Once again, news of more atrocities being committed against racing greyhounds hits the headlines, adding to a string of deeply shocking exposures in recent years, by TV and other media of the abuses arising from greyhound racing. Many greyhound rescuers like myself, who have striven hard over the last 20 years to save as many greyhounds as humanly possible, at much personal expense both material and emotional, feel frustrated that despite the revelations of countrywide greyhound abandonment, harsh treatment and inhumane killings, still the horrors continue. Our voices are diminished no doubt by the massive revenue that the sport of greyhound racing brings into this country and to the treasury, mainly via the bookmakers.
In my view, the whole idea of breeding thousands of dogs each year for entertainment and for gambling at a track, defies reason, and belongs to bygone ages. Readers may be surprised to learn that greyhound racing round an oval track, as a spectator sport with gambling, only came to this country from USA in the1920s-30s as urban entertainment for the working man who had flocked to the cities from the country to find work. Apart from a few instances, it has proliferated only in USA, UK, Ireland and Australia and has died out recently in Spain and Italy. It is even forbidden on legal grounds in some American States, and some other countries of Europe. Although the overall numbers of tracks in the UK have decreased, the numbers of races per meeting and meetings per week with off-track and internet betting, all combine to the extent that the sport is, on the contrary, expanding. The numbers of new registrations of greyhounds born each year for racing are astonishing; approximately 24,000 dogs are registered annually by the Irish Stud book, and 5000 by the English Stud book. About 9000 Irish greyhounds are imported into the UK each year, meaning that 14,000 new greyhounds enter the UK greyhound industry each year, replacing, logically, 14,000 who are retiring from the tracks. Accountability in Ireland for the remainder of the 24,000, begs even more terrifying questions.
A greyhound's natural life span is about 14 years, but its racing career is very short, beginning to race at about 15 months and ending on average at about 4 years. Many however do not reach a sufficient grade in their first trial and are rejected; others get injured if only with a pulled ligament or torn muscle and cannot continue to compete; when a dog becomes too slow by only one second, its career can be over. Hence the massive number of unwanted greyhounds annually falling foul of the system and needing solutions to their future
We think that between all the UK greyhound and dog rescue charities including the Greyhound Trust which is funded by the racing industry itself, that we are homing to adopters not more than about 5000 greyhounds per year, erring possibly on the generous side, only touching a fraction of the number of greyhounds needing our help. So where are the missing dogs? Thousands of them?
Mr.Smith of Durham, and his father before him, have shown us one way that thousands of greyhounds are being disposed of. No doubt there are many others like him all over the country who will take a 'tenner' to kill a greyhound. And 40 licensed trainers use him?? This says much about the licensor, the disciplinary body of greyhound racing, The National Greyhound Racing Club. How can they explain that? What nonsense this makes of self-regulation!
What angers those of us concerned about the fate of greyhounds, is that when we point out these figures to representatives of the industry, they claim they do not have any real idea of the numbers involved, and they deny that the problem is as great as we describe. There is a lot of denial in the world of gambling. The fact is that professional greyhound racing does not stand up well to searching questions regarding the welfare of the dogs who are at the heart of the sport. Much has been hidden not only from the public, but even from those loosely connected with the sport. Those who ask questions are met with smooth talking and promises of tighter controls and reforms, but in my view the great obstacle to every racing dog's life and welfare being safe and secure are that there are simply too many thousands of dogs involved in the sport for this ever to possibly become true. There are not and never will be 10,000+ families each year in UK either willing or in a position, to adopt a greyhound as a pet.
And is it right for the voluntary sector, men and women giving up their evenings and weekends, in some cases seriously jeopardizing domestic harmony to solve the futures of hundreds of unwanted greyhounds they see suffering at their local pound or dog refuge? And is it right for the great British public to be dragged emotionally or in practice into caring for discarded dogs bred solely for the entertainment and gambling of a few?
The tragedy is that the greyhounds themselves are so kind, gentle and forgiving of all that is done to them. They would rather tremble , cower and wet themselves, than bite back at the hand that strikes them . Their self-image is about as low as it can be. Maybe this is why so many of us who have come to know these dogs, get wholly caught up in their cause, and find ourselves sacrificing all to rise to their defence.
Our work for greyhounds in the last 15 years has taken us into mainland Europe where of necessity we needed to kindle a concern and interest in the predicament of ex-racers, in order to find adopters for the many hundreds of Irish greyhounds exported across the quarantine barrier to Spain and Italy for racing, who needed to be urgently rescued when the tracks there collapsed. This has perhaps given us a wider view of the problem, and it is fair and to our shame that many of our European neighbours find the whole idea of professional greyhound racing to be indefensible. When we come to address the cruelty to animals in Spain or elsewhere, just imagine what they bounce back to us.
The sadness and sweetness of the greyhound catches all of us who work and live beside them. They are different from other breeds and yes they do need some special care and handling in the early days after retirement when the chase instinct may be very much alive. Specialised guidance from the adoption group homing the dog is essential during this cooling-down period. Much detailed information can be found on numerous websites on adopting a greyhound as a pet.
But the rewards indeed are great, and many people's lives have been enriched by the companionship of these dogs who give so much and yet ask for so little.
But the tragedy is that thousands of these dogs who were ready to give all they had, annually die in the name of sport, gambling and profit, unnoticed and unrecorded, and many inhumanely.
Is this acceptable in animal - loving Britain, in the 21st century?