By Keith Davidson
Greyhound rescue groups in New South Wales have received dozens of unwanted dogs since the live baiting scandal hit the greyhound racing industry. The NSW Government ordered an inquiry into widespread animal cruelty after horrific footage on ABC’s Four Corners program revealed greyhound trainers used live rabbits, piglets and possums to entice their dogs to run faster.
Following the dismissal of its board, Greyhound Racing NSW set up a task force to investigate the allegations. It suspended 11 registered participants and heard inquiries against seven trainers. No NSW trainers have been charged yet.
Sponsors, including Macro Meats, Schweppes, McDonald’s, Bendigo Bank and Hyundai, have distanced themselves from the racing industry in the wake of the scandal. Natalie Panzarino, spokeswoman for Greyhound Rescue, is concerned many greyhounds will become unwanted as funding dries up.
“As prize money dwindles, the dogs will no longer be earning their keep,” she says. “Also, trainers have been banned over this and if their dogs aren’t making money then they may think the dogs aren’t worth keeping.”
Animal welfare groups claim cases like the recent discovery of greyhound mass graves in the Hunter Valley are typical. Mark Pearson, registered officer of the Animal Justice Party, has heard dozens of stories and believes abuse is rampant in an industry with a “mindset of disregard”.
“It is clear cruelty is rife in greyhound racing,” he says. “These dogs are shot, beaten, abandoned. It is a blight on the industry.”
Each year 18,000 healthy greyhounds are killed in Australia, according to Greyhounds Australasia. Around 8,000 greyhound pups are born that never make it to the track and another 10,000 are retired without being rehomed. The industry calls them ‘wastage’. Trainers surrender these dogs to vet clinics to be euthanased, or simply shoot them. Lyn White, campaign director for Animals Australia, says the sport should be banned.
“From an animal welfare perspective, it’s very hard to see that this industry could ever meet community expectations purely because of the number of dogs that are being killed,” Ms White says.
Scott Parker, Chief Executive of Greyhounds Australasia, admits the industry hasn’t kept pace with community standards. He says it needs to reduce the number of greyhounds euthanased, and rehome retired dogs.
“We realise that current adoption rates are too low and we need to do more to achieve our vision of every greyhound whelped having both a racing career and a home to live out a full life after their racing careers end,” Mr Parker says.
A record number of unwanted greyhounds has been surrendered to rescue groups in NSW since the Four Corners program. Lisa White, President of Friends of the Hound, says applications to foster or adopt a greyhound have tripled.
“The support we have received from the public has been overwhelming,” she says.
Greyhound Rescue has 70 dogs looking for homes. Janet Flann, who started the centre with her husband Peter, says the expose sparked a rise in the number of greyhounds being surrendered to their North Shore kennels.
“We’re inundated. Last week we had six in six days,” Mrs Flann says. “They’re the most beautiful, patient and gentle dogs you’ll meet. We rehome them with families who have children and small animals. They make lovely pets.”
Sonja Dodds, a human resources manager, and her partner Ben adopted greyhound Daisy 18 months ago, after a leg injury left her unable to race. Ms Dodds says she is glad the public has been made aware of the cruelty in greyhound racing.
“It’s opened people’s eyes to the horrible things done to racing greyhounds. Self-regulation has left the industry open to corruption and lack of ethical and moral practice. It can’t continue to operate with integrity,” she says.
Ms Dodds says some people are wary of greyhounds when they are muzzled in public, but once people pat Daisy, they see her sweet nature.
“She loves kids. When we mind my friend’s baby, Daisy lies at the end of our bed and watches over him until he falls asleep. They are best friends,” she says. “Daisy is really just a big sook. She’s a joy that’s changed our lives.”