The Life Of A Racing Greyhound
Greyhound racing is a declining sport, but is still a widespread source of gambling and entertainment in many countries. In New Zealand, the industry is worth $92 million annually, despite growing controversy there surrounding animal welfare. This study examines the average racing career of New Zealand greyhounds, looking particularly at what may cause shortened careers.
The careers of roughly 3,500 dogs were analyzed for this study. 70% of the greyhounds were registered as puppies in New Zealand, while the remainder came to New Zealand from Australia. Male dogs accounted for 54% of the dogs that raced. Four racing seasons were included, containing a total of 175,322 racing starts across 22,277 races by 4807 individual dogs.
Every race took place at one of seven racetracks in New Zealand. The vast majority of races had a full field of eight dogs, and virtually all races had at least seven. All but ten total racing starts were completed by dogs between 14 months and 6 years of age. Maiden races were primarily raced by dogs between 14 and 25 months of age, while higher race classes were composed of dogs who were older than 26 months. Races were divided into sprint (<457m), middle distance (457-599m), and distance (>600m). The median age for dogs in sprint and middle-distance races was similar, at 32 and 31 months old, respectively, but the median age for distance races was slightly higher at 37 months.
With all of this data gathered, the researchers then looked at a cohort of 2,630 greyhounds who had racing careers between January 8th, 2013 and July 31st, 2017. 91% ran at least one race, while 9% were registered but never ran. Again, roughly 2/3 of racers were from New Zealand, while a third were from Australia. The dogs from Australia tended to be older when first racing, and therefore had shorter careers than the New Zealand dogs – 378 days vs 445 days. However, the average number of racing starts was similar between the two groups, with 33 for the Australians and 35 for the New Zealanders. The researchers also found that dogs with a higher frequency of races (less time between races) had more racing starts during their careers, though they had shorter careers.
The researchers found that dogs who raced less than once per week had shorter careers and fewer starts than those who raced more frequently. Patterns of racing are determined by the local racing authorities at each track. They note that greyhounds race much more frequently than horses, who usually only race around 5 times per year in New Zealand. The authors do not argue one way or another whether increased racing frequency is better for greyhound health, but do mention a 2009 study which found a decreased risk of greyhound injury with an increase in racing starts over a 2 month period. They postulate that increased racing frequency may provide physical conditioning benefits that lower short-term injury risk, but cumulatively, races increase the dogs’ fragility over time.
In any case, the “careers” of greyhounds are remarkably short, averaging anywhere from about a year, to a year and a half. This is especially concerning as average greyhound life expectancy can be between 10-14 years. What’s more, there are various documented abuses that New Zealand racing greyhounds face, in addition to the possibility of early euthanasia if they are not able to be adopted after their racing days are through.
As animal advocates, we should obviously be opposed to any commodification of animals, including dog racing. Thankfully, all forms of animal racing are on the downturn, greyhounds included. However, until the sports are abolished, we need to be pushing for racing bodies to make their policies with animal welfare in mind, including racing frequency. Further studies should be done to determine what the optimal length of time in-between races are to avoid injuries, and racing bodies should schedule accordingly.