Earlier this year a 12 week public consultation was held on proposals drafted by Defra for new regulations under section 13 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to promote the welfare of racing greyhounds in England. Amendments are to follow but essentially the proposals as they currently stand will come into force in 2010 (intended date: 6 April).
Whilst all welfare groups including the Dogs Trust have been highly critical of the proposals for not covering many areas of concern, the new regulations will provide minimum welfare standards across all tracks in England and largely bring the independent (flapping) tracks in line with those tracks licensed under the Greyhound Board of Great Britain.
New legislation will include the requirement for a vet to be present at all race/trail meetings and the provision of suitable veterinary facilities, greyhounds to be examined by a vet prior to each race/trial (and withdrawn if judged not fit to run) and injuries sustained to be recorded.
Incredibly, the majority of flapping tracks fall short of the above basic welfare measures. Following the recent and very welcome closure of Swansea’s flapping tack there remains only one independent track in Wales. In Scotland, however, there are five (Armadale, Ayr, Corbiewood, Halcrow and Thornton) and to put this into context, seven such tracks still hold races in England.
The new regulations are therefore very relevant to Scotland and yet the Scottish Government have no interest in adopting the regulations, stating that racing dogs are fully protected under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 (similar legislation in England does not protect such dogs).
Perhaps it is simply convenient to cite the above Act, either that or the Animal Health and Welfare Division are very naive.
Scottish policy is important not least because of the frequency and nature of injuries greyhounds sustain in trails and races. Injuries sustained annually across all tracks in Britain total 5 figures, and about 1,000 greyhounds are put-to-sleep every year following injury. Greyhound racing in this respect cannot be compared with any other activity, whether a sport, working or otherwise.
A vet with links to a Scottish flapping track (he will on occasion attend the track in a professional capacity but is not in attendance during trials and races) states many greyhounds competing on the circuit suffer serious injury - commonly fractures - and are transported to a veterinary practice to obtain treatment urgently needed.
The Scottish Governments (now former) Animal Welfare Policy Analyst, Scott McDowell, would not be drawn on whether he thought a vet should be present at trial and race meetings but is apparently not aware of any welfare problems at the tracks. He further ads in a letter dated 9 September 2009 that no welfare complaints in relation to any tracks have been received by the Scottish SPCA in several years.
I am not clear what precisely McDowell thinks should be a matter for the SSPCA but rest assured, if anyone sees an animal being ill treated at a flapping track it will not be brought to the attention of any welfare organisation for fear of reprisal.
Whilst new legislation is essentially track focused it will impact little on the scale of injuries greyhounds sustain. That said it is a significant step forward in protecting dogs running on flapping tracks, a significant step forward that is for dogs running on flapping tracks in England. The Scottish Government should hang their heads in shame.