State suspends greyhound trainer after dogs test positive for substances

HARLINGEN — A greyhound trainer at Valley Race Park has been suspended and fined after five of her dogs tested positive for banned substances.

Ursula O’Donnell waived her right to a formal hearing and was suspended for 60 days and fined $2,000.

Test samples of the dogs proved positive for caffeine and theophylline, both of which are banned substances, the Texas Racing Commission reported.

Theophylline is a stimulant similar to caffeine which increases heart rate and blood pressure. It is used in humans to combat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.

The drugs were discovered in the dogs following commission testing after races on Dec. 23. CTW Vanderkay finished first, CTW Jesse Owens finished third, CTW Tito Ortiz finished first, ZZ Top This finished first and CTW Rifleman finished second in races that day.

All five of the dogs were disqualified and the purses for those races were redistributed to the owners of other dogs in the race.

“Ms. O’Donnell had been using an over-the-counter food supplement that contained caffeine in its ingredients,” the commission said in its ruling.

O’Donnell was indicted in 2002 on charges — later dropped — of inhumane treatment of dogs and conspiracy to commit inhumane treatment of dogs in what prosecutors claimed was a scheme to shoot underperforming dogs which had been running at Florida tracks.

Authorities said O’Donnell and three men were alleged to have conspired to take dogs to Pensacola and then to a farm owned by one of the men in Alabama. There, authorities alleged, dogs were shot and dumped into a pit and buried.

Florida law stipulates that all euthanizing of greyhounds be done via lethal injection and no dog can be removed from the state to be euthanized.

Authorities said one of the alleged co-conspirators, Robert Rhodes, confessed to killing about 2,000 greyhounds for a fee of $10 each and burying them on his farm.

O’Donnell denied the allegations against her, and charges were dropped following the death of Rhodes in 2003 prior to trial.

Efforts to reach O’Donnell and officials at Valley Race Park for comment were unsuccessful.