Thursday, 6 October 2011

Drugs, greyhounds and self-regulation

The variety of drugs injected or fed to greyhounds that can potentially affect the animal’s performance - improve or impair - is matched only by the variety of excuses when the trainers are caught.

More recently two cases stand out not only because of the substances involved but also because of how each case was dealt with and the outcome.

In September last year the police interviewed trainer Anthony Fowler on reports he was selling cannabis. It transpired, however, Fowler was giving both cannabis and Viagra to a greyhound called Jake to affect the animal’s track time.

The matter was brought to the attention of the RSPCA and though Fowler had got rid of the greyhound - put down due to a shoulder injury… apparently - a successful prosecution was brought against the trainer at Hartlepool Magistrates Court.

On 9 August Fowler was banned from keeping dogs for life. The trainer was further given an 18-week custodial sentence, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to pay £1,000 costs.

There are two key points concerning the above: Fowler was not a licensed trainer and so not subject to the Rules of Racing under the Greyhound Board of Great Britain and the case was dealt with by a magistrates’ court.

The second case concerns a black and white greyhound bitch called Steer Me Home and trained by David Puddy. A urine sample taken from the dog at Central Park Stadium, Sittingbourne, in March this year was found to contain methamphetamine and amphetamine.

Both are central nervous system stimulants. The former is a Class A drug known colloquially as crystal meth. The latter is a Class B drug known as speed.

Puddy is a licensed trainer (attached to Sittingbourne) and at a GBGB disciplinary hearing held on 19 July was found in breach of rules 152 (i), 174 (i)(b) and 217. The disciplinary committee ordered that Puddy be “severely reprimanded” and fined £750.

A magistrates’ court is of course independent and the GBGB are the governing body for 25 tracks across England and Scotland. Puddy is still running dogs at Sittingbourne.

The GBGB press office stated this week that “with all cases relating to drugs the relevant authorities are informed.” Puddy’s partner, speaking on Monday, said neither the RSPCA nor the police had made any enquiries.

If there’s one positive to take from any of the above, it’s that Fowler was banned from keeping dogs for life. The fact, however, Fowler was caught in the first place had nothing to do with protecting animals.

Ultimately one is again left questioning whether the welfare of racing dogs is best served by a self-regulating industry. Furthermore, one has to question the relationship between the GBGB and other “relevant authorities.”

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Greyhound track horror: a steward’s eye view

A new survey - the largest of its kind undertaken - offers a disturbing insight into the world of greyhound racing and the set task demanded of these athletes; the racing at speed on tight anti-clockwise tracks.

In Britain up to 6 greyhounds are pitted against each other on a track that essentially comprises two straights leading into tight bends. The forces generated through the limbs on negotiating the turns, the potential to lose footing and inevitable interaction between dogs on such tracks, are key factors in the catastrophic number of injuries suffered by the dogs every year.

It is impossible to give a detailed breakdown of injuries or a figure for greyhound’s euthanased as a result of injury. Such information is being collated by the industry but is not being made public (against a key recommendation within a Parliamentary Group report published May 2007).

What we do have, however, are the stewards racing comments covering the ‘performance’ of each dog in each race. How the dogs perform is of course a measure of safety and the comments make for sobering reading.

In 2010 the number of runners not finishing (DNF) or finishing at distance (DIS) was 4,513. The tally of runners recorded broke-down or lame was 1,812. Above figures are taken from a survey by Greyhound Watch covering the races held on tracks governed by UKAS accredited Greyhound Board of Great Britain.

The highest figures recorded in the survey for individual tracks are as follows: 68 DNF, Monmore; 290 DIS, Crayford; 231 broke-down/lame (timed finish), Sittingbourne; 296 broke-down/lame (overall), Sittingbourne.

Whilst a greyhound recorded DNF or DIS is not always an indication of injury, it is of course the more severe injuries prevalent in greyhound racing that either impair greatly a dogs time or terminate his/her race. Hock fractures are sadly all too common on oval tracks and invariably result in the animal being destroyed.

As a percentage of races contended, Sittingbourne had by far the highest figure for runners listed in the survey. On 15 January alone stewards at the Kent track recorded one greyhound broke-down and 11 greyhounds lame. A further 2 finished at distance after falling. For 7 of the greyhounds it was to be their last race.

The most serious injuries suffered by the dogs - to include longbone fractures - are commonly the result of a fall, and the number of runners brought down on oval tracks is horrifying. From the data compiled above that covers 5,565 runners, 2,315 are recorded falling. The breakdown is as follows: turn one, 1,309; turn two, 283; turn three, 272; turn four, 81; other, 370.

Figures clearly indentify the first corner as the most dangerous point on the track and the incidents that occur as the dogs enter turn one account for many of the greyhounds lost through injury.

1,938 runners listed in the survey did not contend another race. On there are 68 British based rescues alone listing retired racers as either available for adoption or adopted. A further section covers dogs independently homed/kept by their trainer/owner but only 188 of the runners can be accounted for in this way.

