ORANGE PARK – A Jacksonville greyhound trainer who raced at bestbet of Orange Park received an emergency suspension notice on his operating license last month after a state investigation found 12 …
ORANGE PARK – A Jacksonville greyhound trainer who raced at bestbet of Orange Park received an emergency suspension notice on his operating license last month after a state investigation found 12 of his greyhounds tested positive for a primary cocaine metabolite.
In under two months, the greyhounds trained by Charles McClellan tested positive 17 times for a substance called benzoylecgonine, the main cocaine metabolite screened for in drug tests, according to the June 9 suspension order.
According to the emergency notice from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, between March 1 and April 29, one female dog, “WW’s Flicka,” tested positive six times and in two of those races came in first place. The dogs were housed at Steve M. Serras Kennels at the time of testing. By law, the winning dog in a race and a separate, random dog are tested for foreign substances.
The state has never issued an emergency order such as this according to GREY2K USA, a national nonprofit organization that lobbies against greyhound racing.
“This is the biggest greyhound drug case in American history,” said Carey Theil, GREY2K executive director. “I’ve never seen an emergency order like we saw in this case – as far as I know, this is unprecedented.”
A bestbet spokesperson said trainers are independent contractors and the business does not directly employ them. The spokesperson added that McClellan was removed from the premises as soon as bestbet was notified of the state’s order.
“Bestbet Orange Park completely supports the swift action taken by the state in this matter and as always, fully cooperated with state officials as they conducted their random and routine tests. Bestbet Orange Park maintains a zero-tolerance policy for any trainer or staff member that does anything [that] puts one of the dog’s health at risk. In this instance, the process carried out by the state of Florida and the regulators was carefully followed under state law,” a bestbet spokesperson stated in a prepared statement.
Activists and critics of the greyhound racing industry point to occurrences such as these as proof of animal rights abuses on a grand scale, while supporters maintain the greyhounds receive top-shelf care and attention and drug cases are isolated incidents.
Kennel owner Steve Serras responded to the allegations in a statement posted online by saying the levels of cocaine present in the greyhounds at the time they resided in his kennel did not exceed levels that would cause a human to fail a federal drug test.
He said environmental contaminants or contact with humans could have accounted for the levels of cocaine in the greyhounds.
“Animal rights extremists are intentionally withholding the amounts found in the positive samples,” Serras said. “Quite simply it is propaganda against the greyhound industry. These animal rights extremists also have ties to domestic terrorist groups. They prey on hysteria and fears to elicit anger and support in any form especially in terms of donations.”
According to the document, because McClellan was slated to race his dogs not only the day of the suspension’s issuance, but for two days thereafter, “[T]here is an immediate and serious danger to the public health, safety and welfare that requires an emergency suspension of his” license.
The state will now usher McClellan through his due process of a full license revocation, but the case is unlikely to be referred to criminal court.
Rarely do state investigators delve into how dogs encounter these substances. It’s a trend, Theil said, that is frustrating, yet slowly changing.
“The state should be applauded for issuing their emergency order…I think that it is appropriate and I think this should be an example,” Theil said. “Am I happy that six months passed before it came down? No, I don’t think that’s appropriate. Am I happy they don’t appear to be referring this to law enforcement?…No, I’m not, but things are markedly better at the department than they were even two years ago.”
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation has procedures in place aim at keeping these incidents from occurring again. One is to begin the process of full revocation of McClellan’s state wagering license. Another is to bar him entirely from obtaining any similar licenses in the state and barring him from patronizing wagering businesses.
The Department has revoked 27 wagering licenses and barred 24 patrons from affiliate wagering businesses since 2006, according to the department’s website.
There have been several greyhound doping cases before in the United States, many of which have come from Florida, one of the 10 states in the country that hasyet to outlaw the sport.
For example, in January, the state revoked a St. Petersburg trainer’s license after five dogs tested positive for cocaine.
Industry critics maintain the only way to remove the possibility of greyhound doping is to ban the sport. Supporters and industry insiders claim negative stories do not represent the industry as a whole.
“Greyhound racing has its own process for addressing such situations. In addition to complying with all state and local laws, National Greyhound Association members also must comply with rigorous association rules governing greyhound care. Any member who fails to do so may be banned from greyhound racing for life, and others prohibited from doing business with the violator. These tough penalties send a strong message that illegal or improper behavior will not be tolerated,” read a statement from the National Greyhound Association in response to the allegations.