Monday, 31 May 2010

Greyhound homing scandal

Likely many people shopping recently in the sleepy Suffolk town of Leiston will have spotted an advertisement in the towns pet shop window for “12 greyhounds free to good home(s).” The ad raised various comments including “what will happen to those not taken” and “how come there are twelve available all at the same time!” Scratch the surface and revealed is widespread indiscriminate homing of greyhounds and a quandary the greyhound racing industry will likely never satisfactorily address.

Every year many thousands of greyhounds never make the grade to race or have their career on the track terminated due to injury, age or simply because the dog fell short of expectations. The majority are killed but in what might best be described as a public relations exercise the regulatory body has sought to increase homing figures that just 10 years ago were pitifully low.

The Retired Greyhound Trust (RGT), funded by the racing industry, officially homed 4,725 greyhounds in 2009, a figure that represents about one quarter of greyhounds bred to meet the demand generated by British greyhound tracks. Though a marked improvement on 1,893 in 2001 the annual homing figure has increased little since 2007.

Perhaps, without a massive boost in funding, the RGT is close to the maximum figure obtainable and feedback from members of the racing fraternity would indicate an ever increasing number of trainers are homing dogs independently, essentially for two reasons: the fee or ‘donation’ requested by rescues (to cover in part costs incurred including neutering) and the waiting list that commonly prevails.

The greyhounds advertised in the above pet shop were being off-loaded by trainer Chris Mosdall, a major player at Harlow stadium. When interest was expressed in homing two of the dogs Mosdall sounded delighted. No home check would be carried out and needless to say none of the greyhounds will be neutered prior to homing.

And whilst Mosdall was led to believe I had never previously adopted a greyhound, little advice was given. More worryingly, the trainer didn’t ask any questions about my situation concerning such matters to include work, home and garden. In theory I could be living on the top floor of a block of flats or banned from keeping animals.

Mosdall, however, had the uncanny ability to tell from my voice that the dogs would be well looked after and the opportunity to get rid of one, possibly two greyhounds, quickly at zero cost is of course incidental.

Further consider that a vet may charge in the region £35 to euthanize a track dog and the attraction of advertising a greyhound ‘free to good home’ is all too apparent. Even having the animal shot is not without cost and may result in disciplinary action. And with the survival of racing increasingly dependent on professional trainers and survival for the trainers increasingly dependent on running a large number of dogs such costs are now a key business consideration.

Margins are very tight even for successful players, a point Oxford champion trainer Michael Peterson touched on in conversation last year: “The finances in this sport are piss poor. A lot of trainers are basically just covering their costs which to be honest with you I am. I am not making bundles of money, I’ve got a young family and I have eight to nine dogs here that need homing.”

The result is frequently the independent and indiscriminate homing of greyhounds. Not surprisingly, many such dogs see a quick succession of ownership and many are later found neglected, abused and abandoned.

When of no further use or value as a racing dog, Rum Gal (trained under Margaret Bailey) was not placed with a rescue but rather homed independently and seemingly off-loaded without any concern given for the animal’s future welfare and security. Months later Rum Gal was picked up as a stray on the streets of Norwich.

Tasmanian Diego was given away just 2 days after her career on the track was terminated due to injury. No doubt the trainer, Ian Brown, was elated when the prospective owner, Angela Laver, agreed also to adopt Burgoyne Bunny who had retired through injury 4 days previously. Unable to cope, Laver off-loaded both greyhounds within a couple of weeks of signing the adoption forms. Burgoyne Bunny was later found abandoned in a flat and Tasmanian Diego spent just 3 months in her next ‘forever’ home.

And two young bitches, given away by Mosdall about five months prior to the ad in Leiston pet shop window, were picked up in the Wanstead area in appalling condition. Mosdall was to remark: “The people who do that to dogs should have it done to them, that’s the way I look at it.” My view is trainers should not be allowed to home dogs independently as there is a clear conflict of interest.

Furthermore, there is arguably a breach of Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) Rules of Racing. Rule 18 covers responsibility of the owner and subsection 1, e states that when a greyhound is sold or found a home this action is to be carried out “responsibly.”

Mosdall was reported to the GBGB but is unlikely to face disciplinary action. Investigation Officer Clive Carr has previously visited Norfolk to follow up a number of similar reported breaches in the above rule but appeared more interested in those making the allegations than the allegations made and did not believe there was a case for any trainer or owner to answer.

Perhaps, as a representative of the regulatory body, this should come as no surprise. Officials no doubt appreciate the difficulties facing trainers and it suits the industry to turn a blind eye. A greyhound indiscriminately homed is still a greyhound homed and collectively the national homing figure receives a significant boost without any funding from the industry. This data can in turn be used to promote greyhound racing. The trainer wins, the industry wins and who cares about the welfare of greyhounds.

A simple amendment to Rule 18 that would help eliminate the above scandal was put to the regulatory body back in 2007 but dismissed out of hand, and whilst very evident apathy prevails so the tragedy will continue.


This subject is now covered in Behind the Lights, the Tote and the Non-starters, where additional information is provided.