With greyhound racing recently coming under fire from some folks in Charleston, I’ve found that I have two different groups of constituents that I need to look after in the debate — those who work in and with the industry, and my four-legged friends who race in it.
In the weeks leading up to the legislative session, I met with numerous people whose work is tied both directly and indirectly with racing. I began to realize that it had a much larger impact on our area than I first thought.
One of the first people I met was Barb, who works at the kennels in Beech Bottom where the racers from Wheeling live. Barb has worked in the kennels for more than 20 years and cares very deeply for the dogs she’s responsible for.
“I love the dogs. I love them to death,” she told me. Working at the kennel throughout the past several decades has allowed her to raise her two sons and put a roof over their heads. When I asked her what she would do if racing was brought to an end, her reply was, “I don’t know what I’d do without it. It means the world to me.”
I also spoke with the owner of a local car garage who works on the trucks that belong to several of the kennels in Beech Bottom. After looking over his receipts, he told me that last year he did more than $10,000 worth of business with the kennels. He was also quick to point out that this amount was only the mechanical work, and it didn’t include all of the gas they also buy each week. To a small-town repair shop, that’s a lot of business.
But what about the dogs? What about the ones who are actually going out and chasing Sparky?
To answer that question, in December my wife Alex and I visited the Beech Bottom kennels. Upfront, I have to admit that we are dog people. All of our dogs have come from rescues or shelters. I’m now famous (or infamous) for my Senate Resolution to have shelter dogs named as the official state dog. As a result, we felt that if I was going to stand up and fight for the industry, I would have to feel 100% comfortable with how the dogs were cared for. I was surprised by what we found.
All of the dogs we met there were playful, loved interacting with us (and the other dogs), showed no signs of aggression or mistreatment, or displayed any behavior that would indicate they were stressed or suffered from anxiety. Each one lived in its own large cage that was fully lined with carpeting and they are very well fed. While I’m certain there are stories or examples out there in the larger greyhound racing community of a dog being mistreated or seriously injured during a race, we didn’t see any examples of that kind during our visit.
I left the kennel with a positive feeling about how the dogs live and how they’re cared for — and also with a sneaking suspicion that Alex will have us adopt one someday.
But, there is one last issue that I want to touch on, and that is the funding on which the industry partly operates. Several decades ago, a fund was created by the state to help the industry fund its operations and race winnings. Many critics have called this fund a state “subsidy.” Doing so, however, is inaccurate. This fund has nine income sources — all of which are from money generated within the racing and gaming industries.
For some reason, however, when this fund was created several years ago, the state was put in the middle of it and was made to serve as the middleman between the casino and the track. It does not come from the state’s general revenue, and the only way your money would even make its way into this fund is if you gamble at the casino or place a bet on your favorite dog.
Greyhounds have been racing in Wheeling for more than 40 years and have an unmistakable legacy here. From the people who work in it, to the local businesses it helps support, to the racers who make it happen — its impact in this area is undeniable. As a legislator representing Wheeling, it’s my job to fight for everyone involved.
Weld represents the 1st Senatorial District and serves as the Senate Majority Whip as well as the Chair of the Military Committee and Vice Chair of the Judiciary Committee in the West Virginia State Senate. He is also an attorney with the firm of Spilman, Thomas & Battle in their Wheeling office.