Longwood artist goes political in defense of greyhound racing

Many know Jeff Sonksen for his tribute murals lining a fence on Ronald Regan Blvd in Longwood; memorials paintings of fallen celebrities, police, and musicians. His latest work though is making a much more political statement.

Sonksen’s newest series line the road outside of the Seminole County Kennel Club. The paintings aren’t of people but of greyhound dogs that actually run races at the Longwood track, and bare messages defending that track and its sport.

"There are so many times I drove by the track and went, 'ooo the dreaded dog track!'" said Sonksen. "I never would have believed that 6 months later I'd be defending greyhound racing."

Sonksen said his change of heart came after an odd series of events that led him to an invite into the Seminole track. Also an avid social media user, he went in armed with a camera expecting to continue to expose the abuse he’d seen shown by so many animal rights groups, but he said he couldn’t.

"I haven't found an abused greyhound yet,” he said.

Not at the Seminole track nor at several of the others across the state that he said invited him in over the months that followed. Sonksen said, where he expected to see abused dogs, he instead saw excited dogs, he said, “treated like kings.”

"All the people I've met man, they're just good, hardworking, animal loving people; they love these dogs,” said Sonksen.

He said the experiences changed him from a strong opponent of greyhound racing to defending the sport today as it faces a potential end-game this November.

Voters will consider a change to Florida’s constitution with amendment 13: a measure that would phase greyhound racing out of the state by 2020.

Opponents of the sport say the abuses it puts on greyhounds are very real from broken bones to confinement in small cages.

"There's a dog that dies on a greyhound track in Florida every 3 days,” said State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith.

The Orlando democrat has fought greyhound racing in the state for some time, not only due to the reports of cruelty, but he said due to the millions of dollars that the state reports spending each year trying to regulate the sport.

Smith believes greyhound racing is being kept alive by special interests at this point that tie it to Florida’s gambling laws.

"The reality is: there are 18 greyhound tracks left in the United States, 12 of them are here in the State of Florida,” he said.

Campaign ads have begun launching in the state highlighting the alleged cruelty to the dogs. 

Sonksen though, believes the cruelty is a fabrication at this point and has highlighted that belief in the messages on his paintings and with an ongoing series of videos on his Paint the Trail Facebook page.

"The art will grab their eye, but it's the words I really want them to look at,” he said.

Sonksen just wants voters to look at the situation for themselves as he did; see what they find.