Greyhound Racing - the real story
Our Dogs has given substantial space to Greyhounds and Greyhound racing reflecting the concern felt by readers and the various charities and lobby groups who send us press releases and stories which tend to reinforce the established view.
However, there is another side to both the argument and the Greyhound racing industry and we are pleased to print the views of Floyd Amphlett, Editor of the Greyhound Star and who attended his first greyhound meeting aged eleven. He spent every spare hour and school holiday working in kennels, left grammar school at sixteen after deciding not to pursue a veterinary career.
Instead he left home to work at the famous White City as a kennel boy. He went on to become a trainer, a breeder, and began writing about Greyhounds twenty-seven years ago. He has since written books on breeding and has been the editor of Britain’s only specialist greyhound publication for the last twenty years. He was a police officer for three years but his love of the dogs dragged him back, so he has, in effect spent the vast majority of his life (48 years) in Greyhound racing.
Here is his side of the story
The facts about Greyhound racing have been both inflated and distorted. Some of your readers appear to believe that 10,000 Greyhounds are shot, hung or drowned every month and that they lead horrendous lives exploited from the day they were born. Maybe some participated in the closing down of a small Greyhound track in the West Country two years ago or have stood outside Greyhound meetings with banners claiming ‘You Bet - They Die’.
Others may have picked up information from the Sunday tabloids. Their stories have included the builder with the bolt gun at Seaham in Co Durham or more recently, the ‘Greyhounds for Vivisection’ article. They may also have seen the photos of the dead Greyhounds in the dustbins which were taken at a US laboratory 25 years ago, but are still in circulation.
If you believe all this please do not waste your time reading on. The truth seldom has any effect on the zealot.
So what are the facts? They are not easy to determine and the sport is often accused of concealing them. Be assured neither we, nor our critics really know them.
So what do we know? We do know how many litters are registered in Britain and Ireland. In Ireland last year (2007) there were 3,874 litters. In Britain, there have been 550 litters registered to date, although there may be half a dozen or so late registrations still to be made. There are also an unknown number of unregistered litters that can race on Britain’s ‘flapping tracks.’ In fact, there are only around twelve such tracks and at those tracks around 95% of the dogs have ear tattoos, we can only be talking about a handful of litters, probably mainly accidental matings for Greyhounds not formally registered.
In general there are around 6.4 Greyhound pups born per litter.
Clearly that is a lot of Greyhound puppies but how many of those Greyhounds fail to make it to the track? Again, there are no official figures. We are dealing with two different countries and thousands of breeders.
Then there are other ‘unknowns’. How many Greyhounds in Ireland are bred specifically for hare coursing? It is still a sizeable sport in the Irish Republic with the top meeting in February attracting around 20,000 spectators. Very few coursers are suitable for racing, probably less than 1 per cent.
Nor do we know how many British pups are sent to the flapping tracks to race. These small family run businesses don’t require a dog to have a registered name. You can buy a Greyhound, let it sleep on the couch, take it along for a time trial, call it ‘Blackie’ and have it racing a few days later. I’ve known of cases where people have raced lurchers alongside Greyhounds and have achieved some success at this level.
So returning to figures. There are no figures to show how many of the greyhounds born then go on to race. However, I recently conducted a sample breeding study which showed, that in Ireland, 93.2 per cent reached the ‘naming stage’. In other words, they reached adulthood. What happened to the missing 6.8 per cent? We can only speculate, illness as pups (after notification of whelping), accidents or other unknown events. Greyhound breeders do not dispose of young pups through colouring or genetic issues. Greyhounds are considered to be a breed least affected by genetic disorders.
So how many make the track? The ‘experts with banners’ tell us that a sizeable proportion are shot, drowned etc, because they won’t chase the lure. Because of the ‘black identification hole’ that exists on the flapping tracks, we can’t accurately assess British numbers. Well at least I can’t. However, because Ireland has no flapping tracks, we can monitor how many Greyhounds contest a race. My study indicated that 78.2 per cent of Greyhounds born went on to contest a race.
If it were to be proved accurate by checking every individual dog, and not just a sample of a few hundred Greyhounds as I did, this would give us the first indicator of Greyhounds who fail to race. I doubt even this estimate has ever been published before except in my own newspaper.
So in theory, 218 greyhounds in every 1,000 born cannot be accounted for as racers. It is a starting point, but no sort of clue as to ‘wastage.’ For a start, we can take off the 68 juvenile mortalities, leaving us with 150. But how many of these are coursing Greyhounds? In addition, many breeders choose not to race the best young bitch in the litter but retire her directly for mating.
However, as racing’s critics will point out, there is also the issue of British bred greyhounds that fail to chase. The recent Donoughue report estimated a figure running into several thousand. It is a pity that they did not have a breeding expert on the panel because they would have discovered that between January 1st and April 30th 2000, a total of 639 greyhound pups were registered in Britain. If the percentages for non-chasers is the same as in Ireland, that means that we will only be looking for homes for 96 pups from that four month spell. That equates to about 300 per year. In the meantime, compare those 639 pups against the 10,159 Labradors that were registered with the Kennel Club! Let alone those without papers!
However, if anyone can help me come up with a more accurate figure, I would be pleased to hear it. In fact, I would offer them, or the editor of this publication, the chance to check out the figures for themselves.
I would suggest that anyone concerned with Greyhounds goes to the excellent website, run by enthusiasts called www.greyhound-data.com. It lists all greyhounds registered and any races that they have contested in Britain or Ireland, although not on the independent tracks.
