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Annette Crosbie

Annette Crosbie Annette Crosbie OBE is widely known for her outstanding acting career. From "One Foot in The Grave" to her recent movie "Calendar Girls" and more than sixty other major film and television performances. But Annette's off-screen priority is dedicated to the welfare of animals - notably the plight of racing Greyhounds (of which she now has four rescued dogs of her own!). Her passionate work for Greyhound re-homing organisations, a recent documentary and her landmark speech at the 2003 Labour Annual Conference has placed Annette as the UK's foremost public voice for the welfare of racing Greyhounds.

VeggieBite ...
Because thousands are killed after their short time in the racing industry, the average lifespan of a racing Greyhound is around 18 months.

Greyhounds ... Running for Their Lives.

Can I start by saying that the issue is not whether greyhound racing should be banned but why successive Governments, over 75 years, have turned a blind eye to the way this self-regulating gambling industry operates. This may be because self-regulation has resulted - as it usually does - in an industry where there is no transparency, no accountability and a code of - if not secrecy - certainly cover-up.

This is what I have found, some of it, just by listening to trainers, owners, re-homers and reading the Racing Post over the last five years.
At the present time there are 32 greyhound race tracks which operate under National Greyhound Racing Club rules. The National Greyhound Racing Club (NEGRC) is a self-appointing body paid to sit in judgement on trainers and owners. It was formed in 1928 and drew up the rules to protect the interests of the bookmakers and, supposedly, the punters. Animal welfare was not a consideration, obviously, in those days. It is only too clear that, in spite of protestations to the contrary by the industry, it still isn't.

At any time it is estimated that there are 35,000 dogs racing on tracks in this country. In 2000 there were 5,280 British dogs registered.
In the same year there were 20,002 Irish digs registered.
It is estimated that, of the dogs running on British tracks, 70% of them will be Irish.
There are people in the industry who can remember a time when there were 2 meetings held in a week, with eight races run at those meetings. Six dogs in each race.
That was before bookmakers ran afternoon races to be piped to the betting shops to keep the punters in the shops between horse races. Over 16,000 races had already been run that purpose in the year 2001 to March 2002 when Tom Kelly of the British Bookmakers Assoc. mentioned it.
There is no rule in the NGRC rule book about how often you may race a dog in one day or one week. There is no rule about how many races can be run.

Approx 10,000 dogs are discarded by the racing industry every year. This is the number the industry is prepared to state and is approximate because no exact or verifiable records have been kept by the NGRC relating to any aspect of a racing dog's life.
There are no figures for the number of dogs leaving independent tracks. There are no reliable figures for the number of those tracks either. It is known that dogs are sometimes sold on to those tracks from NGRC ones and may run for another few years.
When a dog leaves the NGRC tracks it leaves the NGRC consciousness. The rule that states that a record should be sent to the NGRC of any change of ownership is ignored by trainers and NGRC alike.
There are no records kept of dogs that are destroyed during the schooling period or of the number of dogs destroyed during their racing careers, although at the World Federation of greyhound Racing in 1998 a vet from Nottingham track told of having to destroy about 10 perfectly healthy dogs a week . There are no published figures of injuries suffered on the tracks as there used to be There are no records kept of the number of dogs that are abandoned by their owners, picked up by dog wardens, and which finish up in all sorts of rescue kennels, from the excellent NCDL to council dog pounds where they live an extra seven miserable days Some tracks run re-homing schemes as an extension of the Retired Greyhound Trust but the quality inevitably varies as this is voluntary work and they are given minimal support by the Trust which has to rely on the support of the NGRC.

The Trust was set up in 1974 in response to public unease. It is described officially as the NGRC. Retired Greyhound Trust. The British Greyhound Racing Board has claimed in the Racing Post that it controls the Trust. Whichever body actually controls it; it has always been under-funded and operated on a totally unrealistic basis. The NGRC has stated that it never expected any more that eighty dogs to be looking for re-homing at any one time and that the charity was only a safety net. As there is no system in place for dealing with the dogs that are rejected I'm not sure how the analogy of a safety net can be applied. There is no mandatory requirement for a re-homing scheme at every track. The charity has a six month waiting list to get your dog into a kennel and as of now cannot afford to neuter or spay dogs before parting with them. The NGRC claims that the Charity re-homed 2000 dogs last year but this figure included dogs re-homed by the efforts of voluntary rescue kennels up and down the country run on funds donated by the public.

The priority of the greyhound racing industry, as operated by the NGRC is clear. A guaranteed, constant supply of dogs on the race card for the bookmakers.
The promoters, supply the tracks.
The owners supply the dogs.
Some trainers own dogs so as to guarantee the requisite number of dogs and are paid a retainer by the track.
Some tracks are owned by bookmakers.
There is no obligation to install heating or air conditioning in track or trainers' kennels. Dogs can cook to death in kennels and be kept in freezing conditions for five hours in cramped track kennels before racing on a frozen track. Dogs run in all weathers.
The stipendiary stewards, who inspect the kennels and conditions of welfare for the dogs, are paid and picked by the industry. They are aware of the priority.
The kennels are licensed by the industry. Last year one set of kennels was closed by the Police and the local dog warden three weeks after being inspected by the local stipendiary steward. Three of the dogs had to be destroyed.
The track vet, who is responsible for the fitness of a dog to run, is paid by the industry. They get approx 3 seconds to do it and I've been told can be over-ruled by the racing manager in any case.
They are also supposed to judge the safety of a track without any official standards to apply and, at the same World Conference, we were told of pressure being applied to declare a track safe against their better judgement. Bookmakers don't like a spoiled card or a cancelled race.

