Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Furious over filly shot at Philly Park

The Daily Racing Form is reporting that a Pennsylvania veterinarian has been ordered off the grounds at Philadelphia Park for shooting a horse with a gun to put her down.

DRF reports that the Pennsylvania Racing Commission is investigating Thomas J. Lurito DVM after 4-year-old filly Rich and Mean was allegedly shot in her stall two weeks ago. The filly was trained by Ralph Riviezzo, who told the Form: "I didn't know how they were going to euthanize her. I was away. I got a phone call the next day that said that they had put her down that way. One might argue how humane that is, but I will not get into that argument."

Oh, let's.

While it's true that "they shoot horses, don't they," it's inconceivable that "they" would shoot a horse, in her stall, at a racetrack, in the city. Especially when "they" happen to be a veterinarian who should have both access to, and the wherewithal to administer, lethal injection. Humaneness aside, the stupidity of it is mind-boggling.

And while Riviezzo was unwilling to "get into that argument" with DRF, or anyone else, about how humane shooting the filly might have been, by not disavowing the method he leaves one to surmise (rightly or wrongly) that he's really not all that bothered by the whole thing. The vet put down his filly with a gun instead of a needle. If the trainer was at all in disagreement with those actions, it would be prudent for him to say so.

Lurito has been disciplined once in the past by the Pennsylvania Board of Veterinary Medicine. He was assessed a civil penalty of $500 and given a deadline to complete eight hours of continuing education in a ruling on March 18, 2004 (Page 6), stemming from his failure to complete said continuing education on time.

From some accounts, it appears Lurito being ordered off the grounds at Philly was more a product of his having a firearm at the track (dumb enough) than his using that gun on the horse, which is a public embarrassment to horse racing.

The Form reports that Rich and Mean -- unplaced in six lifetime starts -- was being treated for a knee ailment, but her condition was not improving.

I can't pass judgment on whether the filly truly needed to be put out of her misery or was just another victim of racetrackers who find euthanasia the cheapest and most expedient means of disposing of a horse that has outlived her usefulness to them.

But I'm very willing to condemn the unconscionable fashion in which she allegedly met her end.

Note: I've communicated with DRF writer Matt Hegarty, who noted that his story states that Ralph Riviezzo said he "did not know HOW they were going to euthanize" the filly, not that he did not KNOW that she'd be euthanized; this blog post is re-edited as such. Indeed a version of the story accessed now (posted at 11:35 a.m. today, June 17) reads as Hegarty states. I could've sworn the version I read between 3 and 4 a.m. today, which was the original, posted before midnight on June 16, said Riviezzo "didn't know," not "didn't know how," but I can admit that I merely misread Hegarty's reporting. (Hegarty said the repost of the story Wednesday morning was due to a changed date in the filly's racing record, not due to any changes in his quotes.)

Hegarty also informs me that he considers Ralph Riviezzo to have been both truthful with him and genuinely concerned with the manner in which his horse was put down in his absence. I'll certainly trust Hegarty's judgment as the reporter who spoke with Riviezzo about the incident, and that the decision to euthanize Rich and Mean wasn't reached lightly.

That does not change the underlying fact that I find it nonsense to be shooting a filly at the track instead of using a sedative to put her to sleep followed by drugs to stop her heart.


  1. The radiographs showed 17 fractures in her knee and she was in severe pain(fact). The trainer ordered the vet to put her down with consent of her owner(fact).It was done with the consent of the state vet(fact). A gun shot in the proper place is the most humane way and quickest with out causing any more undue pain then a lethel injection(fact) Lethel in jection is not quick and instant(fact)While I support your right to give your opinion, I urge you to know the facts before you give it! PS I WAS there!

  2. I chose to publish that comment, but only to call B.S., or at least to say that then someone, namely Ralph Riviezzo, was either lying or grossly misquoted by The Daily Racing Form.

    As noted -- in quotes above, at DRF and pretty much everywhere else reporting the story -- Riviezzo said: "I didn't know they were going to euthanize her. I was away."

    So either you, "Anonymous," or Riviezzo aren't telling the truth, because your statement that "the trainer ordered the vet to put her down with consent of her owner (fact)" is in direct contradiction of the reporting by DRF. Therefore, it either isn't "fact" or the "facts" have been butchered by DRF, and at least their reporter attached his name to his work.

    The only explanation for the discrepancy could be that Riviezzo told the veterinarian to put her down if need be, but was unsure whether Lurito would do so. That isn't quite the same, however, as the vet being "ordered to put her down" by Riviezzo. And it still seems inconsistent with the spirit of Riviezzo's statement that he "didn't know" about it, unless he's trying to play CYoA.

    Also, you state that "the radiographs showed 17 fractures in her knee and she was in severe pain (fact)." I'm not a vet, let alone this filly's vet, but I find it a bit difficult to believe that effort was being made at all to treat -- in her stall at the track -- a filly with 17 fractures revealed by radiograph. But maybe that's standard procedure.

    That would have been really simple information for either primarily involved party -- trainer Riviezzo or veterinarian Lurito -- to offer, and neither apparently did.

    Lastly, I understand full-well that lethal injection is not instantaneous, but it is widely considered (right or wrong, we're talking perception here) to be more humane and is certainly less volatile and difficult to explain. (Of course, you can also foul up shooting a horse in the head and have her not die with the first shot.)

    Shooting the filly was in my opinion an undeniably stupid thing to do for the reasons stated or alluded to above: 1. Having the gun at the track was a bad idea (I can't comment on the legality of possession in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia); 2. Discharging the firearm at the track and/or inside the corporate limits of a community is a bad idea and quite possibly illegal; 3. Lethal injection should have been at a licensed vet's disposal and would not have raised an eyebrow, in the racing community or outside of it, whereas shooting the horse with a gun results in this mess and it should've been apparent that it would.

