Greyhounds' natural speed and grace have been exploited for human benefit since the days of the ancient Egyptians. The dogs have been used for centuries in hunting and coursing events, but the advent of modern dog racing at the turn of the 20th century caused greyhound breeders and racetrack proprietors to think of this breed as a mere commodity.
Greyhound racing began in the UK in 1926 and has been alternately in and out of favour with the paying public. The industry claims that the sport is currently undergoing a resurgence in popularity, but according to campaigners, 13 official greyhound stadiums and 27 independent tracks have closed since 1985. The industry's board estimates that there are 4 million racetrack attendees each year and that £2.9 billion is wagered on and off the course. Greyhound racing undoubtedly is big business, and greyhounds are the ultimate losers.
The greyhound racing industry is divided into two sectors: registered and independent. The registered sector is governed by the National Greyhound Racing Club, and there are 31 tracks in Britain. The independent sector, with 21 tracks, is totally unregulated, and the greyhounds used in this sector have no protection at all. Even dogs who are raced in the regulated sector are vulnerable because regulations often go unenforced. Dogs retired from the registered sector as well as older and home-bred dogs may end up racing on the unregistered, independent tracks.
Race-fixing is rife, especially on the unregistered tracks, and a variety of drugs, including cocaine, are used to ensure that dogs lose vital races. One London dealer claims to have made £29,000 in one day by fixing greyhound races.
Winners and Losers
As many as 60,000 greyhounds are estimated to be bred every year for the racing industry, and between 10,000 and 40,000 puppies are killed. The remaining dogs enter the racing industry. The "winners" - the dogs who survive the early years and training - routinely risk their lives on the tracks. Two dogs were killed in the same race at Belle Vue track in Manchester in May 2002 when they fell and broke their necks. In the same month, Santa Power broke his leg in a race at Hall Green greyhound track and was allegedly left "screaming in agony". A kennel hand said that the dog was now worthless and would be put down. In August 2002, a greyhound named Football Focus died of heat exhaustion following a race at Catford. An unidentified trainer said that his death was "an accident waiting to happen".
For the survivors, injuries are commonplace. Races are run all year round, even when the track is frozen, and this contributes to injuries. Injured toes, torn muscles, strained tendons and arthritic joints are everyday problems. Paddy Sweeney, a vet who specialises in greyhound injuries, believes that the long straights and the tight bends of traditional racing tracks contribute to these injuries. It is thought that as much as 10 per cent of the dogs race despite injuries.
Racetracks are not legally required to have vets in attendance, so a badly-injured dog may have a long wait before he or she can be treated. Long-term injuries can be masked with painkillers just long enough to sell the dog and recoup a profit. Of course, the injury will eventually be revealed, and the financially worthless dog will be killed.
After the Race Is Won.
At least 10,000 greyhounds are "retired" from racing in the UK every year at the age of 4 or 5 either because they fail to make the grade or because their racing days are over. Some will be kept by owners and trainers and will be given a happy retirement, but for many others, the story is very different. Some are rescued by welfare organisations, and suitable homes are sought for them. Others will be taken to the vet and euthanised, and still more will be killed by their owners. Greyhound Rescue Wales states, "Favourite methods include battering to death, poisoning, drowning, shooting or simply being left to starve to death in a locked shed". Others will be turned out and killed on the roads or left to die of starvation. In 2001, the BBC exposed a mass grave at the kennels of a greyhound trainer in Oxfordshire. His former workers claimed the trainer shot dozens of greyhounds with a sawn-off shotgun when they were no longer useful.
Marion Fitzgibbon of an Irish-based animal welfare organisation related the tale of a greyhound who was found at a dump being eaten alive by rats. Covered in infected wounds, she was starving to death. This is not an isolated incident. Mark Dean of the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stated, "We have found greyhound graves with three or four dogs, heads bludgeoned to death and with the ears cut off to prevent identification". He also stated that other greyhounds had been killed by injecting them with baking soda or brake fluid.
About 400 greyhounds are shipped to Spain every year, where they are kept in appalling conditions, after their British racing days are over. An undercover investigation found that greyhounds were kept in metre-long cages for up to 23 hours a day. The dogs were muzzled, and they were foraging for scraps in kennels that were overrun with rats.
Greyhounds are routinely hanged in Spain when they are no longer useful.
Help and Hope
It is estimated that between 8,000 and 12,000 greyhounds are slaughtered or abandoned every year, and others can be found in sanctuaries across the country. Greyhound Rescue Wales states that many of the greyhounds in their shelter are emaciated and covered in open pressure sores from lying on hard surfaces. Once they are treated for physical and psychological problems, they are ready to be adopted, but greyhounds are often overlooked at sanctuaries because people's preconceptions about their suitability as companion animals often rules them out. The truth is they are usually gentle, placid animals who love to sleep and do not require very much exercise.
Ending the Cruelty.
Because the small number of greyhounds adopted can never keep pace with the number cruelly used and discarded in the racing industry, the only way to save greyhounds from abuse is to put an end to racing.
To prevent tracks from opening in your area and to keep people from patronising existing tracks, try leafleting at a local track, writing to you MP and sending letters to the editor of your local paper.