Greyhound Racing Position Statement
Sentient opposes the greyhound racing industry on both ethical and welfare grounds. This industry exists to support gaming; it is a non-essential use of animals for entertainment that exploits the natural behaviour of dogs, whose worth is based entirely on their speed, and hence their ability to generate profit. An inevitable outcome is the accepted industry view of dogs as disposable, rather than as sentient beings with inherent worth and deserving of lifelong guardianship. From this arise the multiple and widespread welfare problems endemic to greyhound racing. These are exacerbated by the infiltration of corrupt and criminal activities that has historically resisted all attempted reforms.
We advocate for an end to this cruel industry. In the meantime Sentient supports increased regulation and industry accountability, with independent oversight to enforce measures that promote improved welfare for the dogs. We also support organisations that rehome ‘retired’ and otherwise discarded greyhounds.
It is important to acknowledge, however, that this industry’s agenda makes it unlikely that regulations will ever be sufficient to guarantee acceptable welfare standards. Therefore, an approach that focusses on reform in the absence of a planned phasing out of greyhound racing risks perpetuating the exploitation of these dogs, by the industry itself and through its unethical alliances with other organisations. Such a conservative approach may also falsely reassure the community, increasing public acceptance of a form of entertainment that is now being successfully banned internationally.
One of the key welfare issues for greyhounds is the massive surplus of dogs and the limited capacity for their rehoming. Around 20,000 greyhound pups are bred annually in Australia and New Zealand in the quest to produce winners. In 2011, 3,023 litters were registered in Australasia, which equates to approximately 19,044 greyhound pups born (based on an estimate of 6.3 pups per litter), yet only 12,280 (64.5%) were named. This is consistent with the frequently cited figure of 35 to 40% who never receive a registered racing name and are therefore bred surplus to industry requirements.
Dogs who do have a racing ‘career’ are generally ‘retired’ by the age of five years, or earlier if they develop injuries, die on the track or perform sub-optimally. The fate of both non-racing and ‘retired’ dogs varies and has not been documented, but it is known that very few are adopted; by 2013, only 300 dogs in NSW had been referred to Greyhounds as Pets, the industry-sponsored adoption program, since its inception in 2009.
The greyhound racing industry is a major contributor to dog overpopulation through its reckless overbreeding and callous disposal of so many unwanted greyhounds, referred to within the industry as ‘wastage’. This is usually dealt with by killing young, healthy dogs who would otherwise live until 12-14 years of age. Such is the fate of approximately 17,000 Australian greyhounds annuallyand not all are disposed of humanely. Veterinarians and former industry participants have attested to brutal and illegal methods of ‘disposal’, such as the mass killing of greyhound pups by drowning, and also to adult greyhounds being shot or bludgeoned to death and then dumped, often with their ears cut off to remove identifying tattoos’⁹. Some are relinquished to welfare organisations or veterinary clinics for ‘euthanasia’, although given that most are healthy, a more appropriate term would be ‘convenience killing’. This service is often performed at discounted rates or free of charge, with some university veterinary schools using the cadavers in anatomy dissection classes. Veterinary referral hospitals may also use the animals as blood donors before euthanasing them, a practice known as ‘terminal blood banking’. While such demand exists, the veterinary profession is necessarily complicit in this inhumane industry.
Increasingly, a new market for greyhound disposal is live export for racing or breeding by industries that are often illegal. The Federal Department of Agriculture continues to approve the export of greyhounds despite the welfare risks of long distance transport and lack of established animal welfare legislation, industry regulation, or adoption programs in many importing countries. Greyhounds Australasia (GA), the peak Australian and New Zealand industry body, has no control over the destination of exported greyhounds. Sentient disputes claims by Greyhounds Australasia that the industry is in a position to influence welfare outcomes in export destinations that do not comply with Australian standards (GA’s “Required Standards for Countries Seeking to Import Australian Greyhounds”). These new racing industries, such as those in China, South Korea and formerly Macau, are renowned for harsh conditions and high killing rates of dogs. With no formal tracking systems in place, a further risk is that unwanted greyhounds could enter the notoriously cruel and illegal dog meat trade in these countries.
During their time in the industry, many greyhounds are exposed to treatment typically faced by factory-farmed animals. Most pups are bred in intensive, puppy mill conditions. Racing greyhounds spend much of their days confined in small crates or enclosures, often up to 20 hours, and may be forced to endure extremes of temperature. Many are denied environmental enrichment or significant human interaction, vital for this social species. Being raised under such regimented conditions, dogs are not introduced to new situations during the crucial puppy socialisation period. Along with a lack of basic training, this predisposes them to a range of behaviour problems (such as fearfulness, separation anxiety, destructiveness and toileting problems), potentially reducing their chances of successful rehoming.
