Our very own Executive Secretary, Dr Rosemary Elliott, spoke at the greyhound rally in Sydney's CBD this February. The rally coincided with the public hearing set down for the current NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Greyhound Racing, and aimed to create awareness amongst the public about the treatment of greyhounds and work towards stopping this cruel industry.
Read Dr Elliott's speech below
Sentient’s speech for the “Gone are the Dogs” rally (6th February 2014, Sydney)
"It is an honour to join you all today and represent Sentient, The Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics, by sharing our concerns about greyhound racing. Many thanks to the organisers of this powerful “Gone are the Dogs” rally, and to everyone showing their support by attending. There is so much hope and inspiration when a group of individuals works collectively, as we are here, to challenge multi-billion dollar industries that exploit animals.
Australia has the 3rd largest greyhound racing industry in the world – quite astounding, given our population size. Despite previous government inquiries, this industry remains essentially self –regulated, with profit as the first priority, to the detriment of animal welfare – a literally lethal combination for the dogs involved. Hence the significance of today’s final hearing of the Greyhound Racing in NSW inquiry. And although NSW is Australia’s largest greyhound racing and breeding state, the issues addressed here reflect what is happening nationally.
On behalf of Sentient, I congratulate all those who found the courage to give evidence at this inquiry; those who spoke of the corruption and animal abuse they have witnessed firsthand - the veterinarians, vet nurses, students, trainers, and others involved with greyhounds in the course of their work. Without your honesty, the most horrific practices of this industry would be dismissed as heresay. Thank you for speaking out for these gentle dogs.
Sentient opposes the greyhound racing industry on both ethical and welfare grounds. This industry is about 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 these dogs as disposable, rather than as sentient beings with inherent worth, deserving of lifelong guardianship. From this arise the multiple and widespread welfare problems endemic to greyhound racing. These are exacerbated by an infiltration of corrupt and criminal activities that has historically resisted all attempted reforms.
So what are these welfare problems? Just what exactly happens to greyhounds in the course of their ‘careers’ that drives so many people to call for an end to the great Australian tradition of “betting on the dogs”?
Firstly, this industry is a major contributor to the problem of dog overpopulation, through its reckless overbreeding and callous disposal of countless unwanted greyhounds. Shamefully, these dogs are referred to within the industry as ‘wastage’. Approximately 20,000 greyhound pups are bred annually in Australia in the quest to produce winners. Of these, around 40% will never receive a registered racing name. Dogs who do have a racing ‘career’ are generally ‘retired’ by the age of five years, or earlier if they develop injuries, die or are euthanased on the track, or perform sub-optimally. The fate of both non-racing and ‘retired’ dogs has not been documented, but we do know that very few are rehomed.
This problem of ‘wastage’ is usually dealt with by killing young, healthy dogs who would otherwise live up to 14 years of age. Such is the fate of approximately 17,000 greyhounds annually, and not all are disposed of humanely. Some are relinquished to welfare organisations or veterinary clinics for ‘euthanasia’, although ‘convenience killing’ is a more apt term.
This is often performed at discounted rates or free of charge, with some universities using the cadavers in anatomy dissection classes. Animal referral hospitals may also use the dogs as blood donors before euthanasing them, a practice known as ‘terminal blood banking’. And these are the lucky ones. Veterinarians and former industry participants have attested to the mass killing of greyhound pups by drowning, and to adult greyhounds being shot or bludgeoned to death and then dumped, their ears cut off to remove identifying tattoos. This is both inhumane and illegal.
Increasingly, a new method of greyhound disposal is live export for racing purposes, currently to China, Vietnam and South Korea. The Department of Agriculture grants export licences and Greyhounds Australasia supports the process. This is despite the welfare risks of long distance transport, and the lack of established animal welfare legislation, industry regulation, or adoption programs in the importing countries. These new industries are renowned for harsh conditions and high killing rates of dogs. With no tracing system in place, a further risk is that unwanted greyhounds could enter the dog meat trade.
During their time in the industry, many greyhounds are exposed to the treatment faced by factory-farmed animals. Most pups are bred in intensive, puppy mill conditions. Racing greyhounds spend up to 20 hours a day confined in small crates or enclosures, and can be forced to endure extremes of temperature. They are typically 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, reducing their suitability for 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 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 increasing predatory behaviour towards small pets.
The unacceptably high injury and death rates for greyhounds during racing and training are not consistently reported. Common injuries include serious leg fractures and damage to the ligaments, tendons and muscles. This is due to the tremendous repetitive stress on the limbs during running. Other injuries include broken necks or backs, head trauma and seizures. 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 repair methods, or not treated at all.
The administration of banned or illegal substances to racing greyhounds continues to be widespread. These include anabolic steroids, cocaine and amphetamines. Many are not detected by routine drug screens. The level of corruption in the industry has reportedly involved lab workers falsifying test results, and trainers approaching veterinarians and organised crime figures to obtain steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. The use of any of these substances can cause suffering and potential death of dogs.
All these welfare issues are maintained by the autonomy and self-regulation currently granted to the greyhound racing industry. While the industry continues, it must be subjected to independent scrutiny and government regulation. Sentient also proposes the implementation and enforcement of mandatory industry standards. These must include the following: 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.
We must acknowledge, however, that this industry’s agenda makes it unlikely that regulations will ever be sufficient to guarantee acceptable welfare standards. If we focus on reform in the absence of a planned phasing out of greyhound racing, we risk 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.
As a veterinary-driven organisation, Sentient advocates for an end to the greyhound racing industry. We call for an immediate moratorium on the live export of greyhounds for racing or breeding, to be supported by a legislative ban. And whilst we welcome any significant improvements to the welfare of racing greyhounds, Sentient will continue to lobby for this industry to ultimately be banned in all states and territories of Australia.