Greyhound Racing: A Winnable Issue
In much of the world, Greyhound racing is in decline, in part due to successful animal welfare group investigations and campaigns. The public is becoming more aware of the industry’s abuses and reliance on exploitation, and consequently, there has been a decrease in attendance, and many greyhound tracks have had to close due to financial strain. In addition, legal battles to ban racing outright continue to be fought and won, most recently in the United States, in Florida. As such, there are promising signs that the number of victims forced to participate in the so-called ‘sport’ continue to decline. However, as expected, the industry is working hard to adapt and survive, meaning continued pressure is important to ensure greyhound racing becomes a thing of the past.
Greyhound racing is legal in only seven countries: The U.K., Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, the U.S., Vietnam, and Mexico. Some of these, such as the U.K., Ireland, New Zealand, Australia & the U.S. have animal welfare laws. Others, such as Vietnam, do not. However, whether laws exist or not, where greyhound racing exists, there is abuse. A number of investigations have revealed distressing illegal activities in countries that claim to take responsibility for animal welfare. This includes the use of live bait, such as hare or piglets, to train the greyhounds in Australia, as well as the use of illegal drugs, including cocaine and steroids, in both the U.S. and Ireland.
In Ireland, a country famous for its prize greyhounds, the mass killing of dogs is well-documented. Around 16,000 new greyhounds are officially entered into the Irish Greyhound Board’s (IGB) records each year. According to an IGB-commissioned report, this means the greyhound market is oversupplied by 1,000%. As a consequence, 6,000 greyhounds are killed annually for reasons such as being too slow or showing an “unacceptable decline in performance”. Sadly, this figure would rise by thousands if it were to include the undisclosed deaths of the greyhounds that are born each year but not registered with the governing body.
This trend is also seen in the U.S., where although there are only seven active racetracks, over 6,000 greyhounds are bred to race annually. Twenty years ago, this figure was around 26,000, which is a testament to the industry’s decline; still, the current excess of greyhounds leads to many unnecessary deaths. In addition, these greyhounds contribute to the significant issue of animal homelessness, as they require resources for rehousing and feeding which can therefore not be used for other animals.
In a number of countries, unwanted greyhounds will often be killed and disposed of illegally using bolt guns or rifles, an act that carries little risk of significant punishment. For example, in 2007, an Englishman was found to have been illegally killing greyhounds in this manner for 15 years. Although it was estimated he could have killed up to 10,000, he was fined just £2,000 for disposing bodies on his land without a permit.
Greyhounds will experience significant suffering throughout and after their short-lived racing careers. In all countries, they are kept in wire cages for the majority of the day, often in cramped and filthy conditions. When race day comes, the dog’s risk of painful injury is high, and death is never far away. In Ireland, from 2015 to 2018, 1,559 greyhound injuries were documented, ranging from broken legs to paralysis and an average of 120 deaths are reported each year. In the U.S., the “High Stakes” report by The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) & Grey2K USA showed similarly disturbing figures and documented instances of greyhounds being starved to death and denied veterinary care.
Drug use is also common in the industry and has harmful long-term effects on greyhounds. Another Grey2K USA report investigating drug use in the industry showed that between 2007-2019, 847 racing greyhounds were documented as drug positive in the U.S., including 71 cocaine positives. The administration of methyltestosterone and testosterone derivatives (steroids) is also known to be common practice. These drugs disrupt the natural heat cycle of female greyhounds which allows their owners to maximize the number of days they can race and subsequently profit from them.
The suffering is worse in countries with poor to no welfare standards, where dogs from countries such as Ireland, Australia and the U.S. will often end up. While there is no official Ireland-to-Pakistan trading of greyhounds, kennels in Pakistan post weekly videos on YouTube and Facebook, celebrating their Irish imports. Although illegal in Pakistan without a special license, greyhounds are regularly used to hunt down wild boar in coursing (the practice of hunting live bait) events. This results in horrific injuries for both animals. And, if the greyhounds are forced to race, this may only be for a season or two, before being sold to pig hunters or killed.
In the past, many Irish, Australian, and U.S. greyhounds have been sold to the infamous Canidrome track in Macau, China. The track’s horrid conditions have earned it the reputation of the worst track in the world for greyhound welfare. While greyhound racing is now illegal in China and the Canidrome has shut down under international pressure, the racing still persists underground. Imported dogs are used in breeding regimes that create a greyhound excess of their own. Many unwanted dogs will end up in meat markets, where they will be sold for food and where footage of greyhounds being boiled alive has been obtained.
Key to discouraging the greyhound racing industry and trade will be to decrease its profitability, and it is encouraging that the industry’s financial health is in question. In the U.S., state racing revenue declined by 82% between 2001 and 2014 and The Humane Society of the United States has suggested that when taking regulatory costs into consideration, it is likely states are actually losing money on racing. In Ireland, the 16 racetracks left now attract an average of only 329 people per meeting and without the 16 million euros the industry receives annually from the Department of Agriculture, it would not survive.
However, it’s important to note that there are also “success” stories in the industry. ‘Greyhound Racing New South Wales’ in Australia, for example, saw an increase of 285 million Australian dollars (175 million USD) on bets in the last financial year. This led the CEO to describe it as “the best year on record.” Added to this is the rise in popularity of online betting, which means that more money is spent today on greyhound racing than at any time in history. The trend of online bookmakers buying up dog tracks in the U.K. to meet this online market demand is concerning.
Fortunately, in a number of countries, public opinion is shifting to the side of the greyhound. Animal welfare groups such as Grey2K (USA) & Greyt Exploitations (U.K.) continue to raise public awareness, and exposés such as “Running for their lives” in Ireland and “Making a Killing” in Australia have had a significant impact on public opinion. A 2016 poll found that 82% of Australians support an industry shut down and in Ireland, 66% of people agree that the government should stop funding greyhound racing (16% disagree, 18% don’t know). In the U.S., support for greyhounds is reflected in state laws, as racing is now illegal in 41 states (with racing in Florida to be phased out in 2021). However, there is still much work to be done globally, including in Australia where just three months after an announced ban in 2016, the New South Wales government overturned the ban after a fierce media and public backlash.
Whilst the exploitation of greyhounds endures around the globe, animal advocates should continue to raise awareness of the suffering experienced by these animals. They should push their network to boycott both physical races as well as online betting, and should write to their local politicians to demand an outright ban of the practice. Greyhounds are sentient beings who can think and feel — like all animals they each have a right to a life without human exploitation or commodification, and deserve to be treated with compassion. As the general public continues to realize that greyhound racing does not align with their moral values, public opinion can force this exploitation to its end.
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