The Animal Issue

Second only to football as the most popular spectator sport in the UK, Greyhound racing has come under severe scrutiny with much debate centring around the welfare of the greyhounds and the suitability of using dogs in such a competitive sport. A series of high profile cases of maltreatment and neglect have surfaced in the last decade or two, raising alarm bells for many animal rights activists and campaigners .The sport has been the subject of inquiries in the House of Commons reaching as far back as the 1980s. In June 2004, Ben Bradshaw led a debate in the Commons, not in an attempt to ban the sport as some would prefer, but to secure better welfare provisions for the dogs, particularly upon retirement. It should be noted that the sport is financially booming and so proper treatment of the ‘participants’ should be paramount.

Many of the injuries sustained by dogs during greyhound racing are avoidable and the result of overtraining, maltreatment or the length of the bends on the racecourse. Where the latter is concerned, the tighter the bend, the more pressure is put on the dogs joints. Therefore, tracks with a radius of 80 or more metres are ideal for guarding against these injuries.

Dogs have also been known to suffer overheating in kennels. Although there are some examples, most notably Monmore Green, of air-conditioned decently sized kennels, unfortunately these continue to be in the minority. There is also some concern about the over-breeding of greyhounds. On some occasions breeders have been found to abandon or kill puppies which are surplus to requirement.

The worst examples of maltreatment, however, usually occur after the greyhounds racing careers are over. Although each year thousands of greyhounds retire from racing, only approximately 2000 a year are known to be re-housed into suitable places. Many have been found to be mutilated, dumped on the side of motorways or quite simply disappear. Some are injected with anti-freeze and left to die, others are abandoned in disused quarries or other desolate waste-lands without food or water.

As a result, many people believe that greyhound racing should be prohibited altogether. It is argued that to bet on dogs is to treat them as objects rather than animals and that viewing them this way gives some owners the idea that they can then be disposed of when their jobs are done, rather like any other commodity. Others believe that prohibition will lead to unregulated racing activity and that the way forward is to provide stricter procedures and welfare provisions for racing and retired greyhounds. Although there is nothing in the way of legislation to implement tougher measures, much has been done by the National Greyhound Racing Club and other similar groups to tighten the process of registering hounds and preventing maltreatment of dogs either prior to or during racing. For example, veterinary surgeons are on-site during race days and, although these are often overstretched in their work-load, they do run checks on each of the dogs and have the authority to remove from the races those thought to be too unhealthy to race. These checks are usually more impartial if carried out by independent vets but nevertheless, the welfare of the dogs is given far more consideration now than ever before.

There has also been a ‘Greyhound Charter and Code of Practice’ implemented to improve guarantees on the welfare of dogs from the moment of birth through to their retirement. In recent years, rules have been put in place to ensure that NGRC stewards hold registered owners accountable for placing their retired hounds in suitable homes. However, funding for organisations like the Greyhound Racing Club is severely lacking and the trust cannot cope with the sheer numbers of dogs left without homes.

Whilst there are some who campaign strongly for the abolition of greyhound racing, there are many more who recognise the benefits of working in conjunction with the NGRC and other similar organisations to create better and safer conditions for greyhounds in order to continue what is a lively, entertaining and exciting event. The dogs, if trained correctly, enjoy the exercise and can go on to satisfy owners as loveable pets.

In the UK, greyhounds are usually kept in private kennels and tend to be owned by their trainers, who transport them to the tracks for the race. This can mean they are subject to treatment of a lesser standard, and dogs are frequently examined and tested for drugs at the racecourse to ensure they have not been tampered with. Due to the enormous number of dogs who pass through the system on an annual basis, ‘the retired greyhound trust’ (a charity partially funded by the ‘National Greyhound Racing Association’) was established to re-home retired greyhounds or those who were unable to start racing. There are many other organisations that disagree with the racing of greyhounds and work independently to house dogs with owners who will not use them for racing.