The RSPCA reported that “at least 20 greyhounds a day - either puppies which do not make the track, or ‘retired’ dogs aged three or four - simply ‘disappear’, presumed killed.”
Adoption and litter statistics, however, point to a much higher figure though it is continuing to fall and this is despite the total for greyhounds homed through the Retired Greyhound Trust in 2010 being more than 500 down on the previous year.
British tracks fuelled the breeding of about 16,140 dogs in 2010. The total homing figure (dogs homed through the RGT and independently) for the same year is thought in the region 7,200. The figures for 2009 are 17,140 and 7,730.
The desire for only the highest performing greyhounds means about half all dogs bred for the track never make the grade and it is non-graders that make-up a majority percentage of dogs killed.
Breeder, trainer and owner Richard Newell famously said: “I think you all live in cloud cuckoo land if you think there aren't hundreds of greys put-to-sleep before they even reach the track in the UK. Hundreds of pups are too slow to grade, some don't chase, others fight, injuries as pups etc.”
But with the opportunity of a home given primarily to ex-racers it can be a little misleading comparing breeding and homing figures from the same year.
The mean annual total for greyhounds bred (to meet the demand generated by British tracks) across the last 3 years is about 17,940. The best estimate, making the same calculation for greyhounds homed, is 7,500.
Disparity between the above figures is notably down compared with mean annual figures covering 2007/8/9.
The Dogs Trust has rightly stated that “euthanasia of healthy, retired dogs is ethically indefensible.” The charity has further conveyed a need for the development of a system that matches the number of dogs entering racing with the numbers that can be rehomed.
Without wishing to state the obvious, it is never going to happen. Racing dogs are not just killed because of a shortage of homes, they are killed purely and simply on economic grounds.
Figures for greyhounds unaccounted for are falling but that is largely thanks to the continued decline in greyhound racing.
Since August 2008 five major tracks have ceased operating (Coventry, Hull, Portsmouth, Reading and Walthamstow). The subsequent fall of more than 19% in the number of races held on tracks governed by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain has of course dictated a significant reduction in breeding figures.
Whether we ever reach a point where at least half the greyhounds bred to meet the demand generated by British tracks receive a forever home is difficult to say but every track closure is a step in the right direction.
Industry officials mislead the public on the number of greyhounds unaccounted for by comparing adoption figures against figures for dogs that make it to the track. Information in a recent Henlow race card is a good example of this.