Pete Paxton: Part of the reason it was so tough for me to watch wasn’t just that the rabbit was suffering. It was the sheer joy that these men had for what they were doing.
JIM DE FEDE: Hiding among a stand of trees and overgrown bushes in eastern Oklahoma, Pete Paxton waited patiently for a myth to become reality. An animal abuse investigator for nineteen years, Paxton has gone undercover in puppy mills, slaughterhouses, and factory farms. He was the first person to get video of the barbaric practice of strangling sick hogs, by wrapping a chain around their necks and then hanging them with a forklift as the animal kicks and cries for help. That undercover video led to criminal charges against the farm owner. On this day in early March, Paxton was hoping to document another example of animal cruelty – the use of live jackrabbits to train greyhound racing dogs.
For years there have been rumors that some kennels and dog owners were training young greyhounds to race by first allowing them to chase live jackrabbits. Within the industry, it is known as “live lure training” and “coursing.” The idea is that before the dogs chase a mechanical rabbit around the racetrack, they first need to literally develop a taste of what it is they are chasing. Some trainers believe it gives their dogs an advantage over the greyhounds trained by only chasing the mechanical rabbit around the track…
Since August 2019, Carey Theil, the executive director of Grey2K, traded Facebook messages with a whistleblower who claimed to have worked for one of the largest kennels in the country. “I worked in the greyhound industry for thirteen years,” the initial message to Theil began. “I have a lot of info I’d like to get off my chest.” The man claimed he not only knew kennels and dog owners were still using live jackrabbits to train their greyhounds, but that he done it himself. And he was able to pinpoint the exact location of where one training facility was located. Keota, Oklahoma. Population 549. “We receive confidential tips all the time,” Theil told CBS Miami. “And sometimes they turn out to be accurate. Sometimes they don’t.” This tip, Theil thought, seemed worth pursuing. “At that point we reached out to Pete,” he said. Paxton was eager to go…
Over the years, however, leads dried up, insiders fell silent, and they were left chasing a ghost. Then came last year’s Facebook message. “Not only did he claim that all of the dogs that went through his farm had been live lure trained,” Theil said. “He claimed he did it himself.” Paxton arrived in Keota in early March… “One of the worst things that I’ve seen is that one of the men would go up to the rabbit and he would take a rope tie it around the rabbit’s legs or midsection and drag the rabbit on the ground,” Paxton said. “I could see that even if the rabbit was bloody, and dogs had already pushed the rabbit down. The rabbit would start bouncing and [the trainer] would start spinning the rope around his head to entice the dogs to finish the rabbit off.”
“And part of how I knew the rabbit was alive was that I could from eight hundred feet away. I could hear the rabbit screaming.” Paxton said it was one of the hardest things he has ever had to watch. “There’s not a lot that makes me grit my teeth when I see it,” he said. “But this was one of them. And part of the reason it was so tough for me to watch wasn’t just that the rabbit was suffering. It was the sheer joy that these men had for what they were doing.” After a few minutes, the men would drag the rabbit’s lifeless body back to their truck. “Well, once the dogs had completely killed the rabbit, they would just throw the rabbit in the pile [on the hood of the truck],” he said with a grimace. “And then the bodies would pile up. It was rabbit after rabbit after rabbit. And the pile will just grow and get bigger and bigger until they had no rabbits left in their boxes to use.”
Grey2K provided CBS Miami with all of the raw video Paxton shot for us to review and use as we saw fit on our story. The same video was also provided to law enforcement in multiple states… Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation – which oversees the greyhound industry – confirmed it has opened an investigation into the Keota operation. It is against the law in Florida to race Greyhounds that have been trained using live jackrabbits. On March 4, Paxton returned to the training facility. Only this time he saw something even more disturbing. He believed the man who was training dogs on this day, was the former police chief for Keota, Jason Martin, who is now a Haskell County deputy sheriff. According to state records, he raises greyhounds and has been licensed to race dogs in several states including Florida.
“And he does the same thing as with, you know, that the other guys did,” Theil said. “He drags the dogs off to the starting gate and he brings the rabbits out. The only difference was that, you know, he made sure none of his dogs were muzzled. They tore all of the rabbits apart alive.” “It’s not a thing to them. It never has been. They grew up with it, right. It’s what I call a culture of cruelty”… With two days of footage, Paxton packed up and left Keota. Back at the Boston offices of Grey2K, they drafted a complaint, outlining everything they found, including all of the video footage, and on April 6, sent it to both the United States attorney in Eastern Oklahoma and the District Attorney for Haskell County.
“This is an industry that has been torturing animals for years and now for the first time we’re able to show it,” said Christine Dorchak, president and general counsel for Grey2K “Our undercover footage shows that both federal and state laws against cruelty to animals is being violated by the greyhound racing industry, particularly the mutilation of rabbits that are being moved in interstate commerce,” Dorchak said, noting the jackrabbits are brought to Oklahoma from Texas. “We are seeing actors from various states involved in this scheme. It’s a terrible act”… Grey2K has turned the Texas and Kansas video over to the authorities in those states and they are waiting to see what if any action is taken. SOURCE…