Improving the welfare of the racing greyhound - A GRV perspective
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Linda Beer, Jan Wilson, John Stephens,Greyhound Racing Victoria
- The history of greyhound racing
- Looking at the whole lifecycle – Identifying the Issues
- Education – The key to change
- Tracking and enforcement
- Codes of practice/minimum standards for the industry
- Drugs in sport
- Welfare as an industry role
Coursing evolved into a spectator sport, with other people coming to watch a race, and soon official coursing clubs began to evolve. Two greyhounds would course a single hare that had been given a head start. Spectators would come to watch and place bets on the competing dogs.
The introduction of an artificial lure (the tin hare) occurred first in England, but it was an American, Owen Smith, who first introduced racing on a track using an artificial lure. He understood the appeal of coursing but wanted to make it ‘a more humane sport with a broader spectator appeal’1. The idea took off, and greyhound racing as we know it was introduced to Australia in the late 1920s. In Australia, the sport continues to be largely hobby trainer based, with most trainers only having a small kennel of racing greyhounds, rather than larger professional kennels.
Where speed is the desired outcome and the fastest individuals are retained, what happens to the slower ones? Are there ways of breeding more efficiently? And are there other factors involved along the way that influence whether or not an individual ever makes it to the track?
In 2006 Greyhound Racing Victoria brought together industry leaders, the RSPCA, and respected veterinarians to form the ‘Responsible Breeding Task Force (RBTF)’. This taskforce looked at all aspects of the breeding of racing greyhounds and put forward a number of recommendations aimed at addressing the major identified issues within the sport. There was also consultation with industry participants through an Industry Discussion Paper as well as face to face sessions at a number of race meetings. The outcome of this process has seen 17 recommendations be made to address a variety of issues identified as most important.
The RBTF recommendations include better industry education, increased levels of enforcement, expanded racing opportunities, and suggested rule changes. Each recommendation is designed to decrease wastage and improve the likelihood of each greyhound bred actually going on to race.
Probably one of the most important areas identified is the need for education in the areas of breeding, rearing and training of greyhounds. Improving the choices made and methods used at each phase has become a priority with education a key to moving the industry forward. Although there is wide-spread support for these initiatives, there remains a need for cultural change from a national perspective, to support future success in the industry.
Information about the selection of breeding animals, breeding technologies, rearing strategies, husbandry and health can improve the quality of young stock produced and can potentially increase the number of dogs making it to the track. At present much of the breeding animal selection is based on gut feeling, flavours of the month and advertising - not on hard science. Most pups are reared commercially and the quality of this care can seriously affect the potential of the pups.
GRV has developed a ‘Breeders Education Package’ that is now compulsory for all new breeders to undertake prior to being able to register their first litter. The education package covers basic reproduction and care of the pregnant bitch, along with advice on selection of breeding stock and care of a litter of pups.
Additionally research is being done into the way in which breeding stock are advertised and rated. Currently the statistics available for stud dogs and brood bitches are confusing and difficult to interpret, especially to lay people. A system by which each animal could be compared to others on an equivalent scale needs to be developed that is easy for industry participants to understand.
Information about training methods, dealing with training problems, and suitable rehabilitation for injured race dogs is another area to be addressed. Many trainers new to the industry find it hard to get reliable, up-to-date information on training practices. Much of the training of greyhounds is based on knowledge handed down over time, and often this methodology is out of date, flawed or unacceptable in today’s society. This means that the careers of greyhounds may be shortened, or may never really get off the ground leading to unnecessary wastage.
A new ‘Trainer’s Competency’ is being developed to address this need for information. The information trainers will soon receive will help them understand more about preparing a greyhound from breaking in to racing, and will better prepare them and their greyhounds for the rigours of racing. The trainer’s competency also highlights the need for each trainer to have a relationship with a greyhound veterinarian to assist with the detection and treatment of minor injury, which is very important in the prevention of more serious and potentially career ending injuries.
Improvement of the tracking mechanism is an important step to ensuring that there is a seamless process by which somebody is responsible for the welfare of the greyhound at all times. Greyhounds are identified by a system of ear tattoos, but there is no reliable and consistent national database at this time, although this is currently being developed. Ideally, any tracking mechanism would be used industry wide to ensure that no greyhounds can slip through the net, and that all greyhounds are accounted for.
