Thursday, February 6, 2014

Speaking up for greyhounds

A happy greyhound goes for a walk on the beach.
Greyhounds get a pretty raw deal. Today, greyhound and animal welfare groups are getting together in the Sydney CBD to rally in support of these dogs at the Gone Are the Dogs Rally. Below is an excerpt from Dr Rosemary Elliot's speech explaining why Sentient, the Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics, is opposed to greyhound racing.
Sentient opposes the greyhound racing industry on both ethical and welfare grounds. This industry is about gaming; it is a non-essential use of animals for entertainment that exploits the natural behaviour of dogs, whose worth is based entirely on their speed, and hence, their ability to generate profit. An inevitable outcome is the accepted industry view of these dogs as disposable, rather than as sentient beings with inherent worth, deserving of lifelong guardianship. From this arise the multiple and widespread welfare problems endemic to greyhound racing.
Firstly, this industry is a major contributor to the problem of dog overpopulation, through its reckless overbreeding and callous disposal of countless unwanted greyhounds. Shamefully, these dogs are referred to within the industry as ‘wastage’. This is usually dealt with by killing young, healthy dogs. Such is the fate of approximately 17,000 greyhounds annually, and not all are disposed of humanely.  Very few are rehomed.

Increasingly, a new method of greyhound disposal is live export for racing purposes, currently to China, Vietnam and South Korea. This is despite the welfare risks of long distance transport, and the lack of established animal welfare legislation, industry regulation, or adoption programs in the importing countries. These new industries are renowned for harsh conditions and high killing rates of dogs. With no tracing system in place, a further risk is that unwanted greyhounds could enter the dog meat trade.  

During their time in the industry, many greyhounds are exposed to the treatment faced by factory-farmed animals. Most pups are bred in intensive, puppy mill conditions. Racing greyhounds spend up to 20 hours a day confined in small crates or enclosures. They are typically denied environmental enrichment or significant human interaction. Being raised under such regimented conditions, dogs are not introduced to new situations during the crucial puppy socialisation period. Along with a lack of basic training, this predisposes them to a range of behaviour problems, reducing their suitability for rehoming.

Heat stress is an ongoing risk during both transport to race tracks, and being raced in high ambient temperatures. Training methods are not standardised and have been described in a government-funded report as ‘flawed or unacceptable’. The unacceptably high injury and death rates for greyhounds during racing and training are not consistently reported. Furthermore, the administration of banned or illegal substances to racing greyhounds continues to be widespread. These include anabolic steroids, cocaine and amphetamines. The use of any of these substances can cause suffering and potential death of dogs.

All these welfare issues are maintained by the autonomy and self-regulation currently granted to the greyhound racing industry. While the industry continues, it must be subjected to independent scrutiny and government regulation.

Sentient also proposes the implementation and enforcement of mandatory industry standards. These must include the following: compulsory registration and microchipping of all greyhounds, with this information stored on a national database to enable lifetime tracking; breeding programmes to reduce the number of pups born; more frequent spot tests of banned substances; transparent reporting of injuries, deaths, euthanasia and rehoming; and industry-supported rehoming of all healthy greyhounds of sound temperament.

We must acknowledge, however, that this industry’s agenda makes it unlikely that regulations will ever be sufficient to guarantee acceptable welfare standards. 

As a veterinary-driven organisation, Sentient advocates for an end to the greyhound racing industry. We call for an immediate moratorium on the live export of greyhounds for racing or breeding, to be supported by a legislative ban.  And whilst we welcome any significant improvements to the welfare of racing greyhounds, Sentient will continue to lobby for this industry to ultimately be banned in all states and territories of Australia.

The Gone Are the Dogs Rally in Sydney coincides with the public hearing set down for the current NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Greyhound Racing. Visit the website, or head down to Martin Place amphitheatre (between Pitt & Castlereagh streets) from 8-10am.