Many people might find the results of the survey disturbing but it does nothing more than provide a flavour of what is a happening on British greyhound tracks.

The survey does not cover the 11 independent tracks where it is thought safety is no better, nor does it cover the tens of thousands of trials held. Furthermore there is stark variation on what stewards include in race comments that at best highlight only a fraction of the injuries racing dogs incur.

Industry officials will tell you the injury rate is falling but there is a lack of evidence, not surprisingly, to support a substantial long-term fall. Indeed, if reports from grass roots members of the racing fraternity are anything to go by, the scale and nature of injuries in 2010 was as bad as it gets.

GBGB ‘retirement’ forms include a section for dogs put down due to injury (treatable or otherwise) and a request was made (twice) for the figure covering 2010. The governing body have yet to respond.

Survey information correct at the time compiled (July/August 2011).


Pro-greyhound racing charity League Against Cruel Sports believes it is possible for racing to be safe on oval tracks. LACS was repeatedly asked for evidence supporting their view but of course no such information has been provided. I fail to see how welfare is being promoted by a group that clearly has much to learn on the subject.


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

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Rescue speaks out on cruelty to greyhounds

Every year many thousands of greyhounds of no further use or value to the racing industry are disposed of and whilst many are killed, a large number will be adopted through rescues.

The idea, however, that all falling within the latter group had responsible owners who put the animal’s welfare and security first is very wide of the mark.

Chair of Lancashire Retired Greyhound Trust, Sarah Horner, was recently to speak out about life on the ‘front line’ and accused owners and trainers of dumping greyhounds on branch doorsteps and threatening to have the animal’s destroyed if not taken in.

According to industry governing body, Greyhound Board of Great Britain, the sport of greyhound racing is “well run, properly regulated and the welfare of the dogs is always the main priority of those involved.”

I’m not sure Horner would agree, having taken in racing dogs “with maggots crawling out of festering wounds” and dogs “covered in crap and pee, and emaciated.”

The above are ex-Belle Vue dogs, a track the rescue is now affiliated to under the new name Lancashire and Belle Vue RGT.

Horner states: “I had one Belle Vue owner bring a dog to me whose back leg was dangling the wrong way round, he had it in his arms and shoved the dog at me and said ‘see what you can do with him’ (and then) laughed and walked off.”

And according to Horner the above is an example of what is seen at many non-track based RGT branches.

The Ormskirk based branch has homed more than 40 greyhounds since its formation in October 2010; a figure to include greyhounds retired responsibly, greyhounds with injuries the owners are refusing to pay to have treated and greyhounds found as strays.

In 2010 the number of greyhounds homed nationally through the RGT fell by approximately 500 on the previous year.


It was at Belle Vue in 1926 that the first greyhound races in Britain were held and the fact, some 85 years later, we are receiving accounts of neglect as above speaks volumes about the true “priority” given to welfare.

Monday, 14 March 2011

IGB sink to new low

Is this Irish bred greyhound destined for China?

In an article published 27 February, The Sunday Times exposed recent discussions that have taken place between the Irish Greyhound Board and Chinese officials on the development of greyhound racing in China and the export of Irish dogs to meet the demand generated by the expansion.

Many animal welfare organisations including the Dogs Trust, Dublin SPCA, Irish SPCA and Blue Cross have expressed grave concerns about the discussions and are calling on the IGB to reconsider their plans.

In a joint letter to the media the group stated: “The future of Irish greyhounds in China would at best be short lived and at worst dire and unthinkable.”

No regulation of any kind exists in China to protect domestic animals and a track official at the Canidrome (currently China’s only stadium) is reported saying that 400 of their dogs judged too old to race are killed every year.

The IGB - a semi-state body - appear, however, indifferent on the greyhound’s fate if a quote in The Sunday Times is anything to go by: “We do not have any influence on the welfare standards adopted in other countries, and these matters are more appropriately dealt with by the country’s own legislative system.”

Not since the horrific pictures exposing the ill treatment and killing of Irish greyhounds exported to Spain has the industry faced such a backlash with British welfare organisations standing united with their Irish counterparts.

The IGB is being watched. If the collaboration with China goes ahead the Board will have lost all credibility and Ireland’s reputation will be irrevocably tarnished.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Track closures benefit greyhounds

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.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Greyhound breeding scandal

There exists in Britain the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 that was substantially amended by the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999.

Under the Act, a person keeping a breeding establishment for dogs will require a licence issued by the local authority. And for the purposes of the Act such an establishment is defined essentially as a business of breeding dogs for sale where a minimum 5 litters are bred across a one year period.

Key detail in the legislation, as you would expect, concerns the welfare and protection of brood bitches with licence conditions stipulating that any one bitch does not give birth to more than 6 litters of puppies, and that bitches do not give birth to puppies within a 12 month period of last giving birth.

