Note: though this section is mostly written about the Australian context, greyhound racing is only legal in seven countries around the world: Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, UK, USA, Vietnam and Mexico. All the animal and human rights issues discussed in this piece ring true for the other places in the world that still allow this supposed sport.

With the live baiting scandal of 2015 bringing one of many inherent animal rights issues within greyhound racing to light,1 the industry has faced increased scrutiny in recent years. Sadly, live baiting is only one of a plethora of animal rights concerns associated with greyhound racing. Overbreeding, euthanasia of healthy animals, ‘disappearing’ dogs, injuries on and off the track, inappropriate medical care of animals, confinement, lack of enrichment, doping, and inappropriate international export, are all major issues of the industry.

Thankfully, with the increased public knowledge of greyhound cruelty in Australia, this has also seen a huge surge in awareness of the plight of this noble breed, and many more greyhounds are finding their way to a warm couch and happy home after escaping the brutal racing industry.

Is Greyhound Racing Banned in Australia?

Sadly, with Australia priding itself on high animal welfare standards, it is a common misconception that greyhound racing is prohibited. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. All state governments financially support greyhound racing and generally promote it as a financially viable industry that supports the economy, despite it being dependent on taxpayer-sourced funds to remain operational.2 Disturbingly, greyhound racing is also advocated as a ‘family friendly’ activity,3 introducing and desensitising the next generation to gambling and animal injuries and deaths.

Australia is just one of seven remaining countries with a legalised commercial greyhound racing industry, the others being New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Vietnam, Mexico and the United States of America.4 Heavy national and international advocacy efforts have seen the only track in China, the notorious Macau Canidrome, close permanently in 2018.5 Racetracks are also closing across the United States at a very rapid rate, with a parliamentary bill tabled which would effectively end greyhound racing nationwide.6 It is sad to see Australia falling so behind international standards.

Incidents with widespread media attention that attract public interest often result in an upsurgence of concern for animal welfare and calls for drastic reform. Following the greyhound live baiting scandal, concerns were such that New South Wales declared a greyhound racing ban in 2016,7 due to the findings of a special commission of inquiry that was established to investigate the industry.8 The inquiry found “overwhelming evidence of systemic animal cruelty, including mass greyhound killings and live baiting”.7 While this ban was regrettably overturned following pressure from industry, it is indicative of the scope and magnitude of widespread concern regarding animal welfare and industry integrity. The ACT would continue on to ban the industry outright in 2018.9

There are currently no formal calls to ban greyhound racing anywhere else in Australia. With increased public scrutiny, welfare advocacy and lack of public support, we remain hopeful that the industry will naturally ‘run it’s course’ in coming years.

‘Wastage’

‘Wastage’ is the name used by the greyhound racing industry for those dogs bred for racing that are then deemed unsuitable, be it that they are never registered as racing animals in the first place, are injured, do not perform sufficiently to be retained by their owner, or become too old.10 Until the advent of concerted rehoming efforts by advocates, ‘wastage’ dogs would invariably be euthanised. Given the number of dogs needed to be bred to keep race numbers, and associated betting practices, viable, and the finite nature of homes available for rescued racing animals, wastage remains intimately linked with the racing industry.11 It has been estimated that 13,000 – 17,000 greyhounds per year are killed Australia wide,12 with 40% of greyhounds bred into the industry never making it to the track.11 Furthermore, inappropriate monitoring by industry facilitates dogs ‘disappearing’ from being traceable altogether, leaving them to an unknown fate.13

Bones of greyhounds found buried on a trainers property. Image: The Courier

Track Injuries and Deaths

In 2020, there were a total of 9,861 racing-related injuries and 202 track-related deaths in racing greyhounds in Australia.14 While proponents of racing claim they love their dogs, they routinely put them in the high risk environment of the racing track, where injuries are frequent, and may be catastrophic and fatal. Injuries range from more mild muscle and soft tissue injuries through to major fractures, collapse and sudden, traumatic death.15 

Dogs having a collision on the racetrack.

