The rust-colored starting gate opened, and a pack of four greyhounds burst forth. A few yards down the track, the live rabbit that an off-duty Haskell County Sheriff’s deputy tossed into the training pen tried to flee but was quickly overtaken and mauled by the dogs.
Two of the dogs proudly carried their prize , still living. The rabbit made a desperate attempt to escape but was quickly snatched up again in one of the dog’s jaws. With blood matting its fur, the rabbit again attempted to make an escape, but the whole pack again quickly seized it and began chewing, appearing to finish the creature off.
The video, shared with The Frontier by the greyhound welfare and anti-dog racing group GREY2K USA, is one of several the group was able to obtain of what the group claims is illegal “live-lure” training or “coursing” of racing greyhounds.
The practice of “live lure” training dogs for racing is against dog racing rules and is specifically outlawed by Oklahoma statutes. Under state law, the crime is considered a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $250. And, the group says, the practice runs afoul of federal anti-cruelty laws.
Two of the videos provided to The Frontier were filmed in Keota in March on a greyhound training course owned by Haskell County Sheriff’s Deputy and former Keota chief of police Jason Martin, according to GREY2K USA Worldwide, a nonprofit organization founded in 2001 dedicated to passing greyhound protection laws and ending greyhound racing. Other videos from the group show live-lure training of greyhounds allegedly being done in Elgin, Texas and Abilene, Kansas.
One of Keota videos shared by GREY2K USA with The Frontier shows another group of individuals using live rabbits to train greyhounds on Martin’s training track. One of those individuals, identified by GREY2K USA as Keota resident Wesley Parvin, is a greyhound trainer who has owned hundreds of dogs and co-owns numerous racing dogs with Steve M. Sarras of West Virginia, the board vice president of the National Greyhound Association. At the end of that video, the rabbit killed by the dogs is thrown atop a heap of other dead rabbits that had been used to train dogs.
However, the ramifications of GREY2K USA’s videos, filmed without the knowledge of the trainers, could have a much wider effect on the dog racing industry as a whole, as almost all of the dogs are shipped to other states to perform in sanctioned races, and some of the individuals filmed allegedly doing live-lure training co-own dogs or train dogs for individuals who are highly-placed in the national dog racing industry, according to the group.
“At all three of these locations, the individuals involved are racing dogs all over the country,” said Carey Theil, executive director of GREY2K USA.
The practice of “blooding” or live-lure training race dogs is also thought by some to make the dogs run harder during races, when a mechanical lure is used, Theil said.
GREY2K USA has submitted criminal complaints, as well as the videos and other information, to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in eastern Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office, the Haskell County District Attorney’s Office and the racetrack regulatory entities in states where Martin and Parvin hold licenses, Theil said.
Dogs who have been live-lure trained are not allowed to enter races, and a person who is caught live-lure training, in addition to criminal penalties, can lose their racing license and be prohibited from participating in the industry in any way.
“I think at this point, law enforcement officials and regulators in all of these states need to do thorough investigations and answer a lot of questions we weren’t able to answer,” Theil said. “Who knew about this? What was the full scope? Who was involved? Who was profiting? What dogs did we film? There’s lots of questions that only a real criminal and regulatory investigation can answer.”
Currently, only five states — Florida, West Virginia, Texas, Arkansas and Iowa — host greyhound races, though after this year greyhound racing will no longer be legal in Florida and Arkansas’s sole dog-racing track plans to phase races out by 2022. And though the popularity and financial muscle of greyhound racing has been in decline for years, off -track betting on greyhound races keeps it a multi-million-dollar industry.
Martin, who served as chief of police in Keota until August 2019 before going to the Haskell County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy and is owner of Martin Kennel LLC, declined to comment for this story and Parvin did not return phone and Facebook messages seeking comment.
However, Miami’s WFOR-TV, which first reported the story on Sunday, reported that Martin denied using live rabbits to train dogs, but when told their was video of him doing so, responded “I really don’t care what you’ve seen,” and told the television station he was planning to close his farm and getting out of the business soon.
“These individuals almost certainly face disciplinary action, whether its license revocation, fines, etc., in those jurisdictions as well,” Theil said. “It’s considered a form of race-fixing. If a dog is live-lure trained, it’s considered a form of cheating.”
The practice of using greyhounds to sight-chase rabbits and hares goes back centuries. The dogs were originally brought to the United States to help farmers rid their land of jackrabbits, said Jim Gartland, executive director of the National Greyhound Association, a nonprofit organization that bills itself as the sole registry for racing greyhounds in the nation, and live lures were often used for training in the early years of standardized greyhound racing. However, the industry eventually moved away from using live bait for training, and eventually states began making laws prohibiting the use of live lures when training racing greyhounds.
