05/13/2004 11:00PM

Where is your money going?

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The vast majority of people involved in racing are softies when it comes to animals and genuinely dedicated to their health and welfare. Many generously support charitable organizations that do noble work on behalf of four-legged runners of various breeds.

It would behoove such benefactors, however, to make sure that the recipients of their generosity truly share their goals and will spend the donations on the kind of causes the givers intend. Two of the largest such groups, the Humane Society of the United States, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have agendas that are unfriendly to racing, ranging from opposing legislative measures that are helpful to the industry to outright campaigning for the abolition of all animal sports.

The Humane Society, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is a generally benign organization with a wide range of causes involving pets, wildlife, farm animals, and marine mammals. Most of the legislation it lobbies for falls under the laudable goal of animal protection, but it also consistently opposes measures outside that scope solely because the measures would benefit the racing industry.

The Humane Society's current legislative agenda, for example, includes opposition to a pending bill that would authorize video slots at New Hampshire tracks. It also opposes a measure that would allow bingo and out-of-state simulcasting in Alabama. Neither bill, of course, would endanger animals; if anything, additional revenue to the industry would mean the improvement of care and treatment facilities. Is lobbying against racing really how you want your "animal welfare" contributions to be spent?

The Humane Society, however, is saintly compared to PETA, which spends its dollars on guerrilla political tactics and inflammatory advertising, such as a recent campaign likening the cattle business to the Holocaust. PETA has also supported animal-rights terrorists who bomb research laboratories.

PETA's "fact sheet" on racing, which it posts on its website and supplies to journalists, is a half-baked catalog of horrors entitled "Inside the Horseracing Industry: Drugs, Deception, and Death." Cobbled together from unrelated press accounts of breakdowns and medication abuses, the catalog concludes under the headline "What You Can Do" with the following advice: "Help phase out this exploitative 'sport'; refuse to patronize existing tracks."

PETA, best known for supporting the spattering of fur-wearing supermodels with animal blood, routinely attacks references to racing in popular culture and lobbies celebrities for donations. According to the monthly The Greyhound Review, a Hollywood television director recently scripted an episode of "The Drew Carey Show" that involved greyhound racing, then later put out a press release saying he was "troubled by his conscience" and signed over his $92,000 directing fee to PETA.

Was the money used to aid adoption groups or animal shelters? Of course not. PETA, which opposes not only racing but any "exploitative" use of animals, including pet ownership, instead does things like lobby the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine to return the "blood money" the school received from the Kansas greyhound industry, money that had been earmarked for a national greyhound health institute.

This is the real shame of PETA's media-fueled ascendancy to prominence in the mistaken guise of an animal-welfare group. Dollars that naove benefactors are sending its way in the belief that they will directly aid needy animals are, in fact, funding anti-racing efforts and political theater.

Instead, these dollars, given with good intentions, should be flowing to the many legitimate charities doing important work in the vital areas of veterinary research and adoption of retired racers, as well as the grass-roots groups providing local shelter for abandoned and mistreated animals.

Many of them are success stories. Research projects funded by the Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation have made breakthroughs that are saving equine lives that would have been lost a generation ago. The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is providing a second life for racehorses. National and local greyhound adoption efforts now place an impressive 60 percent of all racing dogs into homes at the end of their careers (including the two in my household).

This is not to say that all forms of racing don't have problems to address or progress to make. The concern shown by true animal-rights advocates has prompted change and reform, and the tragic stories of Exceller and Ferdinand have heightened awareness and increased an industry-wide sense of responsibility.

If that responsibility includes opening your checkbook, wonderful. Just make sure that you make out the check to people who are not trying to destroy the sport you cherish and who are actually doing something to help the animals you love.