Live Baiting

Live baiting is the illegal act of using small, live animals such as piglets, kittens, rabbits and possums to stimulate greyhounds to chase, with the deplorable theory that catching a live animal will result in better racers. This causes insurmountable terror and pain to the involved animals. While an illegal practice, the widespread nature of live baiting on a national level came to light with the 2015 revelations. Despite the industry’s claims of reform, further live baiting cases came to light as recently as 2019,16 making faith that the practice no longer occurs hard to grasp.

Greyhound chasing a live possum in a bull ring. Image: Animals Australia

Doping and Aversive Therapies

With trainers ever trying to gain the competitive edge, use of illicit substances to try and enhance greyhound performance occurs commonly, with no regard to the effect on the greyhound’s wellbeing.17 Anabolic steroids, erythropoietin, hormones and illegal substances such as heroin, cocaine and amphetamines have been used to try and skew race results.18

Even procedures seen as routine in the industry have the capacity to cause suffering. The tattooing of ears as puppies occurs without anaesthetic, and breeding females may be impregnated via surgical artificial insemination, a procedure banned internationally due to its unnecessary invasiveness solely for human gain.19

Medical Neglect

Greyhounds surrendered to rescue groups all-too-frequently show signs of previous inappropriate medical treatment and neglected issues. An overwhelming majority of greyhounds entering rescues will not have received adequate dental care and require dental surgery under anaesthetic prior to rehoming, often with multiple extractions of heavily diseased teeth. Other issues such as untreated pannus (an eye disease), reproductive issues such as mammary cancers, corns in the feet, and of course, a plethora of fractures and other injuries obtained as a direct result of racing are often present in surrendered animals.

In August 2020, a greyhound trainer was disqualified for stitching up a greyhound without anaesthetic or appropriate veterinary care, allowing her to deteriorate to the point of requiring euthanasia due to septic shock, following a dog attack. 20

Behavioural Welfare

Even the ideal standards of welfare as promoted by Industry Codes of Practice make minimal considerations for the long term behavioural welfare of greyhounds. Greyhounds are frequently housed in their kennels for protracted periods of time, with confinement and minimal interaction for the bulk of the day allowable.21,22,23 Greyhounds are also commonly housed in isolation, an unnatural state, and additional stressor, for social animals such as dogs.24

Image: Jo-Anne McArthur 

International Export

The vast majority of dogs racing at the Macau Canidrome, with very poor welfare standards for animal care and no capacity for rehoming, were sourced from Australia.5 Thankfully, this issue should be of less concern since the Canidrome’s closure, and additional restrictions on the Greyhounds Australasia Passport scheme.25

Human Impacts

All too overlooked is the negative effect of the greyhound racing industry on human wellbeing. Greyhound racing exists solely for, and is supported by, gambling.

According to the Australian Gambling Statistics, betting on animal racing in Australia increased 7.1% in the 2017 – 2018 period, to a total of A$3.547 billion.26 The negative effects of gambling, and addictive nature of the process, have the capacity to destroy human lives. Aside from the financial outlay and risk of debt and bankruptcy, the effects on the personal lives of those affected warrant consideration in a compassionate society. Remorse and stress can lead to self-isolation and substance abuse problems.27 Interpersonal relationships are also affected, with the Australian Gambling Research Centre finding consistent evidence of a correlation between gambling behaviours and family violence, and a high risk of gambling behaviours extending to the children of problem gamblers, thus passing between generations.27

Those who love greyhounds and become involved in their rescue have to face constant emotional and financial challenges and burdens, rehabilitating the animals discarded by industry, and without the financial support afforded to industry itself. For the lucky greyhounds who find their way into the rescue system, all the health and behavioural issues discussed earlier will invariably be treated with the support and care of dedicated rescuers. This leads to a high risk of compassion fatigue for these wonderful individuals.

The normalisation of practices with negative animal welfare outcomes can also be seen as negative for human wellbeing. To those who have been brought up accepting that adverse welfare outcomes are just ‘the way things are done’, and without having the insight that cruelty-free options are available, this can be an emotionally and relationally taxing state. This is of particular concern with the promotion of greyhound racing to children. We owe it to our fellow humans to extend our circle of compassion to those who may not be aware of the alternatives available, those with a past of normalised animal cruelty, and those who welcome education on cruelty-free options.

