Florida Amendment 13: Greyhound racing

- The battle over Amendment 13 is heating up, one bark at a time.

Mary Beth Constante has surprising reasons to oppose the ban, especially because she owns a retired greyhound, Ellie, who is now 3.

"She just ducks down there and goes into the water," Constante said during a recent outing to Davis Islands' dog beach. "We get them spayed or neutered, teeth cleaned microchipped, all that good stuff."

During her previous life, Ellie raced in Arkansas. She wasn't very good at it, Constante admits.

"She had 30 whole races, and won one."

Ironically, Ellie's serene life is why Constante is so against a ban on dog racing. 

"That is 8,000 to 10,000 dogs in the state that need homes. Where do they go?" she asked. "As a person in adoption, that is terrifying to me, because you probably have to make some hard decisions."

There are 12 tracks statewide, including Derby Lane in St. Petersburg.

Proponents of Amendment 13 point out tracks would have until the end of 2020 to end racing. 

"I think we really have a shot at this now," said Sherry Silk of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay. 

Silk is on the Committee to Protect Dogs, a group backing the amendment. The committee is reportedly spending $2.3 million to run spots that supposedly show dogs inhumanely confined.

"They love to run, I would never dispute that," said Silk. "But they love to be in a family, I believe, moreso than in a cage for most of their life, month after month, year after year."

After years of trying, proponents were finally successful in getting the Constitution Revision Commission to put a greyhound-racing ban onto the ballot. 

But they are concerned about voter fatigue, that all the high-profile political races and the need to wade through 13 amendments will lead some to leave that part of the ballot blank.

"It's clutter, it's noise, and people just (may think), ‘I don't quite understand it,’" said Silk.

Despite recent involvement by the NRA, which is insisting members vote against the ban, those against it insist they're the grassroots effort. 

Because the ban would also carve out an exemption for tracks to keep poker rooms and slot machines open, they believe the anti-greyhound racing movement is a Trojan horse for expanded gambling in Florida.

"That is easy money," said Constante. "They don't have to pay employees; they don't have to keep up a track."

It's unlikely Ellie ever would have thought retirement would bring this much controversy.

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