GRV staff have been working towards developing a system that will identify a person responsible for each greyhound, and is scheduled for launch along with the introduction of the unified national database at the beginning of 2009. Already, the industry is being educated in regards to some of the required paperwork steps such as retirement notification. The development of this system, although it does not sound like a major change, is an enormous step forward.
Enforcement of welfare rules and standards is something that is necessary to send a message that the industry is serious about welfare. GRV stewards already conduct regular kennel inspections of trainer’s facilities as well as swabbing for illegal drugs on race days. The number of inspections and tests increases every year, but this needs to continue to increase so that all industry participants who are responsible for the keep and care of greyhounds (of any age) are subject to regular checks of their facilities. The penalties for failing to provide adequate care need to continue to be harsh to encourage compliance, and to highlight how seriously the industry takes this issue.
The idea of minimum standards is something that the industry needs to continue to promote to its participants. This gives everyone an idea of what is actually expected, and what can be considered the minimum for good welfare. Having a written standard also makes the job of the kennel inspectors easier as they have a reference on which to base their findings.
Greyhounds Australasia has recently announced that testing for anabolic steroids will be introduced in July this year, which will address a large problem within the greyhound racing industry. Anabolic steroid use is something that has been accepted as a normal practice in the industry for far too long, and the inability to determine threshold levels has made testing impossible. Although this change will see an initial period of adjustment, the long-term benefits to the greyhounds and to the integrity of the industry is something that will be a major benefit, and can be considered one of the biggest steps towards improved welfare for racing greyhounds.
Images of ‘mass’ burials or anecdotal stories of greyhounds being shot or killed in other unsavoury ways continue to surface. Probably the biggest outrage occurred in England with the publication of a story in the Sunday Times in July 20062 about a man in Seaham who claimed to have shot and buried 10,000 greyhounds at his property for trainers who no longer considered the dogs suitable for racing. The article included a photo of the man wheeling a wheel barrow containing the bodies of a number of greyhounds. This article led to a parliamentary enquiry into the welfare of greyhounds and a complete overhaul of greyhound welfare regulations in the UK.
Around the world there are now many groups dedicated to re-homing greyhounds at the end of their racing career so they can live out their lives as family pets. Greyhound adoption is now increasingly publicised and supported within the public arena. Support for the adoption programs from the industry itself varies with the country and state, with many programs fully funded and supported by the industry either directly or through levies.
GRV leads the country in terms of financial support for their Greyhound Adoption Program, recently spending $1.3 million to improve and expand the kennel facilities and offices located at Greyhound Adoption Program property at Seymour. This huge financial input will see the number of greyhounds that are able to enter the program significantly increase, reducing the list of greyhounds who are currently waiting to be accepted into the program.
GRV has also embraced a Prison Pet Partnership, whereby greyhounds accepted into the adoption program are fostered by prisoners in minimum security prisons. This is a win-win situation, allowing prisoners to learn more about the care and training of the dogs whilst experiencing the special relationship and benefits that come from sharing time with animals, as well as providing increased opportunity for fostering within the greyhound adoption program.
The prisoners are thoroughly screened prior to their inclusion in the program to ensure that they have no history of violent behaviour, and the right to participate in the program is awarded to those prisoners with exemplary records. The result has been phenomenal, with the greyhounds that graduate from this program being better trained, and quicker to adapt to their new lives as pets than those from regular foster carers. The program is being run at HM Prison Durringhile, but with support from GRV and Corrections Victoria, it is planned to extend the program into three other minimum security prisons within the next few months.
Although it would be wonderful to think that all greyhounds could become family pets, there will always be a proportion that are not suitable for re-homing due to injury, disease, or temperament issues. Ensuring that euthanasia is conducted in a humane manner then becomes a priority. Although shooting can be considered humane if carried out properly, the industry has set a standard for its participants to ensure that euthanasia by lethal injection administered by a veterinarian is the only acceptable method of euthanasia.
2. ‘Killing Field of the Dog Racing Industry’ by Daniel Foggo, The Sunday Times July 16, 2006
09 Jan 2010
09 Jan 2010