The NGRC, the controlling watchdog of the industry, has made rules which it implements to serve its priority: Trainers who withdraw dogs from a race because the rate of injuries incurred in the races beforehand suggest the track is unsafe are heavily fined. Likewise, trainers who withdrew their dogs from a track which was actually under water during a very wet winter.
Three years ago, Wimbledon trainers withdrew their dogs at 9.30 one evening, when I happened to be there. One dog had broken its back and two others had been injured on a track which they had been complaining about for three months. The British Greyhound Racing Board promised a moratorium on all NGRC tracks and injury figures. When a prominent owner asked to see the results he was told they were only for the eyes of the promoters and the bookmakers. Owners or trainers who are proved to have deliberately abandoned a dog are rarely disciplined.. The NGRC uses the Data Protection Act to prevent their identification.

The British Greyhound Racing Board (BGRB) is there to promote greyhound racing and the ownership of racing greyhounds. It is composed overwhelmingly of promoters and bookmakers.

The British Greyhound Racing Fund was set up to distribute the 4million pounds that was given back to the dogs as a voluntary (part of the fraction of the levy paid to Govt) As it was voluntary not all bookmakers paid into it. Most of the money went to the capital assets of the promoters e.g. new bars restaurants, turnstiles etc, ... The composition of the board of the BGRF is almost identical to the board of the BGRB. The Retired Greyhound Trust had their largest grant from the NGRC last year at 500,000 pounds. Two billion pounds was bet on the Tote on greyhounds in 2002.

The bookmakers are refusing to pay any more to the welfare of the dogs on the grounds that the money will be siphoned off by the BGRB and go nowhere near the dogs. When Greyhounds UK suggested that the way to avoid this was to set up an independent charity expressly for the welfare of greyhounds leaving the administration to an experienced and reputable animal charity, a move which would garner some good publicity and tax relief, it became clear that the moral high ground was just an excuse.

The Greyhound Charter - of which much has been made by the industry - we were told, took eight years to get the industry's signature. It's a rudimentary book of rules which are not binding on anyone, even those who bother to read it.

Profits are increasing all the time. Internet betting is just taking off.
Prize money has hardly moved in the last twenty years. That money is what helps to keep a dog fit and safe.

This is a self-regulating gambling industry that claims to use the dogs for entertainment. Attendances are dropping at all tracks. The GRA, the biggest promoter, with seven tracks, has just made 20 workers at Wimbledon track redundant and hired out its Boardroom to a car hire firm. This is the track where the Derby is run. At the same time it is anxious to build a track in Liverpool. Perhaps there is more room at that location for an attached casino.

We have been told, unofficially of course, by the BGRB, that kennel hands are paid well below the minimum wage, which means that the dogs don't get the care and attention that they need. But the trainers cannot pay them because most of them are living a hand to mouth existence. No records have been kept of the number of trainers who have given up the unequal struggle and yet these people are the ones who are frequently left with young dogs on their hands; by unscrupulous owners who fail to pay their bill and simply register their next dog in their wife's name.

If a realistic share of the profits went back into mandatory standards of care there would have to be an increased work force.

This is not a "Sport of the working man". The working men and women in this industry are treated much as they were in Victorian sweat shops. There is no independent authority to address with questions, complaints or criticism. Letters are still coming out of DEFRA saying the Govt considers the industry is still the best regulator of the industry.

Let me remind you that on an NGRC track a greyhound begins racing at approx 18 months. The average racing life of the dog will be eighteen months. From then on the dog is a hostage to fortune and thousands will die ... every year.

It is essential that MPs realise that the dogs cannot be protected by the police or the RSPCA. Over a year ago the Govt. consulted widely on an Animal Welfare Bill. Greyhounds UK and numerous welfare organisations put in evidence on the need for welfare standards for racing greyhounds. We wanted quick action and were given to hope that legislation would be in the 2003/4 Programme. Now, I understand that this Bill is being deferred to a later year, although, according to the press, there will be space to legislate for more casinos - like the bookmakers another licence to print money from which the Treasury will take its share. It will cost the Govt nothing to set welfare standards because any scheme will have to be self-financing. To do nothing is indefensible and unacceptable.

In 1991 the Home Affairs Committee recommended that promoters should build kennels across the country to hold dogs waiting to be re-homed.
The other welfare recommendation was that bookmakers should give a percentage of their profits back to the care of the dogs. Both these recommendations have been ignored. The conclusion of the committee report was "The bookmakers have too many fingers in too many pies. They are able to obtain greyhound racing on the cheap".

Annette Crosbie.

Annette and her own rescued dogs

Greyhound Rescue Organisations

UK
Greyhound Action
Retired Greyhound Trust
Greyhounds In Need (UK)
Greyhound Action Scotland

Ireland
Dog Rescue Ireland

Europe
Greyhounds in Nood Belgium
Greyhounds in Nood Holland
Scooby (Spanish rescue)

USA
Greyhound Friends, Mass.
The American European Greyhound Alliance

UK and International Action Groups
Greyhound Action UK
Greyhound Action International
League Against Cruel Sports


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Picture Credits: Annette and her rescued Greyhounds. Photos by Peter Stevens

 

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