Monday, 3 November 2014

New ‘mandate’ on greyhound welfare found wanting

They say size doesn’t matter but in this case I would have to disagree. It has taken two professional organisations – GREY2K USA Worldwide and the League Against Cruel Sports – near two years to compile a mere 14,600-word report on greyhound welfare that is sadly found wanting.

Worryingly, LACS fail to see a correlation between track configuration and the catastrophic number of injuries greyhounds sustain, and are seemingly unable to compute realistic figures for the number of greyhounds facing a premature death. Or at the very least are publicly unable to recognise and acknowledge either of the above.

The new report – The state of greyhound racing in Great Britain: a mandate for change – was published this October and carried with it much expectation, perhaps na├»ve expectation as LACS do not fall within the ‘anti’ camp but are rather a welfare charity pursuing measured change seemingly in the belief the humane treatment of greyhounds and commercial greyhound racing are not incompatible, and thus are labelled by industry officials as “welfarists” and “responsible.”

On a positive note, two areas of concern are covered well; kennel conditions (section 3.3.1) and the sale of dogs for research purposes (section 3.4.4). But a lack of understanding of greyhound racing in Britain is evident in other sections. Apparently, “dogs owned by GBGB trainers” will typically compete in several races in one day. That is simply not true and you can be sure industry officials will jump on errors like that to discredit the whole report.

The report further talks of just 1,000 retired greyhounds unaccounted for every year. How does it get that figure? By deducting the number of dogs homed by the Retired Greyhound Trust in 2012 (3,910), plus the homing figure attributed to other rescues (1,500) and dogs homed independently (1500), from recent annual registrations for greyhounds to compete within the regulated sector. But according to the RGT, about 30 percent of their dogs were not registered for racing. In other words are non-graders if not having competed on independent tracks. It would be reasonable to assume a similar percentage applies regarding other homing figures.* 

Non-graders, however, do account for the majority of greyhounds facing a premature death with Ireland being the chief country of origin. Irish breeding figures in relation to greyhound racing in Britain remain conjecture but simple calculations provide a realistic estimate. It is essential to know how many dogs we are talking about – even a ballpark figure – but the report chooses not to compute any numbers; a major failing.

Injuries are covered in two sections – 3.3.2 and 3.3.3 – and while the overwhelming majority are linked to track configuration this is not given mention. Do not be surprised. Against a tide of credible research, LACS have stated: “We disagree that an oval greyhound track can never be made safe for the dogs participating.”

In Britain up to six greyhounds are pitted against each other on tracks that essentially comprise 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 runners on such tracks, are key factors in the appalling scale of injuries suffered by racing dogs every year. It is even now policy of one political party that new statutory legislation is necessary that would permit only greyhound racing on a straight course (for the precise reasons I give above). The League’s position on this is indefensible.

Amusingly, the report is being promoted widely by antis who support a ban on the betting on greyhound racing, but LACS are of the view that a decline in betting turnover, and thus a decline in funding for the racing industry by way of the British Greyhound Racing Fund, will have a negative impact on welfare. It is difficult to argue otherwise but here I must side with the antis. Guardian columnist Michele Hanson put it very succinctly: “As soon as you put humans, animals and money into an equation, you’re going to have problems.” Nowhere is this better illustrated than in greyhound racing.  

Ultimately, major welfare issues inherent in the ‘sport’ will never satisfactorily be resolved until such time racing is conducted only on a straight course and commercial operations cease; both, seemingly, alien concepts for LACS. That said, any measures that will improve welfare should be supported and here I include recommendations as detailed in the report. I just wish they had made a better job of it.

*Taking into account the number of non-graders that are homed, the figure for ex-racing greyhounds unaccounted for is about 3,000 and NOT 1,000! It is easy to understand why the incredible level of secrecy on the part of the GBGB surrounding the fate of retired greyhounds.
Comprehensive breeding and homing figures in relation to greyhound racing in Britain are covered in detail in the first and only publication of its kind: Behind the Lights, the Tote and the Non-starters