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Weld County greyhound breeders under investigation for alleged animal cruelty

One of the most prominent greyhound breeding families in the country is under investigation by Weld County authorities for alleged animal cruelty after an advocacy organization captured video that purportedly shows the banned practice of dogs chasing and killing live rabbits.

The Weld County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the Colorado Racing Commission turned over videos for its investigation, and authorities are working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to determine whether the complaint is legitimate, a sheriff’s spokesman said.

No charges have been filed.

John Lashmet, who, along with his wife Jill, operates one of Colorado’s last remaining greyhound kennels, denied using “live-lure training” — a practice that is considered cheating and that is also a criminal offense in other states.

“It’s a grisly, inhumane practice,” said Carey Theil, executive director of Grey2k USA Worldwide, an organization dedicated to ending greyhound racing across the globe. “It’s really a form of unconscionable animal cruelty, and it’s a form of race-fixing.”

Theil’s organization, which captured the grainy video, alleged in a complaint to the state’s racing commission that the video shows violations of Colorado racing rules, as well as state and federal animal cruelty statutes.

Lashmet contends he uses “jack-a-lures” — mechanical, motorized objects that simulate a rabbit’s movement to get the dogs to give chase — not live jackrabbits.

“We’re under fire,” he said. “They’re gonna do anything — if it’s truth or if it’s a frickin’ lie.”

Weld County’s investigation comes as greyhound racing in the United States continues to plummet in popularity, with animal welfare complaints and other gambling options leaving it on the brink of extinction.

Florida recently voted to end greyhound racing, while Arkansas will join it at the end of next year, leaving only Iowa and West Virginia left to host dog races in the U.S. Meanwhile, a bipartisan bill in Congress could make greyhound racing illegal federally.

Still, there’s a lot of money to be made on these races — as much as half a billion dollars wagered on dogs this year, according to Grey2K projections. Colorado, with $32.7 million bet on greyhound races in 2019, ranks behind only Florida and Texas for dog-racing action.

Big races, big money, big following

Greyhound racing used to be king in Colorado.

Before the Broncos and the Avalanche, the Nuggets and Rockies, a who’s who of Colorado bigwigs could be seen on Saturday nights at the Mile High Kennel Club in Commerce City.

“Everyone came out to Mile High,” Jim Larson, the club’s former mutuels — or betting — manager, told The Denver Post in 2011. “The governor had a box in the grandstand. So did the mayor of Denver.”

Known as “The Big Store,” the Kennel Club raked in huge sums of cash from the betting public — sometimes as much as $1 million on a given night. Dog-racing fanatics also frequented Colorado’s other venues in Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Loveland and Byers.

But as casinos and other gambling options began to pop up around the country, greyhound racing lost some of its novelty. That combined with a growing movement of animal welfare activists that cast the sport as brutal and inhumane helped drive greyhound racing to the fringes of American fandom.

The last race in Colorado came on June 28, 2008, and six years later, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill into law to make greyhound racing illegal in the state.

While racing dogs is no longer allowed here, there’s nothing saying people can’t breed them to compete elsewhere. But outside of the Lashnet enterprise outside Greeley, there’s only one other dog breeder in Colorado.

The Lashmets, however, are doing more than just breeding dogs. They’re breeding winners.

The couple bred the 2019 national win leader, LK’s Crush N It, and may have the highest-active earning active dog in the country, LK’s Sanotorini.

They race dogs in Arkansas, West Virginia and at a track in Tijuana, Mexico, where greyhound racing remains legal.

Lashmet said they have fewer than 100 dogs on their farm these days, down from more than 200 at their peak.

Evidence of live-lure training?

On June 10, a Grey2K investigator captured video of the Lashmets’ farm, in which an individual can be seen releasing a small white object in a large pen.

Soon after, a handful of dogs begin chasing the white speck, which darts from one side of the pen to the other.

The video is fuzzy and taken from far away, but Theil, the Grey2k director, said the white speck is a live rabbit — proof, he alleged, that the Lashmets are engaging in live-lure training.

Over the course of one hour, their investigator filmed 15 greyhounds being used to “systematically chase and maul” five rabbits, Grey2K alleged in its June 24 complaint to the director of the Colorado Racing Commission.

“This is unmistakably the same behavior” as live-lure video the organization has taken in other states, Theil said.

Live-lure training is used to entice a greyhound to run toward its prey, heightening the dog’s instincts so it will chase the mechanical rabbit on the track during races.

Lashmet vehemently denied the accusation, saying he doesn’t use live rabbits. He briefly answered some questions from the The Denver Post but elected not to comment on others.

“Shouldn’t be anyone allowed to attack the industry like they have,” Lashmet said, referring to Grey2K. “This is just another way for Grey2K to attack us.”

Animal control officers with the Weld County Sheriff’s Office twice went out the Lashmet farm but didn’t find any evidence of rabbits, said Joe Moylan, a sheriff’s office spokesman.

“We’re not close to a real resolution yet,” he said.

A 2019 inspection by the state’s Division of Racing Events — the last one conducted before the pandemic — found the Lashmets’ kennel to be “very organized and clean!” while the pens “look fantastic!”, the investigator wrote.

Grey2K argued in its complaint to the state racing agency that “the grisly activities described herein contravene state humane laws and, given their interstate connection, also trigger the newly expanded federal statute punishing animal cruelty.”

Besides allegations of animal cruelty, greyhound racing officials have said live-lure training is a form of race-fixing and is banned in most places where races take place.

“The board considers the use of live-lure training to greyhounds to be dishonest, undesirable, detrimental to, and conduct that reflects negatively on the integrity and best interests of racing in the state of Iowa,” the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission wrote in a September 2020 ruling. “Additionally, the board considers the use of live-lure training to train greyhounds to be conduct of an individual whom is not of good repute and moral character.”

The future of greyhound racing

Over the past year and a half, Grey2K has documented several instances of live-lure training in other states.

Iowa gaming officials in August 2020 suspended the racing licenses of two greyhound owners after the organization captured on video greyhounds maiming and killing live rabbits.

In Oklahoma, Grey2K investigators filmed 45 greyhounds killing dozens of jackrabbits.

These investigations, plus similar ones in Texas and Kansas, prompted a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to bring a bill this year to ban greyhound racing and live-lure training.

“Greyhound racing is cruel and must end,” U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas, a California Democrat, said in a May news release announcing the bill introduction. “These docile animals are kept in stacked cages for 20 hours or more a day and are subjected to brutal training practices and races, facing the risk of injury and death at every turn.”

Jim Gartland, executive director of the National Greyhound Association, told The Associated Press last year that humane treatment of animals is included in the association’s bylaws, refuting the notion that the industry abuses dogs or uses live bait.

But these are the same promises the industry has been making for decades, Theil said. The recent investigations, he said, “indicate to us that this practice is common throughout the industry.”

“The only conclusion you can draw from this is that the industry never stopped live-lure training,” he said.

In order for the practice to stop, Theil said, law enforcement and state regulators need to come down hard on breeders who engage in these practices.

“Weld County has a decision to make,” he said. “It can either address this and send a message that this behavior won’t be tolerated or they can sweep it under the rug.”