Heat stress is an ongoing risk during both transport to race tracks and being raced in high ambient temperatures. Training methods are not standardised and have been described in a government-funded report as ‘flawed or unacceptable’. Harsh regimens have been leaked by industry participants. Even more shocking is the illegal but continuing practice of ‘blooding’, the use of live animals of various small species as ‘lures’ during training sessions. This barbaric practice exposes prey animals to terror and ultimately death by mauling. It also further reduces the potential for successful greyhound rehoming by reinforcing the dogs’ prey drive, which increases future predatory behaviour towards small pets.
The unacceptably high injury and death rates for greyhounds during racing and training are not consistently reported by industry, but animal welfare groups have collected their own data, which revealed 36,689 injuries and 970 deaths on the track or due to injury in Australia over a two-year period. Common injuries include serious limb fractures (particularly of the pelvic limbs), acetabular fractures and damage to the ligaments, tendons or muscles due to the tremendous repetitive stress on the limbs during running. Other injuries include fractures to the neck or back, head trauma and hypoxic fits. Dogs are also subjected to extreme physiological stresses during racing. To cut costs, these sources of pain and suffering are often treated using substandard home remedy methods, or not treated at all.
The administration of banned or illegal substances to racing greyhounds continues to be widespread, according to positive results on routine drug testing and submissions to parliamentary inquiries by trainers and veterinarians. These substances include anabolic steroids, erythropoietin (EPO, a performance-enhancing hormone), cocaine, amphetamines and Viagra, many of which are not detected by routine drug screens. The level of corruption in the industry has reportedly involved laboratory analysts falsifying test results, and trainers allegedly approaching veterinarians and organised crime figures to obtain steroids or EPO₁₂. The use of any of these substances risks suffering and potential death of dogs by interference with normal physiological parameters.
All these welfare issues are maintained by the autonomy and self-regulation currently granted to the greyhound racing industry. Sentient proposes that this industry ultimately be banned in all states and territories of Australia.
In the meantime, it must be subjected to independent scrutiny and government regulation, including the appointment of a veterinary advisory panel not employed by the industry. Sentient calls for an immediate moratorium on the live export of greyhounds for racing or breeding, to be supported by a legislative ban. We also propose the implementation and enforcement of mandatory industry standards. These must include compulsory registration and microchipping of all greyhounds, with this information stored on a national database to enable lifetime tracking; breeding programmes to reduce the number of pups born; more frequent spot tests of banned substances and greater security of pathology results; transparent reporting of injuries, deaths, euthanasia and rehoming; and industry-supported rehoming of all healthy greyhounds of sound temperament.
Furthermore, Sentient calls for the veterinary profession to develop a code of practice that protects greyhounds from being accepted into clinical, teaching or research units for terminal blood banking or dissection, and that supports a focus on the development of ethical alternatives to greyhound use.
‘Going to the dogs – bikies, dopers and fraudsters’, Sydney Morning Herald (12 August 2012)
Greyhounds Australasia Industry Statistics:
NSW Parliament Legislative Assembly Questions and Answers No. 164 Tuesday 9 July 2013.
4066 GREYHOUND WELFARE. Mr Alex Greenwich asked the Minister for Tourism, Major Events, Hospitality and Racing, and Minister for the Arts.
McEwan, A. and K. Skandakumar, ‘The welfare of greyhounds in Australian racing: has the industry run its course?’ Australian Animal Protection Law Journal,December 2011; 15 July 2013 version.
Timothy McDonald, Greyhounds killed if they don’t perform, November 9 2012, ABC Radio AM,
The University of Queensland, Faculty of Veterinary Science.
Animal Liberation, Submission No. 12 to the Legislative Council Select Committee on Greyhound Racing NSW, October 2013.
Linda Beer, Jan Wilson, John Stephens, Greyhound Racing Victoria, ‘Improving the welfare of racing greyhound – a GRV perspective’,
Dr Robert Zammit, Submission No. 502 to the Legislative Council Select Committee on Greyhound Racing NSW, October 2013.
NSW Parliament Legislative Assembly Select Committee on Greyhound Racing in NSW, Inquiry into Greyhound Racing in NSW, Public Hearing, Thursday 6 February 2014. Evidence presented by Inez Hamilton- Smith from Greyhound Freedom.
Dr Edward Humphries, Submission No. 386 to the Legislative Council Select Committee on Greyhound Racing NSW, October 2013.
‘Doping, cruelty and collusion claims dog greyhound racing industry’, ABC’s 7.30 Report (15 October 2013).