Dr. Morrie Craig

Dr. Morrie Craig pets a retired greyhound after speaking at the Heart of America Greyhound Gathering in Abilene last week on the topic of drug testing in greyhound racing.

In most all of life’s endeavors, there unfortunately are those who are inclined to break the rules. Cut the corners. Take illicit shortcuts. Beat the system.

In other words, cheat.

Fortunately, there are also those inclined to take on the challenge of thwarting the cheaters. Of keeping the playing field level. Of making the endeavor (whatever it is) fair, and the outcome just.

Meet A. Morrie Craig — researcher, scientist and former professor of toxicology at Oregon State University. Cheaters must regard Craig is one of their worst enemies, especially if the endeavor is sports.

Craig has spent a good part of his life creating drug-testing programs aimed at eliminating, or at least reducing, cheating in racing sports. He’s accomplished that, not just for greyhound racing (which has had a direct impact on Abilene as the Greyhound Capital of the World), but also for other racing sports.

I love Abilene

The 75-year-old researcher has been to Abilene several times over the past 30 years. His most recent visit was last week to address the 250 participants in the 20th annual Heart of America Greyhound Gathering on the topic of drug testing in greyhound racing.

“I love Abilene,” Craig said the evening after his presentation at the Greyhound Gathering. “It’s a beautiful town and it seems to have so much to offer. Every time I come here, it impresses me more.”

This time, it was the large homes and the wide variety of eating establishments that seemed to capture his attention.

It was Craig who, in the 1980s, succeeded in developing a drug-testing program for the National Greyhound Association (NGA) which has been headquartered in Abilene for the past 75 years. The NGA had been exploring the possibility of adopting a drug-testing program for its semiannual track stakes during NGA meets in April and October each year. Craig studied the situation, then set up a program utilizing KSU’s veterinary laboratory.

That program is still in effect today, only the drug-testing is now carried out by Industrial Laboratories, a reputable firm in Denver that has experience in drug testing for a number of racing industries. Craig oversaw that transition, as well.

Craig’s labors gave greater credence to race results at national meets. Consequently, auction buyers were more willing to pay higher prices for pups competing in the Abilene stakes, which in turn has had a positive economic impact on breeders — many of which are from the Abilene area.

Auction prices

The average price of an auction pup, which once was in the $5,000 range, has doubled since the advent of the drug-testing program. Auction gross totals that were once around $250,000, more often than not, now exceed the $1 million figure.

Craig’s efforts on behalf of greyhound racing resulted in another positive impact in the 1980s, this time involving the entire sport on a national level.

At that time, more sensitive drug-testing procedures were disclosing an increasing number of positives for the foreign substance procaine.

This was resulting in a sharp upturn in fines on trainers and kennel operators across the country while casting a negative shadow on the sport’s image. Craig and his cohorts at OSU undertook comprehensive research, proving scientifically that a procaine presence in a greyhound did not alter its racing performance.

Moreover, the study concluded that the substance (which was showing up in very low quantities in positive tests) was actually coming through the greyhound’s food chain via the meat being fed to racers and was not being intentionally administered by handlers.

As a result of these findings, all greyhound racing jurisdictions in the U.S. quickly amended their rules to establish acceptable minimum thresholds for substances such as procaine. The problem was solved.

wThe calling of procaine positives sharply declined and the reputation of greyhound racing being a clean sport vastly improved.

For his efforts, both for his work in developing the NGA’s drug-testing program and for the procaine studies, Craig was presented a Special Achievement Award by the NGA in 1991.

Iditarod

Not surprisingly, Craig’s expertise on drug-testing was by no means limited exclusively to greyhound racing.

“The Iditarod sled dog races in Alaska were growing in popularity,” Craig recalled, “but some of the leading mushers thought that drugs could be playing a role in the outcome of the races.”

Iditarod officials brought Craig and his OSU team to Fairbanks for preliminary discussions. In the mid-1990s, the group put together a drug-testing program, similar to what was done for the NGA and its track stakes. Craig was named chief of the program and continued to oversee the Iditarod’s drug-testing for the next 25 years.

In 1995 he was presented the Tom Cooley Memorial Research Award by the International Sled Dog Association for his milestone efforts.

Still another racing sport that saw its image enhanced by Craig’s research regarding drug-testing was homing pigeon racing.

