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Doctor: Greyhounds’ Death a Mystery

January 11, 1999

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ The cause of a virus that killed six greyhounds at a dog track here remains a ``medical mystery,″ according to a pathologist.

The 74-year-old Derby Lane track was closed Saturday in the wake of what one regulator called a ``bloody mess.″ A coughing spell among the dogs left six dogs dead and four others critically ill.

``There’s obviously something else happening in some of these dogs,″ said Dr. William Castleman, the University of Florida pathologist who performed an autopsy on one of the dogs, Gaffer.

``Is it something new?″ Castleman asked Sunday. ``Is it a common infection that’s just taken a new turn? We don’t know. But the fact this dog became very ill and started bleeding and died has us thinking there has to be something else going on here.″

Castleman said it will probably take two weeks before scientists can isolate the pneumonia-like virus.

The illness also affected greyhounds at Sarasota Kennel Club. The track had 33 dogs scratched in the last three cards Thursday and Friday nights, most of which suffered ``canine cough″ syndrome, or tracheobronchitis.

There were other reports of disease outbreaks at greyhound tracks in Hollywood and Fort Myers, said Deborah Miller, director Florida’s Division of Parimutuel Wagering.

Trainers reported that dogs suffering the mystery illness were bleeding through the nose and the mouth, discharging bloody stools. Some had blood vessels in their skin burst.

``They’ve evidently been a bloody mess,″ said Miller. ``Whatever type of infection this is, it breaks down the clotting mechanisms in the dog.″

The dogs at Hollywood Greyhound Track have been put under quarantine after several greyhounds came down with a virus different than the one in St. Petersburg, Garry Duell, assistant racing secretary at the track, said Sunday.

``It’s not the same virus,″ he insisted. ``It’s the normal kennel cough that they get this time of year.″

Several dogs were scratched from the race card Saturday but none where taken off Sunday, Duell said.

Because of the virus scare, Greyhound Protection League, a San Francisco-based anti-racing group, has urged owners to impose a nationwide quarantine at the greyhound tracks.

The league’s Tampa Bay coordinator, Janet skinner, said dietary problems and unsanitary conditions at Derby Lane could make animals in close quarters susceptible to infection.

But Cal Holland, president of the Tampa Bay Greyhound Association, insisted the 1,155 dogs at the track, most ranging from 2 to 3 years old, are well cared for.

``This is one of the best-kept compounds in the country,″ Holland said. ``We treat our animals better than most people treat their kids.″

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