Guest blogger Aaron Cross of the Greyhound Protection League of New Zealand works tirelessly to help these beautiful animals.
So what’s the story with greyhounds?
They’re amazing dogs. We have three in our household. Pax, who is the oldest, has been with me for almost all of his 10 years. He’s a very well behaved dog. His nature is kind and gentle. He’s very affectionate but not at all pushy. He’s often hilarious with his goofy sense of humour and his greatest crime would be occasionally rolling in stinky things…. Or relocating random shoes…..
Sally’s the social one. If you meet us she will be the one that looks straight at you with her beautiful brown eyes, before coming over to you and leaning gently against you for a smooch. She loves people and gets excited meeting even strangers. We don’t know what she went through before we got her but she was very timid, and would start yelping if we tried to push her off the couch. We don’t do that anymore; the couch is hers. It suits her, when she’s not on the bed.
Then there’s Pippi. We were looking into links between ex-racing greyhounds and pig dog breeding when we came across Pippi. Her foot was broken in a race, and instead of having it pinned and put in a cast to heal, she was given away for breeding pig dogs. She was mated and bred from by a brute of a dog in the confines of her kennel, despite having multiple broken bones in her foot. It’s healed now, but has healed deformed. She’ll never run or walk properly again. Pippi is a casualty of racing greed. They day we rescued her she behaved like she hadn’t been out of her kennel for months. It took her awhile to trust us, but now she has come out of her shell. She’s hilarious with her fun and a bit over-the-top personality. We love them all dearly.
The thought of them surviving the racing industry raises a lot of different feelings for me.
Greyhound racing is a questionable activity in any context, but when done on an industrial scale for profit-driven reasons it is most definitely cruel to the greyhounds involved. Unrestricted breeding results in hundreds having nowhere to go at the end of their racing usefulness. At that point most are culled. All just so people can gamble at the TAB.
Racing itself is also very dangerous. On the first bend the dogs almost always collide, creating intense dynamics that frequently see horrific crashes at high speed. These dogs aren’t built for those crashes. But the shuffling and “smash up derby” aspect is part of the entertainment. Their bodies suffer and can literally break just from the effort they exert in chasing, as a result of having their prey drive aggravated. Some greyhounds have literally dropped dead at the end of a race.
Are our entertainment desires a justification for running them to death and killing the slow ones?
The increase in gambling has in turn increased the demand for race-ready greyhounds. This isn’t just mum and dad taking the family pet to the track for a run on Saturday. There were a whopping 5,396 greyhound races last year in New Zealand, meaning that 42,628 times a greyhound’s life was put on the line. I’m not including training in these figures either. This breaks down to 15 commercial greyhound races a day, every single day, every year. It’s extreme overkill. Literally.
That demand means a huge number of animals need to be involved, and as greyhounds live far longer then their fastest, fittest years, most have ended up being treated as an unwanted waste product. When past their use-by date, they’re disposed off. That’s the financial reality because there’s no money in slow dogs. By that stage they’ve already suffered a lifetime of being trained in the worst way possible in terms of responsible dog training: being encouraged and rewarded the whole time for chasing things. Thankfully for some greyhounds their laziness and good nature rises above their training, and these are typically the ones rehomed by the Greyhounds As Pets programme.
The Greyhound Protection League petitioned the government in 2013 for transparency around the numbers culled and numbers injured. The industry’s response was to admit incompetence in its record-keeping and to plead for an opportunity to show they were committed to animal welfare. At the same time, they also withdrew what little welfare-related information they were sharing publicly, and that information is still withheld from the public.
It was a big deal when race stewards were found to be deliberately misleading the public around the number and nature of greyhound racing injuries in Australia recently, but that is exactly what is happening here, only no-one with any power is calling them out on it.
Australian entities that collate breeding and exporting data for both our countries allow us a view into the numbers introduced here for racing. Running those numbers against the adoption figures that different groups in New Zealand provide, including homes found by and provided by trainers, gives us a good insight as to what is happening for these dogs.
The industry commissioned their own audit by a former Chairman of the NZ Racing Board, and that told us, based on trainers’ input, how many dogs were finding homes with trainers. It was a pretty dismal admission.
In the end we count the number of dogs coming in and the number of dogs coming out of the racing industry and we get a pretty clear picture of the greyhound population and trends within it.
Despite Greyhounds As Pets — the industry-funded rehoming initiative — and several smaller adoption groups rehoming dogs, there’s still a whopping number of greyhounds simply disappearing off the face of the earth. Between 600-700 greyhounds per year are being euthanised in New Zealand, after being deemed unfit for racing. Around 50 dogs are killed annually, in addition to this, on the track due to injuries.
The racing industry, of course, has direct access to this information, but they are keeping quiet. If they do talk about this, my guess is that they probably wont be counting very well! Sadly we can tell from their record-keeping in the field, that proof of rehoming a greyhound is simply not required, and on the injuries front trainers are wondering why race stewards aren’t referring injured dogs to the vet like they should be. That means reported injuries will be down and the percentage of dogs rehomed will be up. We can see that data collecting is not being done in a credible way.
What we’ll do now is petition the government and this time ask for an outright ban on greyhound racing.
The changes that resulted from the industry’s own review have done nothing to protect dogs’ welfare, but instead have made it completely non-transparent. We are now in a really strong position to point out the industry shortcomings to the government and the public. Despite the secrecy, we can pretty much prove that they are culling more dogs than they are rehoming, and that they are covering up greyhound injuries and deaths caused directly by racing itself.
You can help by sending an email to the Minister for Racing calling for an inquiry into the cruel sport.
Aaron Cross, Greyhound Protection League