Will UK follow the lead of New South Wales and ban greyhound racing?

The New South Wales, Australia, ban on grehound racing comes into effect in July 2017
Last month, an outright ban on greyhound racing was announced in the Australian state of New South Wales following an inquiry which uncovered overwhelming evidence of systematic animal cruelty. Will the UK do the same asks LAURA BRIGGS
Greyhounds leaving UK shores for Asia are of great concern to campaigners. In the last few weeks a greyhound being boiled alive in Asia went viral

The New South Wales, Australian ban, which comes into effect in July 2017 is welcome news for animal rights campaigners across the world as it signifies a move towards a society which embraces the welfare of all animals and respects all lives.

Animals Australia Chief Investigator Lyn White said in light of the NSW ban: "The scale of the cruelty and deaths that this industry inflicted over many decades is immeasurable. The only appropriate response was to shut it down.

"But this is not just about animals. Inquiries have revealed that many participants in this industry engaged in criminal behaviours such as live baiting and the drugging of dogs to win races. All of society is safer for its closure," she added.

With this encouraging result for Australia's anti-racing community, UK groups are hopeful that their work will lead to a similar ban on greyhound racing here.

In countries such as Jamaica and South Africa, the practice of greyhound racing has never been legalized, and in the US the sport is now illegal in 39 of 50 states.

One of the most vociferous campaign groups in the UK, Caged North West is desperate to see commercial greyhound racing outlawed, however it understands that this can't happen overnight due to the risk of unwanted dogs being killed.

A 2014 joint report by the League Against Cruel Sports and Grey2K USA Worldwide entitled The State of Greyhound Racing in Great Britain: A Mandate For Change, published figures showing that the number of racing greyhounds bred in Britain has been steadily declining since 2006.

It reported that in 2013, 251 greyhound litters were registered to race with the National Stud Book, a decline of 58% since 2006, however the number of adult dogs registered to race on tracks registered by the industry's governing body the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) has not fallen as dramatically, dropping  from 10,101 in 2006, to 7,520 in 2013 - just 26%.

Figures quoted in a parliamentary inquiry report under Retirement, Rehoming and Traceability, suggested that according to the GBGB the number of active greyhounds was 14,095 in 2014.

Caged North West believes this figure is grossly underestimated, and that all dogs could be safely rehomed by mid 2020 if a ban was to take immediate effect with a four-year phase out, and with the inclusion that no more greyhounds are imported from Ireland, or introduced into greyhound racing from British breeders.

Around 80% of greyhounds in Britain are born in Ireland and many Irish greyhounds are sent to China, (Macau), Pakistan, Spain, Argentina and other countries where dogs suffer horrific conditions and treatment, or death due to a lack of animal welfare regulation.

Rita James, of Caged North West said: "There is currently no legislation to prevent dogs purposely bred for the racing industry being exported to countries that have no animal welfare laws.

Greyhounds leaving UK shores for Asia are of great concern to campaigners. In the last few weeks a greyhound being boiled alive in Asia went viral

"Greyhounds are massively overbred putting them at great risk of export for racing purposes and commercial gain. Campaign groups and advocates across the world are uniting to urge the Irish government to introduce a new law to stop the exports, but despite the constant pressure.

"The Department of Agriculture Food and Marine in Ireland, and the Irish Greyhound Board are resisting showing any compassion, and proving to be completely un-interested in the welfare of the dogs."

She said that there was no desire to risk a sudden high spillage of dogs to a level where greyhound rescues would be overrun, but said that the risk of dogs being destroyed by their owners and the exportation of dogs to countries with no animal welfare laws would need to be eliminated.

With its beginnings in 1926, the first dedicated greyhound racing track was Belle Vue, in Greater Manchester. Currently there are 24 licensed greyhound racing tracks in the UK where races take place under the GBGB Rules of Racing, but it is thought there are also nine independent unlicensed tracks.

Anti-race campaigners cite problems including poor track surfaces, cheap sand and poor surface drainage, which causes the dogs to have horrific falls; traps not being appropriately maintained land insecure tracks which frightened dogs have escaped from.

Other issues of concern include faulty air conditioning in holding kennels at tracks, flooding of holding kennels, doping of dogs and dogs racing while carrying old injuries.

Injury figures are not currently available from GBGB, who have said they will release these in 2018, though a parliamentary inquiry obtained figures from the Racecourse Promoters Association stating that between 2012 - 2014, there were 1,300 deaths and 2,000 hock/wrist injuries at licensed tracks alone. This was based on information from 22 of 24 tracks.

Rita James added: "The view that greyhound racing is corrupt is becoming more widespread, and is not just one taken on by anti-racing people. Most recently, small time greyhound trainers are turning against their own governing body while making accusations of corruption, including money being misused. This enforces our views, in that funds are generally misdirected, primarily excluding the welfare of the dogs.

"The gambling establishments rake in the cash - they are the reason why greyhound trainers and why excessive numbers of dogs exist, bringing serious welfare issues."

Greyhounds leaving UK shores for Asia are of great concern to campaigners. In the last few weeks a greyhound being boiled alive in Asia went viral, and in Vietnam the dogs are often given a drug called Ecotraz, causing them immense pain. They are killed and then thrown into a pit when no longer needed.

Campaign groups like Caged North West, Shut Down Belle Vue and Birmingham Greyhound Protection hope to make members of the public more aware of the plight of these greyhounds and want to bring about publically-supported change, potentially a total ban reflecting the decision of the NSW government.

The greyhound racing licensing body GBGB claims on its website that £2.5 billion is wagered each year on greyhound racing. In 2013 the body donated £1.4 million to the Retired Greyhound Trust, which rehomed 3,742 ex-racers in that year. 

The GBGB says it works closely with major welfare charities via the Greyhound Forum. This includes representatives from the RSPCA, Blue Cross and Dogs Trust. The GBGB says it takes safety and welfare very seriously, and "cares passionately about greyhound welfare and is committed to working to raise standards of care still further."

Laura Briggs is the Ecologist's UK news reporter



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