It’s the penultimate race of the mid-day meeting on 13 January at Hall Green greyhound track, Birmingham. As the dogs hurtle down the back straight a stomach-churning crack is heard across the stadium and Gulleen Star quickly pulls up. According to the dog’s trainer Alan Bodell, the black male had “smashed his hock (left) completely in half.” The trainer further ads: “You just have to put them out of their misery as quick as possible… I’ve been in it (greyhound racing) long enough now to know what happens, it’s just not nice.”
The average age for a greyhound to retire from racing is about 3 ½ years after competing in approximately 50 races. Length of career, however, varies greatly and is frequently brought to an abrupt and sometimes horrific end through injury.
It is thought as many as 1,000 greyhounds are put-to-sleep annually following injuries sustained in races and trials on British tracks. And to put that into context, the figure is more than 10 per cent of new registrations in 2009 for greyhounds to compete on tracks regulated by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB).
Bodell justifies the death of Gulleen Star by saying greyhounds are for racing and the dog was doing what he enjoyed. It’s a line repeated by trainers over and over again who further justify the exploitation and abuse of greyhounds by referencing horse racing - a sport that in the state of Victoria, Australia, will see a ban on jump racing at the end of the 2010 season following the death of ‘just’ 20 horses over a two year period.
The extreme and unusual weather seen across much of Britain in January saw many greyhound meetings cancelled but where racing was not interrupted it was business as usual with an ever increasing number of greyhounds getting ‘smashed-up’.
For Loughmore Boy race eight at Peterborough on 2 January was to be his last. The beautiful black male collided with Kangaroo Brice on the back straight putting Loughmore Boy into the fence and shattering his left foreleg. Trainer Bryn Ford said the dog was in “such distress, frothing at the mouth… it looked like he was dying of shock.” The track vet quickly ended the animals suffering out of sight of spectators watching from the restaurant and bars.
At Oxford the following day Kilkeedy Blue was PTS after breaking his right hock whilst negotiating turn one and a week later Ardera Express broke his neck after he was bumped and knocked over on the Kinsley track, again whilst negotiating turn one.
Incidents such as the two above bring into question the configuration of tracks that essentially comprise long straights leading into tight bends. Put six greyhounds into the mix and its a recipe for disaster with numerous incidents occurring as the dogs hurtle into turn one (109 dogs recorded falling/brought down in turn one in January alone against dogs not finishing/finishing at distance (with the true figure likely many more)).
Malbay Katie survived the first corner but sadly not the second when running at Doncaster on 22 January. The steward’s comment read as follows: Blk1, Ck2 (baulked 1, checked 2). In reality the blue female was brought down and her right hind leg was “ripped-off” from above the hock, according to trainer Keith Davis, who further added: “Every dog went into the corner together and she was the meat in the sandwich.”
Davis, who described the accident as both “horrendous” and “freak,” sounded genuinely upset when talking about the loss of Malbay Katie but was philosophical also: “Once the dogs leave the trap unfortunately they are on their own and you have to take what comes.”
Many greyhounds are rightly PTS following injury but a large number are also destroyed solely on economic grounds. Indeed the GBGB conveniently provide a box for owners to tick on the ‘retirement’ form for precisely such an occasion (not applicable to national champions that are worth their weight in gold as breeding machines).
Another greyhound to break a hock at Hall Green in January was Glenske Sky. This dog, however, was to possibly escape the veterinarian’s needle. Trainer Gerry Ballentine had the greyhound examined the following day but apparently the injury was a “big job” with “no guarantee there’s going to be any results at the end of it.” The small detail of which hock it was Ballentine couldn’t remember and the black female was PTS on 12 January.
Hock fractures are one of the most common career ending injuries and invariably result in the animal being euthanased. Skywalker Brenda was no exception when her right hock gave way whilst competing at Poole on 15 January. The black female was just 24 months old.
And snapping a foreleg at Perry Barr, Birmingham on 24 January saw Fida Cascada join the tally of greyhounds to lose their life in the first month of racing this year, all in the name of sport, all soon forgotten. There is little room for being sentimental in greyhound racing and dogs can be replaced for a relatively modest sum of money.
In January stewards recorded greyhounds not finishing/finishing at distance 346 times - a figure covering 344 dogs. A further 93 dogs were recorded lame or ‘brokedown’. How many are to race again remains to be seen. How many were PTS is impossible to say - the industry makes sure of that. Injuries to greyhounds (believed a five figure total annually) and greyhounds PTS following injury is the most sensitive and guarded subject within racing.
What the GBGB will tell you is in excess of quarter of a million pounds has been spent on track safety improvement projects in recent years but if feedback from trainers is anything to go by, it has had at best only a marginal impact on the frequency and nature of injuries greyhounds sustain.
Who would have thought that we have in Britain animal welfare law intended to protect animals from pain, suffering and injury.
This subject is now covered in Behind the Lights, the Tote and the Non-starters, where additional information is provided.