Getting To The Finish Line: A Focus On Australian Greyhound Racing
Greyhound racing is an activity in which greyhounds chase an artificial lure until they reach a finish line — people bet on the dogs and greyhound racing is essentially a gambling industry. It is, quite simply, a brutal life for the dogs involved, and it’s tragic to think of the way it affects each individual dog. In the industry, dogs are treated as nothing more than racing machines, afforded little in the way of welfare considerations, given performance-enhancing drugs to make them more competitive, and killed when they get injured or underperform
Avid Faunalytics readers will know that we’ve placed a special focus on commercial greyhound racing recently, because it is, in most of the remaining seven countries where it is practiced, a winnable issue. In most countries, the “sport” is waning, with tracks closing, breeders shutting down operations, and the commercial prospects dwindling. This is the good news.
Along with U.S. and Ireland, Australia is one of seven countries that still allows this as a commercial activity — and it’s the country where it is the most popular by far. On top of that, the Australian government uses taxpayer money to financially support the multi-billion dollar industry on a regular basis. While the 2019-2020 season was touted as “the best season on record,” in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, racing was classified as an essential service and received funding amounting to tens of millions of Australian dollars. This, unfortunately, is the bad news: while it may be a winnable issue in the United States, and in some other countries, ending the industry on a global scale may be a more difficult task.
For their part, Australian advocates are keeping a close eye on the industry there and In a new report with complete 2020 statistics, as well as a follow-up report from the first half of 2021, the Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds, based in Australia, looked at the number of injuries and deaths of racing greyhounds in that country, and also provides concrete examples of how it happens on the tracks, with their data coming from official stewards’ reports. They are the most comprehensive reports of their kind for that country, and they’re worth considering its numbers in depth.
The most common accidents are collisions with other dogs and falls. The reason why these accidents can be very serious and sometimes fatal is that dogs often run at speeds of up to 60 km or about 35 miles per hour. The accidents are made worse by the shape of the tracks, which are oval. Deaths occur mainly on turns (77.2% of deaths in 2020), with the second most deadly place being the catching pen, where the dogs are directed at the end of the race (9.9% of deaths in 2020).
When individuals fall or collide with other dogs on the tracks, their bones can break. Most of the time, these are leg fractures, but they can also be fractures of the back, neck or other parts of the body. The report notes that leg fractures can often be repaired and do not need to be a death sentence. The estimated cost of such treatment is around $4,000 AUD — however, with 87.1% of deaths in 2020 occurring after a leg fracture, it’s clear that many dogs are often euthanized instead of being treated. The report also notes what many special needs dog guardians already know: dogs can live a normal life with only three legs. However, amputation is still more expensive than euthanasia, giving a chilling sense of how financially motivated the industry is.
In 2020, 202 greyhounds died and 9,861 were physically injured on Australian tracks; the first died on January 1 and the last on December 31, bookending a rather bloody year. Other dogs, not included in the previous figures, are killed every year in what is called “wastage.” Dogs who are not competitive, because they don’t run fast enough, or simply because they don’t want to chase the lure, are excluded from the tracks by the industry. For this reason, some owners don’t hesitate to kill them instead of keeping them. There’s no clear data on the number of greyhounds killed as a result.
If physical injuries and deaths were not enough, the emotional well-being of dogs is not a consideration of this industry. Many dogs have no contact with others of their kind outside of races, and are kept locked up alone in small kennels. As with the United States and elsewhere, there are also many documented cases of maltreatment, malnutrition, and lack of exercise leading to muscle atrophy. As these cases pile up statistically, it’s always important to remember that these incidents affect dogs on an individual level. In that view, the poor welfare standards of the industry as a whole become that much more tragic.
Australia, like other countries, does what it can to hide the cruelty of greyhound racing, using a range of strategies and tactics: censoring violent accidents on videos; minimizing gravity by using euphemisms; not providing data on dogs euthanized off the tracks (estimated in the hundreds); not publishing greyhound autopsy reports; and calculating the injury rate per race and not per year (so the rate presented is lower).
Fortunately, even all of these tactics and strategies cannot completely hide the cruelty of the industry. Injuries and deaths received strong media coverage in 2020 and 2021, and some companies, brands, and organizations stopped sponsoring the racing industry altogether. In a powerful act of remembrance, the Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds lists the names of the 202 dogs killed on the tracks in 2020 at the end of the report. In doing so, the authors remind us that behind these statistics are individuals who have suffered and died. They do so throughout their update as well, though this is done with the grim note that deaths in the first half of 2021 were 44% higher than the same period in 2020.
As we’ve noted elsewhere, the global greyhound racing industry is in decline — but Australia remains a holdout. There are changes, supported by empirical research, that could improve some aspects of the industry for racing dogs in the meantime — such as having the dogs run on straight tracks instead of oval tracks, and reducing the number of dogs running together — but these would not reduce injuries or deaths to zero. The only way to truly protect greyhounds is to work to end the racing and breeding industries altogether, and work towards the adoption and rehoming of all remaining dogs.
As advocates, it can be hard to feel that a victory is so close within reach, and yet the finish line feels so far away. Up to this point, regional and country-level advocacy has been effective in ending the industry in various places. In Australia, however, advocates are still facing a pitched battle with an industry that holds considerable cultural capital and financial pull. This is an issue where advocates can learn from each other’s strategies (and victories), and help each other continue to make progress. It’s not clear how much the Australian industry can be affected by internal pressure alone, and international advocates and organizations — as well as brands and companies — can join in pressure campaigns to show international solidarity. We’ve won hard-fought victories for greyhounds around the world; those lessons can help us focus our efforts and be as effective as possible in advocating for greyhounds in Australia.
Don’t forget to check out and share our Greyhound Racing factsheet below, which looks at the global industry with a special focus on the United States.