LOXAHATCHEE, Fla. – Sonia Stratemann has dedicated her life to rescuing retired greyhound's from Florida's race tracks. She has taken them in when they've grown too old to compete or after they suffered a terrible injury, rehabbing them until she's able place them in a loving home.
"They're all special. Every single one of them has a story," Stratemann said.
For 16 years Stratemann worked with the racing industry, adopting out over 2,300 greyhounds through her rescue, Elite Greyhound Adoptions. But now, all that's changed.
In the world of greyhound racing, Stratemann had committed a cardinal sin by joining forces with animal rights groups to highlight the industry’s treatment of dogs. She also advocated for Florida’s Amendment 13, effectively banning greyhound racing in the state by December 2020. Florida voters overwhelmingly approved the amendment in November by a margin of 2 to 1.
"Everything my family and I have been through with these dogs for so long," Stratemann said. "Just to see that if you fight hard you can actually make a difference and end it."
When Amendment 13 passed, there were about 4,000 greyhounds still racing in the state of Florida. Many tracks have already closed before the deadline, meaning many of these greyhounds have already been retired. Still by the time December 2020 rolls around there could potentially be 1,500 greyhounds in need of homes.
Behind the scenes of our #Greyhound adoption story airing tonight. With hundreds of these racers being retired in these coming months, why is the racing industry playing politics with the rescue orgs that want to help these dogs. The story tonight at 11pm @WPLGLocal10 pic.twitter.com/W4NOH9CLZh— Louis Aguirre (@LouisWPLG) February 20, 2019
But if the industry has its way, Stratemann and her rescue will not be getting any of them. Stratemann said she was been blackballed.
"I was told the Palm Beach Kennel Club told the trainers that they'd be kicked out if they worked with me," Stratemann said. "I just had a postcard sent to me wishing that I'd have cancer. So yeah the industry is very, very upset and have said they will never give me another dog ever again."
Jim Gartland is the executive director of the National Greyhound Association based in Kansas. He confirmed that the industry is bitter about the Florida vote and through Greyhound Pets of America will only work with the 105 rescue groups that supported the industry.
He said pro-ban activists have no business trying to help all the dogs that will eventually need new homes.
"It's tough for us to swallow. The same person who was out there telling people to vote to shut down racing now wants to benefit," Gartland said.
He said the industry has always stepped up and done the right thing and will continue to do that.
"They were used and abused for profit and that's something we're hoping to change," Christine Dorchak, president and general council for Grey 2K USA Worldwide, said.
Dorchak has been at the forefront in the battle to end greyhound racing in the U.S. and now around the world since 2001.
Up until 20 years ago, retired greyhounds were routinely euthanized. She said the industry caused its own demise because it refused and obstructed reform.
Dorchak said in Florida a dog dies every three days and dogs are kept confined an average of 20 to 23 hours a day at racing kennels.
But a new day is dawning for the remaining greyhounds still racing in Florida.
Michelle Weaver, who since 2001 has adopted out more than 2,400 dogs, is praying the industry can just leave the politics out of it.
"Once that dog is not racing, why do you care? Give to somebody who's going to find it a good home. It doesn't have to be a pro-racing home. It’s a home," she said.
Stratemann said she is concerned about what's going to happen to the dogs as the 2020 deadline nears.
"If all of those tracks close at the end...we'll be scrambling and then they're going to need help," Stratemann said. "They're not going to be able to use the 100 groups that they say. They're going to need help from everybody."
Dorchak isn't worried. She's faced this pushback from the industry before and said the dogs always win.
"Historically speaking, when dog tracks have closed over these last 20 years, there had been a wonderful exodus of greyhounds into adoptions," Dorchak said.
Stratemann also remains optimistic.
"The day after Amendment 13 passed, we started getting applications in, and we've probably had 400 since then," Stratemann said.
Stratemann said the battle to end greyhound racing was well worth the backlash.
"The dogs look at them. They're just the best and no one else was doing it. They needed us."
If you want to adopt one of these gentle giants, visit these websites: