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Greyhounds Lose Out To Greed: by Rachel Smith

Image above: Nancy W Beach

As a student of Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law, I have closely followed developments in this divisive debate.

In Australia, modern greyhound racing began in 1927[1] and there are now 19 tracks across six states, predominately in New South Wales (NSW).

Geoff O’Conner, former chief executive of Greyhounds Australia, stated that ‘The Australian Greyhound industry is probably the best-run, the best-regulated and more in touch with animal welfare issues than any other greyhound industry or nation in the world’.[2] This is questionable given the conflict of interest between an industry tasked with both self-regulation and promotion.

In 2006, the greyhound racing industry introduced new measures intended to improve animal welfare. Yet two years later, the Victorian industry was slammed for the ‘unnecessary carnage of young and healthy dogs’.[3] Further enquiries were conducted in NSW but they lacked full investigative powers.

Recent investigations

Undercover investigations by animal welfare groups gave firm evidence that animal welfare was far from the forefront. Over 70 trainers were implicated in the horrific and illegal practice of ‘live baiting’.

After the footage featured on ABC’s Four Corners, a subsequent NSW Special Commission of Inquiry revealed systemic cruelty and the killing of 68,000 dogs over the previous twelve years.[4]

The Ban

On August 24 2016, NSW became the first state to ban greyhound racing under the leadership of Premier Mike Baird, who claimed it was ‘the right thing to do” on animal welfare grounds.[5] However, on 11 October 2016, the ban was reversed and the industry given another chance to reform itself.

Animal Welfare Concerns

  • High speeds combined with changes in direction and potential collisions results in high musculoskeletal injury rates not common in pet dogs[6]
  • The physical strain of racing can lead to ‘racing stress’, which if untreated can result in physiological exhaustion [7]
  • Ex-racing dogs and those deemed unsuitable for racing are subject to high euthanasia rates
  • Greyhounds are exported to China, Vietnam, Macau and Korea, where limited provisions are made for their welfare
  • Illegal ‘live baiting’ is used to train greyhounds. Alarmingly, the enquiry revealed that Greyhound Racing NSW knew about the practice and did nothing about it
  • Some trainers use inexpensive and sometimes painful methods to treat greyhound injuries instead of seeking veterinary treatment
  • Many greyhounds are inadequately socialised with other dogs or people. Dogs that are socially deprived are more likely to develop fearfulness and anti-social behaviour [8]
  • Banned substances known to be administered can have serious physical and psychological effects on greyhounds.[9]

The U-turn

In defending his change of position, Mike Baird announced he had ‘misread public opinion’.

Indeed, many arguments were put forward opposing a ban. Most frequently cited were: the injustice of punishing an industry for the conduct of a minority, the impact on livelihoods, the attack on the ‘working classes’ and death sentence imposed on greyhounds no longer used for racing.  These points have been well countered here. Moreover, a recent RSPCA poll showed 64% of the public support the ban.[10]

Image: JeebyJeeby on Pixabay

What next?

Increased funding will be provided to the RSPCA – which in my view is illogical as further funding to police cruelty would not be necessary had the ban been enacted and the root eliminated.

There will be closer scrutiny of the industry which is a positive. However, whilst the industry can certainly make improvements and reduce the number of deaths, even by reducing the number of races to the minimum required for the industry to remain viable, there would still be 2,000 to 4,000 dogs killed prior to reaching racing age each year.[11] An industry based on gratuitous killing is unacceptable and arguably in contradiction to the loophole of ‘necessary suffering’ permitted by New South Wales animal protection legislation. Just how necessary are these deaths?

Not all hope is lost. The Greens are working to reinstate the ban, offering a proposed transition plan.[12]

The ACT has since become the first Australian territory to ban greyhound racing as of April 30 2018.

There are calls for a nationwide ban, preventing movement of dogs across states. Animal protection organisations stand united and there is increased public awareness. If this translates to reduced attendance at race meetings and fewer bets being placed, this could be the final push for the greyhound racing industry.

 

References

[1]Moses, P.A. (2016) Greyhounds Downunder 2016: An update on the Greyhound Racing in Australia NAVC Conference, Florida, January 16-20 2016, unpublished

[2]Duckworth, J. (2009) Running for their Lives: Greyhound Racing. In: Duckworth, J. Not every dog has his day. Melbourne:Axion Creative Enterprises, 265

[3]McEwan, A. & Skandakumar, K. (2013) The welfare of greyhounds in Australian racing: has the industry run its course? Australian Animal Protection Law Journal. Available at https://www.animallaw.info/sites/default/files/McEwan_Skandakumar_AAPLJ_Greyhound_2013.pdf(Accessed 22 October 2016)

[4]McHugh, M, AC, QC (2016) Report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW. Available at: https://www.greyhoundracinginquiry.justice.nsw.gov.au/. (Accessed 22 October 2016)

[5]Nichols, S. (2016) Five greyhounds killed since Mike Baird’s racing ban reversal. Sydney Morning Herald. Available at: https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/australia/five-greyhounds-killed-since-mike-bairds-racing-ban-reversal/ar-AAj2wOW(Accessed 22 October 2016). See also Mike Baird’s press conference announcing the ban: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDj0RJdMAwQ

[6]Stafford, K. (2007) The Welfare of the Athletes: Greyhounds and Sledge Dogs. In: Stafford, K. (2007) The Welfare of Dogs. Springer Verlag. 143-161. Available at: https://www-dawsonera-com.winchester.idm.oclc.org/abstract/9781402043628.(Accessed 22 October 2016).

[7]See [6]

[8]RSPCA Australia (2016) Frequently Asked Questions: Live baiting in greyhound racing. Available at: https://www.rspca.org.au/sites/default/files/website/Campaigns/greyhound-racing/RSPCA_Australia-FAQs-Greyhound_Racing_and_Live_Baiting.pdf(Accessed 22 October 2016)

[9]See [8].

[10]Phillips, C. (2016) New South Wales Overturns Greyhound Ban- a Win for the Industry but a Massive Loss for the Dogs The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/new-south-wales-overturns-greyhound-ban-a-win-for-the-industry-but-a-massive-loss-for-the-dogs-66822(Accessed 22 October 2016).

[11]McHugh, M, AC, QC (2016) Report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW. Available at: https://www.greyhoundracinginquiry.justice.nsw.gov.au/. (Accessed 22 October 2016)

[12]http://www.bangreyhoundracing.com.au/our-transition-plan/

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