It is legislation that is of course applicable to greyhounds as it is any other breed of dog, but as far as greyhounds are concerned the Act seems hardly worth the paper it is written on (what a surprise).

Due to the decline in greyhound racing in Britain the number of greyhound puppies bred annually has fallen dramatically over more recent years (litters recorded with the National Coursing Club (NCC) falling by more than 54% in the last 7 years) and there are now few establishments that require a licence.

Indeed greyhound breeding across the last decade in Britain has been spread very thinly with the infamous Charles Pickering (‘warned off’ in October 2010) being one notable exception. Other key players, however, include Craig Dawson, James Fenwick and David Firmager. All 3 are licensed trainers under the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB).

The NCC received 55 litter entries (across 24 dams) for Dawson between 01 June 2000 and 31 May 2010 (puppy total: 361). The total number of litters recorded for the above dams is 74 (other litters falling outside the time frame and/or recorded under a different breeder and/or with the Irish Coursing Club (ICC)).

Dawson, rightly in my view, has held a breeding licence for many years, but research highlights seemingly repeated violation of licence conditions. Looking solely at litters recorded under Dawson with the NCC, bitches gave birth on 14 occasions within 12 months of last giving birth.

When questioned about the above Dawson was to remark: “I didn’t know I was only allowed to breed one litter a year per bitch. Nobody has ever told me any different.”

A litter born September 2001 by Plasterscene Gem/Polnoon Lane and recorded under Dawson was the dam’s seventh litter, and 8 litters are recorded under Dawson for brood bitch Jackies Lady (whelping date for 4 of the litters within 12 months of the dam last giving birth).

Breeding data under Fenwick gives even greater cause for concern. The NCC received 101 litter entries (across 45 dams) for the trainer (attached to Newcastle) between 01 June 2000 and 31 May 2010 (puppy total: 641). A total of 158 litters are recorded for the above dams.

The maximum number of litters born within any calendar year falling within the above dates and recorded solely with the NCC is 18, with 5 or more litters consistently recorded across any one year period for much of the last decade. Fenwick, however, stated recently that he has never held a breeding licence in the last 10 years.

Whelping dates for 40 litter entries recorded under Fenwick with the NCC are within 12 months of the dams last giving birth.

A litter born August 2001 by Droopys Zidane/Ladys Guest and recorded under Fenwick was the dam’s seventh litter. Brood bitches Lydpal Frankie and Ballybeg Pumpkin are both recorded having 7 litters under Fenwick (the latter having a total of 8 litters (the eighth recorded under a different breeder with the ICC)), and 9 litters are recorded under Fenwick for brood bitch Any Chewing Gum (7 of the litters born within 12 months of the dam last giving birth).

In the light of the above it is interesting to note that Fenwick considered the restriction on the number of litters any bitch can have to 6 as “good and proper.” With Fenwick, however, not having a breeding licence he cannot be in breach of licence conditions.

The Act, perhaps drawn up with the best intentions, is clearly not protecting brood bitches in a number of ways: It depends on the honesty of the breeder; breeding establishments are seemingly not being monitored as closely as they should be and of course not all dams are covered by the Act.

Subsection (5) under ‘4A Breeding establishments for dogs’ would on the face it allow a person to breed any number of litters without requiring a licence (and so not be subject to licence conditions) if none of the puppies born are sold within a particular time frame. DEFRA were unable to provide clarification on the above! Of further concern is the fact different authorities have different interpretations of the Act.

The only breeder in research carried out where it is thought subsection (5) may apply is Firmager. Melton Borough Council could not say whether Firmager has held a licence in the past due to records lost in a fire. Firmager was unwilling to talk on the matter stating only: “We’re actually winding down breeding dogs, there’s no money in it and to be honest with you I wouldn’t have anything good to say about the GBGB.”

The NCC received 62 litter entries (across 31 dams) for Firmager between 01 June 2000 and 31 May 2010 (puppy total: 457) with 5 or more litters frequently recorded across any one year period up until October 2009. A total of 74 litters are recorded for the above dams.

Whelping dates for 13 litter entries recorded under Firmager with the NCC are within 12 months of the dams last giving birth, and 8 litters are recorded under the trainer for brood bitch Fast March (6 of the litters born within 12 months of the dam last giving birth).

And worryingly, as the number of breeders that require a licence diminishes, it does not necessarily follow that brood bitches are having fewer litters. Research has identified many dams that function simply as breeding machines with litters from any one bitch commonly recorded under different breeders. A period of only 7-8 months in-between whelping dates in also not uncommon.

The relevant local authorities are in receipt of comprehensive data compiled by Greyhound Watch on Dawson and Fenwick that again brings in question the role of the GBGB in protecting the welfare of greyhounds. It is astonishing to think that in 2010 the governing body was given UKAS accreditation.

Information correct at the time compiled (07 January 2011).


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