What Can You Do To Help?

The good news for greyhounds is that with the increased publicity of their plight and the welfare issues they face, greyhound adoption has been on the rise. For the most fortuitous greyhounds, when they leave the industry, they will be given the opportunity to transition to life as a pet. There are many reasons greyhounds find themselves in this situation: injuries or congenital defects in young dogs, dogs without a chase drive deemed unsuitable to be racers, middle-aged dogs at the end of their racing career or performing poorly, and older ex-breeding dogs. All have unique personalities and life histories, meaning there will be a greyhound out there suitable for most households!

Most Australian states have an industry-run adoption program financed by the racing industry, however, there also exist numerous other dedicated greyhound-specific and broader rescues that do not accept funds from racing. In general, while all greyhounds need a home, we endorse supporting independent rescues that are not driven by money sourced by the suffering of other greyhounds. Industry adoption groups also use their adoption numbers to justify their social licence and breeding numbers, whereas independent rescue groups do not carry this issue.

While adopting a greyhound as a pet is the most direct thing you can do to help a greyhound in need, by far the most beneficial thing you can do to help all greyhounds is never, ever bet on animal racing.

  • Never bet on, attend, or promote greyhound racing; if gambling revenue dries up the industry will no longer be sustainable, and will collapse. Encourage all your friends to do the same. Many otherwise well-meaning animal lovers are unaware of the welfare issues involved in the industry and may attend hen’s nights, etc. without giving it a second thought. Give them that second thought!
  • Increase community awareness of the inherent cruelty issues associated with greyhound racing.
  • Write to your local Member of Parliament, Racing Minister, and greyhound racing bodies asking them what they are doing for greyhound welfare, and how they plan to prevent further track deaths and wastage issues.
  • Consider donating, fostering or volunteering for your local greyhound rescue; after their time in industry, many greyhounds are in dire need of veterinary treatments and behavioural rehabilitation to prepare them for life beyond the track.
  • If you have a suitable household, love to give, and a spare couch, consider adopting a retired racing greyhound! They are wonderful dogs, and despite their often difficult past, have so much love and trust in people; an absolute testament to the breed.

Ultimately, the future is looking brighter for this incredibly resilient breed. We look forward to a future where all greyhounds get ‘the dog’s life’ they deserve.

References

  1. Four Corners. Making a Killing. https://www.abc.net.au/4corners/making-a-killing/6127124. Accessed 16 August 2020.
  2. Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds. The government-funded greyhound racing industry. http://greyhoundcoalition.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/CPG-government-funded-racing-industry-version-1.7.pdf. Accessed 29 August 2020.
  3. Greyhound Racing Ireland. 5 REASONS TO GO GREYHOUND RACING WITH THE WHOLE FAMILY THIS SUMMER. https://www.grireland.ie/go-greyhound-racing/how-it-all-works/5-reasons-to-go-greyhound-racing-with-the-whole-family-this-summer/. Accessed 16 February 2021.
  4. GREY2K USA Worldwide. Greyhound Racing Around the World. https://www.grey2kusa.org/about/worldwide.php. Accessed 29 August 2020.
  5. ABC News. What will happen to the more than 600 Australian-bred greyhounds when Macau’s infamous Canidrome closes? https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-09/what-will-happen-to-the-greyhounds-when-macaus-canidrome-closes/9950612. Accessed 29 August 2020.
  6. Grey2K USA Worldwide. Stop U.S. dog racing. https://www.grey2kusa.org/stopusdogracing/. Accessed 29 August 2020.
  7. ABC News. Explained: Why NSW is banning greyhound racing. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-20/greyhound-racing-ban-nsw-explained/7622052#:~:text=New%20South%20Wales%20is%20set,greyhound%20killings%20and%20live%20baiting%22. Accessed 16 August 2020.
  8. Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission (NSW). Greyhound Reform. https://www.gwic.nsw.gov.au/about/history-and-greyhound-reform. Accessed 29 August 2020.
  9. ACT Government. Greyhound racing and trialling in the ACT. https://www.act.gov.au/greyhound#:~:text=Greyhound%20racing%20and%20trialling%20is,one%20or%20more%20racing%20greyhounds. Accessed 29 August 2020.
  10. RSPCA Australia. What are the animal welfare issues with greyhound racing? https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-are-the-animal-welfare-issues-with-greyhound-racing/. Accessed 29 August 2020.
  11. Michael McHugh AC QC. 2016. Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in New South Wales. 
  12. Greyhound Racing NSW. Clarification of Wastage Figures. https://www.grnsw.com.au/news/clarification-of-wastage-figures. Accessed 29 August 2020.
  13. ABC News. Greyhounds still disappearing in NSW as Integrity Commission tries to seal cracks. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-02-22/greyhounds-still-disappearing-in-nsw-tracking-failing/11965030. Accessed 29 August 2020.

