CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Shawn Fluharty will hear his name a lot this next legislative session.
Fluharty, a Democrat from Ohio County, has been one of the most vocal defenders of greyhound racing in West Virginia.
As the push renews to end dog racing here, opponents of the practice intend to tell the story of a different Shawn Fluharty, a greyhound that was named after the delegate.
Shawn Fluharty the greyhound took a tumble while racing last spring and broke two bones. The greyhound has been undergoing treatment, won’t race again and may be adopted.
For opponents of dog racing, the story of Shawn Fluharty the greyhound hits home.
“It will be part of the debate, and it’s part of the information that lawmakers will have when they make this decision,” said Carey Theil, executive director of Grey2K USA, a national organization that works to end dog racing.
“I think it calls into question his credibility on this issue. He’s a personification of the problem.”
Shawn Fluharty the delegate is incredulous.
“To come after me for that? Grey2K is nothing more than a story-telling group,” he said.
Shawn Fluharty the greyhound was born in 2017 and was, indeed, named after the delegate.
The black, 76-pound greyhound was among eight dogs in the third race at Southland Casino in Arkansas on the afternoon of this past May 27.
As the dogs came around the first turn in a bunch, one lost control and bumped into three others. Those four started rolling, some end over end, sending dirt flying.
Shawn Fluharty was one of the greyhounds in the wipeout. A listing of greyhound injuries in Arkansas from May showed that Shawn Fluharty broke his right front radius and ulna.
Steve Sarras, the breeder who owns Shawn Fluharty the greyhound, said the dog was treated first by a veterinarian at the track. He then went to an emergency clinic, where he spent a day or two. And then he was transported to an orthopedic surgeon to repair the fracture.
“Accidents happen, and responsible owners take care of their dogs. That’s what we did with Shawn Fluharty,” Sarras said.
“He’s going to be a pet. He is actually in Arkansas after his repair.”
The injuries that occur to racing greyhounds is a central thrust of Grey2K’s argument. The organization has tallied 8,000 greyhounds have suffered injuries with injuries over the past decade, including 3,000 dogs that have suffered broken legs as Shawn Fluharty the greyhound did.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, described the practice as inhumane last month when touting a bill that would end financial support for greyhound racing in West Virginia.
“This is an industry that has come and gone,” Carmichael said.
The greyhound industry says most injured dogs are treated and then adopted.
“Ninety-five percent of all greyhounds that race get adopted,” Delegate Fluharty said in a telephone interview last week. “The idea that they’re trying to say this is inhumane or the practice is not up to par just shows who Grey2K is.”
Money is the other major issue in the greyhound racing debate.
Carmichael wants to find another use for the $14 million a year that is collected from the state’s regulated casinos and then distributed to the breeders’ fund and purses.
Fluharty and other racing supporters point to studies that attribute $31 million in direct and indirect economic impact to racing in West Virginia.
Racing takes place at Mardi Gras Casino & Resort in Kanawha County and at Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack in Ohio County. The racing-related jobs amount to more than 500 in Kanawha and about 1,000 in Ohio County.
Sarras said Delegate Fluharty’s defense of greyhound racing as an economic stimulus led to the honor of having a dog named for him. With recent economic troubles in Wheeling, including the closure of Ohio Valley Medical Center, Sarras said the area needs a strong defense.
“Shawn has been a very strong proponent of Wheeling in general,” Sarras said. “He looks out for his area. And Wheeling Island is one of the largest employers in Ohio County.”
Sarras does not have such a positive view of Grey2K.
“They’re trying to bully people like Shawn Fluharty and try to sit there and stretch truths and give half truths and have imaginations run wild,” he said. “They would like you to believe that something horrific happened to Shawn Fluharty the dog.”
Fluharty, a Wheeling lawyer, has served in the House of Delegates since 2014. He noted that Conrad Lucas, the former chairman of the West Virginia GOP, is the lobbyist for Grey2K at the state Capitol.
He said that’s evidence that Grey2K is trying to use political leverage to push its message.
“That’s why they have a hired gun. The former West Virginia GOP chairman lobbies on behalf of this group. That’s why the Senate president, Mitch Carmichael, has jumped in on this issue. We have a simple quid pro quo in West Virginia. It’s the good old buddy system. Legislators cower in fear to lobbyists. I don’t.”
Fluharty will have plenty of opportunity to debate the issue, said Grey2K’s director, Carey Theil.
“There is a certain level of hypocrisy to have an elected official defending this practice and trying to whitewash the animal welfare problems while at the same time an animal named after him was catastrophically injured while racing in another state,” Theil said.
“I’m not alleging intent on his part, but I do think it’s an ironic example of how he really is almost a personification of the problem.”