The practice of live-lure training greyhounds, or “coursing,” was covered by a young Geraldo Rivera in the first episode of ABC’s 20/20 in 1978.
Oklahoma passed a law prohibiting live-lure training in 1991, but even years before then it was considered by promoters of the industry as a relic of a bygone era.
“The industry’s position is this no longer happens,” Theil said.
However, rumors of extensive live-lure training in the industry persisted, Theil said.
“For many years, I was really skeptical. I didn’t believe it,” Theil said.
Then, seven or eight years ago, GREY2K USA was approached by a former industry insider who told the group specifics about live-lure training that was occurring, though the allegations were never made public, Theil said.
In 2015, Australia’s greyhound racing industry was plagued by allegations of illegal live lure training that was found to be “systemic and widespread,” but evidence of the practice in the United States was still not solid, Theil said.
“We were never really able to prove it,” Theil said.
Then, in 2019, the group received credible information about dogs being live-lure trained in Keota. The dogs, most of which were owned by people from out-of-state, would be brought to Oklahoma and live-lure trained in Keota before being shipped back to other states to participate in sanctioned races, Theil said. Acting on the information, the group reached out to one of the nation’s foremost undercover animal abuse investigators who goes by the pseudonym Pete Paxton. Paxton went to Keota and spent two days filming around 50 dogs being trained with live rabbits, Theil said.
“It appears to us he (Martin) has a relatively small number of dogs racing under his name and he appears to be training a much larger number of dogs,” Theil said. “It appears to us he is probably live-lure training his own dogs that are sent to other states like West Virginia where he is licensed. In addition, he’s likely live-lure training for others.”
Theil said Martin’s status as a law enforcement officer also raises other concerns.
“I do think there are other questions about him specifically as a law enforcement officer and I think there’s an extra level of concern there with him being a law enforcement officer that is above and beyond the other participants,” Theil said. “The footage is obviously incredibly brutal. I think for us, it’s deeply disturbing that a law enforcement officer is involved. It certainly gives the impression that this is being done in a way that is protected from law enforcement scrutiny.”
Parvin, who appears in the second video captured by the group and is licensed in Florida, Texas, West Virginia and Iowa, breeds and raises a significant number of dogs, but there are lots of references on social media and in ownership records showing that he co-owns numerous dogs with others or is referenced as a trainer or finisher for dogs, Theil said.
“Parvin seems to be a much larger player in the industry generally than Martin,” Theil said.
One of the individuals Parvin co-owns seven of his 15 currently active racing dogs with is Steve Sarras, who is president of the West Virginia Kennel Owners Association as well as vice-president of the board of the National Greyhound Association and owner of Steve M. Sarras Kennels. In social media posts provided by GREY2K USA to The Frontier, Sarras thanks Parvin for his work training or finishing dogs that won races, according to GREY2K.
Sarras did not respond to Facebook messages from The Frontier seeking an interview.
Gartland, the executive director of the National Greyhound Association, said GREY2K USA had not submitted a complaint to the organization, and he had not heard of any allegations of live-lure training connected to Sarras.
However, live-lure training is against National Greyhound Association rules, and if allegations of live-lure training are substantiated, penalties can include suspensions, fines and even “banishment” from the industry, Gartland said.
“We absolutely do not tolerate the inhumane treatment of any greyhound or any other animal, including any live lures used,” Gartland said. “Typically, we’ll have disciplinary actions taken against anybody found doing that.”
While most of the dogs trained in Keota are believed by GREY2K USA to spend a few months there before being shipped back to other states, the live-lure-trained greyhounds filed by Paxton in Elgin, Texas are believed to have been bred and trained in Texas, but by the time they show up to race in other states, they are legally owned by other people, Theil said.
Meanwhile, the live-lure-trained dogs filmed in Abilene, Kansas, are all bred in Kansas but ownership of the dogs is retained by the woman allegedly doing the live-lure training, Theil said.
“The M.O of the three locations are a little different in each case, but I think there’s a commonality that you have this barbaric training taking place and the dogs are then being fed to racetracks in Iowa, West Virginia, Florida, and Arkansas where racing is still taking place,” Theil said. “There’s a certain distance there. People can’t know that when they go to a dog track in West Virginia that some of the dogs they’re seeing were likely live lure trained in Keota, or Abilene, or Elgin.”
The scope of the evidence collected also raises another concern, Theil said — that the practice of live-lure training is widespread in the industry.
“For us the bottom line is: the industry never stopped doing this,” Theil said. “This is a widespread practice. It’s a widespread practice that is not only incredibly barbaric, but the industry has been lying to the public about it for decades.”