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.
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
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
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
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
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".
Greyhound Rescue Organisations
In Need (UK)
in Nood Belgium
in Nood Holland
American European Greyhound Alliance
UK and International Action
Against Cruel Sports
News stories about Greyhound cruelty
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Credits: Annette and her rescued Greyhounds. Photos by Peter Stevens