    Even if all that you state is true -- that Riviezzo knew or should have known that the filly would be euthanized (though he said he didn't) and that she was beyond saving -- I can't see any excuse for shooting this filly with a gun instead of a needle.

  3. P.S. She was shot by firearm "with the consent of the state vet?" ... Also a piece of information that you'd think someone would have shared with DRF, but has not been reported. If I were the vet and my actions were done with consent of the state vet, I'd be quick to say so.

    Not that it makes shooting the horse in the head any less of a (completely predictable) public relations nightmare.

  4. Is it more humane or cheaper? And what if the guy missed with the gun? Its been known to happen! (fact!) Is it more humane to have to shoot an animal twice?

    I have talked to several people of the WWII generation who have been to the races where the vet would shoot the horse on the track. They still had shivers about forty years later. (fact!)

    A sledgehammer was also considered to be a "humane" way to put down a horse (fact!), but guess what? We live in a more civilized I thought.

  5. To clarify and potentially correct my statements made above, note that I've re-edited the original post to reflect information directly from DRF's Matt Hegarty.

    Also, it's clear that the state vet would have to be involved, or informed, of a horse to be euthanized at the track. So certainly the state vet gave permission for euthanasia. I'd very much like to know whether the state vet knew she'd be shot with a gun, rather than put down by lethal injection.

  6. Let me first start by saying that the report of this filly being shot in her stall is totally false. At philly park and all other race tracks that I have been to there is a seperate enclosed area that is used for this specific action. At Philly Park that area is at the far end of the race track not located near or around any horses, people or living entities or buildings. The only issue the track had with this was that NO firearms are allowed on the property. Mr Craven let me assure you that this IS a much more humane way then lethal injection as I have had to hold 7 horse to euthanize them. I can not vouch for what a horse feels with this injection but I can tell you out of experience that a fear, no a terror is the right word to use, comes over them sedated or not. They fight for their lives with everything they have before they go down, this in my opinion is more disturbing to me then any thing else. After hitting the ground they more often then not require a second injection, they thrash about. The Bensalem police were called and after inspecting the gun and checking it out it was returned to Dr. Lurito as it was perfectly legal. No charges were brought on him. legality is not an issue in this circumstance.
    As far as being treated for her injury, She was administered bute an anti inflamatory and pain killer every day( or at least Mr. Riviezzo was suppose to do that)from the day of the injury, May 28 to her last day. Sometimes it is inevitable as animals are not human and can't understand the reason they are in pain, or that efforts are being made to help them. Unfortunately this horse was not going to heal, there are other complications that arise from this injury. I am so sorry that she could not be saved, and effort was made for approxamately 2 weeks to do so.
    Let me end by apologizing. I was misunderstood on the fact of the state vet. He gave his consent to euthanize the horse, he was unaware of the method. I wish I possessed the writng skill that you have but I don't, that's your profession not mine. I am not trying to mislead or lie or hide facts.
    I thank you for letting me voice my opinion and your response.

  7. Mr Gordon, I beg to differ with your facts. If you poll the veternary community not WWII vets or people of that generation, they will tell you that this is a much more humane way if done properly, and it was done properly. You have choose the wrong forum in with to poll people.I'm sure that it sent shivers down ther sine if they indeed witnessed that and understandably so.
    And do we really live in a much more humane world now. It is my opinion that we don't. It is my opinion that it is not because of the lack of respect that I no longer see amongst the younger people, I be you that your WWII generation people will tell you that. Thank you for expressing your opnion though I do respect it. No sarcasim is intended. Please never stop caring.

  8. Thanks, Anonymous, for returning so that you can see that I'm trying to find and stick to facts here.

    I still disagree about shooting the filly at the track. Shooting her in this day and age is just not going to sit well with most people, and it's certainly bad PR for racing, whether I get on a soapbox about it or not.

  9. As another comment, it's worth apologizing on my part for "calling B.S." earlier in part for something that I had misread at DRF. ... Arguments about the mode of euthanasia aside, I was wrong about the trainer not knowing the filly would be put down before it happened.

  10. I've had horses my whole life -- my father was a breeder and trainer -- and of course there have been euthanasias along the way. A vet told me years ago that in an emergency situation, a horse can be euthanized with a gun (.38 or bigger) and showed me where to shoot the horse. Thank God I never had to, but if I could I'm confident that, as the vet said, the poor thing would be dead before it heard the shot.

    This doesn't sound like an emergency. If the horse was mean or aggressive, the vet may not have felt like he had a choice.

    On more than one occasion, I've held an old horse friend's head in my lap and waited for nearly ten minutes for its heart to stop beating, in pharmceutical euthanasia. Traumatic, to say the least.

  11. Are we overlooking the obvious?

    The filly had 17 fractures in her knee.
    To make her walk a long distance on that knee to
    a distant location to euthanize her would
    have no doubt caused her more unnecessary stress and pain.
    Yes, there are rules, but as all horsemen and
    trainers at Phila Park know, they are broken
    on a regular bases and usually for reasons not
    as important as this.
    The method used to euthanize her was in
    fact the kindest, quickest method to use and
    I commend Dr. Lurito for his actions. (Florida)

  12. zoos will not accept dead horses for their big cat feeding program,that have beem euthanized by chemical injection, at least some good can come from the death of the horse if donated for food.


I welcome comments, including criticism and debate. But jerks and the vulgar will not be tolerated.