14.  Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds. Latest greyhound track deaths and injuries. http://greyhoundcoalition.com/. Accessed 29 August 2020.

15.  University of Technology Sydney. 2017. Identifying optimal greyhound track design for greyhound safety and welfare. Phase I Report Jan 2016 to 31 Dec 2016. https://www.grnsw.com.au/news/uts-track-design-study-report-released.

16.    ABC News. Victoria greyhound trainers suspended after allegedly using possums as live bait. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-11-13/greyhound-trainers-suspended-after-allegedly-using-live-bait/11699434. Accessed 29 August 2020.

17. The Sydney Morning Herald. Greyhounds test positive for drugs 10 times more than horses at races. https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/greyhounds-test-positive-for-drugs-10-times-more-than-horses-at-races-20180425-p4zbmj.html. Accessed 29 August 2020.

18.     Greyhounds Australasia. List of Permanently Banned Prohibited Substances to be expanded in Greyhounds Australasia Rules. http://galtd.org.au/sites/default/files/News/Files/Notice%20-%20Amendment%20to%20GAR%2079A%20list%20of%20permanently%20banned%20prohibited%20substances%201Aug2018.pdf. Accessed 29 August 2020.

19.     Legislation.gov.au. The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Registrations 2007. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2007/1100/contents. Accessed March 20 2020.

20.   Victorian Racing Tribunal. Decision: Greyhound Racing Victoria and Mr Peter Parr. 7 August 2020.

21. NSW Government. NSW Greyhound Welfare Code of Practice May 2020. https://www.gwic.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/893225/Code_of_Practice_A4_24pp_FNL.pdf. Accessed 29 August 2020.

22. Victoria State Government. Code of Practice for the Keeping of Racing Greyhounds. https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/529566/Code-of-Practice-Keeping-Racing-Greyhounds.pdf. Accessed 29 August 2020.

23. Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission. NSW Greyhound Welfare Code of Practice. https://www.gwic.nsw.gov.au/welfare/code-of-practice-for-the-welfare-of-greyhounds. Accessed 29 August 2020.

24.     Working Dog Alliance Australia. 2015. Review and Assessment of Best Practice – Rearing, Socialisation, Education and Training Methods for Greyhounds in a Racing Context – July 2015. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/280734566_Review_Assessment_of_Best_Practice_Rearing_Socialisation_Education_and_Training_Methods_for_Greyhounds_in_a_Racing_Context.

25.     Greyhounds Australasia. Greyhound Passports/Exports: Exporting of Greyhounds. http://www.galtd.org.au/services/greyhound-passportsexports. Accessed 29 August 2020.

26. Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. Latest edition of the Australian Gambling Statistics. https://responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au/about-us/news-and-media/latest-edition-australian-gambling-statistics-2019/. Accessed 16 August 2020.27.  Australian Institute of Family Studies. The impact of gambling problems on families. https://aifs.gov.au/agrc/publications/impact-gambling-problems-families/what-are-impacts-gambling-problems-families#:~:text=For%20example%2C%20data%20from%20an,%25)%2C%20followed%20by%20diminished%20work. Accessed 16 August 2020.