As a young child I was allowed to stay up late to watch greyhound racing from White City, which I am sure some readers will remember. Certain recent events have caused me to focus on the greyhound industry once more, and I am saddened by what I have discovered. I am submitting the following article that outlines the plight of the poor greyhound - what do other readers think?
The Times,October 22, 2003
Happy retirement of greyhounds a myth
By Lewis Smith
UP TO 12,000 greyhounds are killed or abandoned every year at the end of their racing lives, a study has found.
Animal welfare groups said it provided the first reliable figures on what happens to the dogs and exploded the myth that most were kept as pets in retirement.
Abandonment and slaughter were so common that greyhounds' fate was "a major animal welfare problem", the report by the National Assembly for Wales said. It prompted calls for legislation to regulate the independent greyhound racing sector and for the industry to meet strict guidelines on the treatment of the dogs.
Researchers said that between 8,000 and 12,000 greyhounds were slaughtered or abandoned annually, of which only an estimated 2,800 were rescued or impounded by local authorities.
The cost to the taxpayer was estimated at £600,000 annually, with lurchers (greyhound cross-breeds used as working dogs) costing a further £1.35 million.
Up to 30,000 greyhounds cease racing each year and animal rights activists have long believed that many are killed or abandoned. The study concludes: "Large numbers of greyhounds and lurchers are abandoned once they are no longer useful. The study shows that the argument that most are kept as pets by their owners cannot be sustained."
Alain Thomas, of Greyhound Rescue Wales, said the most common methods of killing unwanted dogs were to shoot them or beat them to death. Some corpses had their ears cut off to prevent identification.
Lorraine Barrett, chairwoman of the Assembly's All Party Group for Animal Welfare, which carried out the study, said: "This report is confirmation of the terrible truth we've suspected for a number of years."
David McDowell, of the RSPCA, said: "There is no justification for abandoning or killing these animals simply because they can't do their job any more. An animal should be the owner's responsibility for life, not just until they've reached the end of their usefulness.
"It is imperative that the industry finally admits there is a problem and works with welfare organisations to look at ways at tackling this as a matter of urgency."
Greyhound racing is split between the regulated registered sector, which has 31 tracks in the UK, and the unregulated independent sector, with 21 tracks. The independent sector was singled out for criticism by the report.
Industry representatives, however, dismissed the estimates of killed and abandoned animals as "hugely overblown". Jeff McKenna, on behalf of independent track owners, said of the figures: "The only reason for euthanasia is if there's a fatal injury to a dog.
"The majority of independent owners regard their dogs as part of the family. That's the whole ethos behind independent racing. They are part of the family, not just racing machines."
Emma Johns, of the British Greyhound Racing Board, an umbrella group for registered tracks, said that the organisation was in contact with animal welfare groups to help to protect dogs, notably the Greyhound Trust, which rehomes retired animals.
"Nobody would say there can't be improvements, but we have already made many."
Researchers estimated the number of greyhounds abandoned and killed after conducting a survey of local authorities to establish the number impounded after being found abandoned.
Greyhound Action comment
The true figure is actually far higher than 12,000, when one also takes into account the thousands of pups and young dogs disposed of by the racing industry before they even make it to the tracks.
Such a survey is very useful though, and very necessary, seeing as the greyhound racing industry does not provide figures for the number of dogs abandoned or killed (wonder why?).
We would welcome "legislation to regulate the independent greyhound racing sector and for the industry to meet strict guidelines on the treatment of the dogs", but this would not go to the root of the problem, which is that commercial greyhound racing inevitably creates a demand for a large number of dogs to be bred, and most of those dogs will end up being be "put to sleep" or worse, because there are simply no homes for them to go to when they become surplus to the requirements of the greyhound racing industry. The only legislation which will properly protect the dogs is legislation to outlaw commercial greyhound racing.
The report singles out the independent tracks for criticism - and, indeed, they are to blame for a considerable amount of greyhound death and suffering, but it is the registered tracks which are mostly responsible for the mass slaughter of these wonderful dogs. This is because the 31 tracks licenced by the National Greyhound Racing Club tend to be much bigger operations than the independents, and so create most of the huge demand for
greyhounds to be bred. In addition, most of the greyhounds running on independent tracks are dogs which were originally bred to supply the demands of the registered sector, but which failed to make the grade.
In many ways, the problem of abandoned lurchers is more difficult than that of greyhounds. To a great extent the slaughter and abandonment of greyhounds would eventually come to an end if racing and coursing were banned, but the use of lurchers is more difficult to regulate because it takes place in a much less organised and obvious manner. However, we would welcome a ban on the deliberate use of any dog to hunt or kill another animal, which would make the "working" of lurchers illegal and considerably reduce the demand for these dogs to be bred. This would be much harder to enforce than a ban on greyhound racing, but would nevertheless have a very positive effect, as well as giving some protection to wildlife, of course.
From information we have received, we believe the shooting of "unwanted" greyhounds by trainers and others connected with the racing industry to be widespread. In quite recent times, pits full of the bodies of shot greyhounds have been discovered in Oxfordshire and North Warwicks. Other case we've heard about are difficult to investigate because of the bodies being buried on private land.
If a law were passed making all greyhounds "the owner's responsibility for life, not just until they've reached the end of their usefulness", this could virtually mark the end of commercial greyhound racing, as very few people would be prepared to "own" racing greyhounds, knowing that they would have to take care of the dogs for many years after their racing days were over. We believe, however, that a straight ban on commercial greyhound racing would be a better option and easier to enforce.
We would dispute the statement that "the majority of independent owners regard their dogs as part of the family". To give an example, when the Westhoughton independent track (near Bolton) was threatened with closure early this year, many of those running greyhounds at the track rushed to get rid of their dogs. Some were "put to sleep" and others, thankfully, taken in by a local greyhound rescue. If the characters who race dogs at Westhoughton were not prepared to care for them when they thought the track was going to close, it isn't hard to imagine the fate, year in year out, of dogs they consider to be no longer good enough for racing. Sadly, we have no reason to believe that the situation is any different at any other track.
Jeff McKenna's statement that greyhounds "are part of the family, not just racing machines" actually implies that he does consider the dogs to be racing machines. It is this concept of dogs as commodities to be used to satisfy the whims of human beings which goes to the very heart of the issue.
The British Greyhound Racing Board is no doubt in touch with the Greyhound Trust, also known as the Retired Greyhound Trust (RGT), because the RGT was actually set up by the greyhound racing industry over 25 years ago in an attempt to allay fears about the fate of ex-racing greyhounds. The RGT succeeds in rehoming just 2,000 greyhounds per year of the massive number disposed of by the racing industry and contributes considerably to the overall problem by actually encouraging people to attend greyhound races. Earlier this year the Trust announced that it could no longer afford to pay for the neutering and spaying of dogs it rehomes, so increasing the risk of more "unwanted" greyhounds being born. The lack of consideration that the racing industry has for the dogs it uses is evidenced by the fact that it does not supply its own rescue with sufficient funds to operate properly.