's any crueler to shoot a dog with a gun than with a needle."

Whetstone said Rhodes could face health department sanctions as well for collecting dead cows and horses in the area to feed to his dogs, goats and hogs.

Although Rhodes cannot imagine how the race track management was unaware of so widespread a practice, Wilson said the track's owners are shocked.

"To us, that was just kind of unbelievable," he said. "I mean, it's 2002. We're done with this, right? But obviously there are people ...."

Michele Bryan, managing director of the Humane Society of Pensacola Inc., said euthanizing a dog is not expensive but can be inconvenient, particularly for greyhound owners.

"Most vets will not put down a healthy animal because it's past its running time. Unless it's terminally ill, 99 percent of vets won't," she said. "I think it's just easier. You don't have to find a home for them, and that's a big pain - to be stuck with a dog that you 
can't make money with."

As for the consequences for his trade, Wilson said, "It can't be positive for the industry - it's just a really unfortunate thing. The animal rights people are just going to go wild and crazy over this, and it helps bolster their issues.

"I mean, we don't agree with them most of the time. But on this, we absolutely do. We absolutely do."

Greyhound Racing Daily News

by The National Greyhound Association

Updated May 22, 2002 

NGA responds to Rhodes/Patterson matter 

On May 21, officials of the National Greyhound Association (NGA) were notified that an Alabama kennel owner may face criminal charges for violation of Florida animal protection laws.  Under Florida law, Greyhounds may not be euthanized by any means other than lethal injection, and may not be removed from the state for the purpose of being destroyed.  Investigators allege that the owner illegally transported racing 
Greyhounds from a Florida track to his Alabama farm in order to kill and bury them on his property. 

"If true, these actions are totally inexcusable," said NGA Executive Director Gary Guccione. "Leaders and members of the NGA wholeheartedly condemn such illegal and inhumane activities. They cast a dark shadow over the 3,000 responsible Greyhound owners who make up the NGA."

NGA is cooperating fully with the law enforcement authorities investigating this case, and with the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, to provide any needed assistance. As the national registry for racing Greyhounds, NGA has the authority to take punitive action against members who are found guilty of animal welfare violations. Where serious 
violations have occurred, members may be expelled from Greyhound racing for life. NGA will initiate its internal disciplinary process as soon as the criminal investigation is concluded and all the facts are fully known.

Meanwhile, NGA officials, along with members of the American Greyhound Council (AGC), the organization responsible for managing the industry's Greyhound adoption and other animal welfare programs, have been in contact with Pensacola Greyhound Track management to offer immediate assistance, and to discuss policies and procedures that will better protect the Greyhounds racing there. When formulated, these guidelines will be shared with other tracks around the country to help them ensure the proper 
handling of any Greyhounds leaving their facilities.



Greyhound deaths lead to arrest

Ex-dog track employee accused of animal torture

Brett Norman

A man who admitted shooting and burying thousands of retired greyhounds for cash was jailed Wednesday on animal-torture charges as investigators continue to seek his customers.

Baldwin County, Ala., District Attorney David Whetstone said that although most of the 2,000 to 3,000 dogs buried on Robert Rhodes' 18-acre farm in Lillian, Ala., came from Pensacola, some came from as far away as Hialeah, which is near Miami.

The Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering filed to revoke the greyhound licenses of Rhodes, 68, and kennel operator Clarence Ray Patterson, 59, on Wednesday, spokeswoman Pat Parker said.

Rhodes was booked into Baldwin County Jail without bond on three animal cruelty charges. Each felony count is punishable by one to 10 years in prison, Whetstone said.

A bond hearing at the Baldwin County Courthouse in Bay Minette, Ala., had not been scheduled late Wednesday but, by law, must take place by Friday.

Sheriff's investigator Huey Mack Jr. said the investigation will take time.

"The sheer number of cases means this will be going on for a while, with lots of follow-ups," he said.

Meanwhile, the greyhound racing industry and greyhound protection groups were mobilizing. The Pensacola Greyhound Track management and the National Greyhound Association, an industry group, characterized the illegal disposal effort as a rogue practice.

The Greyhound Protection League, however, said the practice is pervasive in a cruel industry.

"This is what we know goes on but rarely comes to light because it occurs on private property, by and large, and the industry goes to great lengths to keep it hidden," said Susan Netboy, president of the Greyhound Protection League. "The situation has revealed the real state of dog racing not just in Alabama and Florida, but nationwide. And it's a really sad commentary on how greyhounds are really treated."

She said operations such as Rhodes' are known in the industry as "going back to the farm," where dogs simply disappear into the backwoods.

Although Rhodes admitted to executing as many as 3,000 dogs during the past 40 years, Pensacola Greyhound Track general manager Nick Schlickin said his first inkling of the practice came in late April.

"When the allegations were made that something was occurring that was not good, we contacted authorities immediately," Schlickin said. "If we had heard of them before, we'd have acted on it."

In early May, Schlickin fired four employees who were implicated - Rhodes, two other security guards and Patterson, who operated the Red Rock Kennel at the track.

Although it is against Florida law to transport greyhounds across state lines, the State Attorney's Office for the 1st Judicial Circuit in Florida is not getting involved.

"If the pari-mutuel investigators give us a criminal referral, then we'll get involved," said Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille.

Andy Hillman, a veterinarian who moonlights at the track and euthanizes the majority of locally discarded racing greyhounds, said he has heard rumors about the practice for years.

The first hard evidence emerged this month, however, he said. He firmly denies that the executions were widely known.

Hillman, who euthanizes about 10 greyhounds a week, said he charges only $20, less than the $25 to $35 most other local veterinarians charge.

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Rhodes said he was paid $10 to pick up and destroy retired greyhounds.

"For $10, it's hard to believe, huh?" Hillman asked. "But I've had shipments come in as many as 20 at a time, so if you multiply it out, you get some savings. It's a shame someone was probably doing this to pinch a few pennies. This just goes to show you that profit margins now aren't wide enough to support some kennels."

Danny Viles, president of the Pensacola Greyhound Association and a kennel operator at the track, said Patterson was a rogue trainer.

"This is just devastating for all of us," he said. "What one man is doing has cast a dark cloud on all of us. The rest of us don't do our business like this."

The vast majority of trainers make every effort to adopt out a dog before destroying it, but the market can't absorb them all.

"That's just a bad part of the business, unfortunately. I compare it to owning a professional sports team. If you have one of your star players who isn't putting out, then you have to make more arrangements."

Whetstone pledges to follow the investigation wherever it leads.

"`Do we believe other people were involved? Yes. Is there evidence that they knew how the dogs were being killed? Yes. Are we going to pursue it? Yes," Whetstone said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.