“This is a worldwide sport that’s very popular in a lot of countries,” Craig said. Apparently, it can also be quite profitable.

“I had a teacher in California in the 1990s tell me that he was making $40,000 a year teaching but that he was making $43,000 a year with his homing pigeons,” he said.

“When we started developing a drug-testing program for the pigeons, I remember my technician who worked with me for 30 years asked me, ‘What’s this pigeon poop doing in my refrigerator?’”

Craig said that one of the concerns was that corticosteroids were perhaps being used to enhance performance with the pigeons.

“It wasn’t that the steroids would strengthen the bird,” he said, “but that the drug would slow down the molting of a bird’s feathers. Those feathers would give more lift to the bird’s flight and definitely improve its performance.”

The drug-testing program established by Craig and his team for homing pigeons remains in operation today. In 1996, Craig was awarded a certificate of appreciation from the American Racing Pigeon Union for his contribution to that sport. It was the same year that he was named Oregon Scientist of the Year by the Oregon Academy of Science.

That same decade, Craig and another OSU professor, Linda Blythe, were commissioned by the American Greyhound Council, now headquartered at the NGA in Abilene, to write a comprehensive textbook (along with Australian greyhound veterinarian Dr. James Gannon). The target audience included breeders, trainers and veterinarians that treated racing greyhounds. Released in 1994, “Care of the Racing Greyhound” soon became the top selling greyhound book, being circulated in all major greyhound racing countries throughout the world.

In a few years the book sold out and a second textbook project was undertaken by the same three authors along with Gannon’s assistant, Desmond Fegan.

Released in 2007, this book updated the original text while expanding its content to include information on the care of retired greyhounds. “Care of the Racing & Retired Greyhound” reached an entire new audience in the adoption community and soon replaced the first book as the sport’s biggest seller in history.

The impact of both books toward the enhancement of care given to greyhounds worldwide is immeasurable but no doubt profound.

Induction

In 2010, Craig and Blythe returned to Abilene to be inducted into the Greyhound Hall Of Fame Pioneer Section for their groundbreaking achievements in greyhound racing. This included their contributions to the NGA’s drug-testing program, their research on procaine and other foreign substances, and the landmark textbooks they had co-authored.

“That was a fantastic honor,” Craig says. “It was wonderful, as it always is, getting to visit Abilene again while also taking in part of a National Spring Meet.”

Now, nine years later, Craig and Blythe again paid a visit to Abilene just last week, this time to provide valuable information to the greyhound adoption community.

“My main message at this Gathering,” Craig said, “was to emphasize the need for science to be used as a tool to curb the false messages that can be so easily spoon-fed to the public such as what was seen in last year’s campaign against the sport in Florida.”

The background that helped lead to Craig’s many contributions to a variety of different sports began many years ago as a student in the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. A native of San Francisco, he obtained advanced degrees in biophysics and biochemistry at OSU then completed post-doctoral programs at the California Institute of Technology and University of Oregon before returning to OSU as a research assistant in 1977. In 1992 he achieved the rank of professor at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and remained in that role until his recent retirement.

Desert Storm

Still, Craig expressed excitement about his participation in an on-going project as a consultant to Phyto-Ruminal Bio-remediation in Kuwait. He described the project as an effort “to clean up Desert Storm and Desert Shield.”

“Whenever a bomb explodes,” he said, “15 percent of the bomb doesn’t go off and therefore is unoxidized. It lies on the ground and it’s toxic to humans.”

Craig has successfully investigated bio-degradation of these toxins, using plants to bring the munitions out of the soil and sheep, with their ruminal microbes, to graze and detoxify them without harming the sheep.

In his long career, Craig has traveled the world and given countless presentations to scientific and veterinary groups and researchers. Through it all, he has retained, according to close associates, a zest for life, an enthusiasm for continued learning, and a good sense of humor.

On that latter point, friends point to the time a few years back when Craig, who’s always been an animated speaker and who continues to come up with creative ways to captivate an audience, dressed up as Gene Simmons of the rock-group KISS to introduce his topic at a veterinary symposium in Orlando, Florida. The catchy title to his talk? “Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll.”

“Whatever it takes to get your message across,” Craig said with a smile and a boyish sparkle in his eye. “They can’t learn unless you have their attention.”

Contact Tim Horan at editor@abilene-rc.com.

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