So, what about Greyhounds that have racing careers but are ‘discarded’ when their ‘usefulness’ is at an end? How many of them are there? We know that last year in Britain, there were 9,751 Greyhounds registered for racing. We know, that there were 4,479 Greyhounds re-homed by the Retired Greyhound Trust during 2007. Now, as much as you might not trust anything with ‘Greyhound’ in its title, this is a registered charity and every single homed Greyhound can be identified and verified. That leaves a figure of 5,272 greyhounds unaccounted for.
Here is the problem and the biggest single issue that I have with the ‘anti-racing lobby’ and the Greyhound industry too, for its self inflicted wounds. We only ever produce ‘officially homed’ figures for Greyhounds (the 4,479) that have gone through the retirement scheme. Many thousands of others are independently homed. The Walthamstow home-finders, who contribute about 200 dogs to the official figures, recently held a survey among their owners and trainers to discover how many they had personally homed.
Each dog was identified and homing addresses verified. In the space of twelve months the local trainers, or owners of the dogs, re-homed 103 greyhounds. It would be disingenuous to simply multiply this figure by the 29 tracks and add another 3,000 to the total, but there would surely be a big hole in that total of 5,200 dogs. But we are not finished. Around 25 per cent of all the Walthamstow dogs are owned by their professional trainers and more than 50 per cent of Britain’s racing Greyhounds are trained by their owners.
You do not have to take my word for it. Check any race card for tracks like Yarmouth, Henlow, Peterborough, Pelaw Grange, Kinsley, and more than a dozen others and you will find that the majority of dogs are hobby trained. It is really quite simple – you build a kennel, buy a greyhound, pay for its registrations, inoculations and the rest, apply for a licence and then race at your closest track. It is a hobby not so different to those of you readers of Our Dogs who enjoy agility training, fly-ball, or other assorted fun activities with dogs.
What happens when these Greyhounds reach the end of their careers? I can assure you that there are thousands who never officially ‘retire’; they just don’t go racing anymore. Yet they never appear among the official ‘homed’ figures, they simply become full time family pets. I also know that there are also literally thousands of ex-racers who remain with their professional trainers when their racing days are over. I don’t know of a professional Greyhound trainer that doesn’t have a few old racers in the kennel. Some have 30 or 40!
At this point it may seem that I am claiming that Greyhound racing has no welfare issues. I’m not. I never have and never would. Hopefully though, this article has helped to get the balance right so it can be realistic rather than indulging in some of the frankly, outrageous fantasy put about those who are emotionally driven rather than being able to be persuaded by the facts and the right and freedom for people to follow their leisure interests within the law.
Now let us look at the direction that greyhound racing is taking. That 4,479 homed figure is up in six years from 2,030. The British Greyhound Racing Board funds the Retired Greyhound Scheme to the tune of £1.7m annually. That does not include the individual fund raising schemes for each track. Greyhound racing has introduced a scheme whereby every racer on NGRC tracks (the 29 biggest tracks, but not the flaps) is monitored when its racing career is over. There have been a string of stewards’ enquiries banning people for life for not making adequate preparation for their dogs once their racing careers are over.
As the ‘antis’ would rightly point out, ‘making preparation’ might simply mean euthanasia. I wish I could show figures as to how many dogs did see out their lives as family pets. Nobody can, unfortunately. Short of a law being passed to say ‘you can put any dog to sleep except a greyhound’ it will always remain an owners right.
What should be done?
However, we now reach a critical point in the debate. If every single greyhound was to be re-homed, which is not a fate that any other breed in Britain can ever hope to attain incidentally, would Greyhound racing still be ‘exploitative and cruel’? You see, the more lunatic fringe that are so often given space in this and many other publications would say they are. I wonder why?
What is the fundamental difference between Greyhounds and race horses, police dogs - even guide dogs? Greyhounds love to race as Border Collies love to round things up and those used for agility, flyball, heelwork to music and obedience love to perform more than anything else in the world. Greyhound racing is flyball, hide and seek, and walkies all in one. Believe me, dogs won’t eat if they know its a racing day and stud dogs won’t cover bitches if the van is being prepared. They are just too excited.
Surely, to be exploited, you have to assume that they are doing something that they don’t like. Or, that they are being used and then put to sleep when they have no further value. I contend that that simply isn’t the case for the vast majority.
So are we talking about principle of non-activity for animals, or are we genuinely interested in achieving the highest possible levels of welfare for Greyhounds?
I have approached protestors at greyhound tracks and asked for their views. There was an assortment of types, from Budhists, to vegans, to animal rights radicals who believe any use of animals is exploitation. There may be some among the readers of Our Dogs. Some would say the business of showing dogs and breeding them for show is exploitation. Can you agree with that?
Before concluding, I would like to address some of the well-documented cases of cruelty as pertaining to Greyhound racing.
I contend that there are no more evil people in greyhound racing than in any other walk of life. But this article is not a whitewash. Greyhound racing has raised its game, it is true but it needs to do more and it will do more.
The first step is to fully implement the identification regime and to discipline owners who do not.
Then there needs to be a more efficient way of spending the available funding for I have been shown figures demonstrating that it is currently costing the greyhound industry £650 to home every ‘officially’ retired dog through the RGT. Is this a reasonable use of the money? If a greater proportion was spent on monitoring the industry as a whole might the cost per dog be significantly reduced.
More money is needed: it can and must be found. The off-course bookmakers turn over around £2.5bn per year on Greyhound racing. You would have thought that given that figure, greyhound racing should be able to keep its house in order. It isn’t yet, but it is getting there.
All this won’t make headlines in the Sunday broadsheets: The real story of Greyhound racing does not make the sort of headlines they want!
First - Seaham. For those who struggle to remember the detail, last year The Sunday Times ran a feature on two Greyhounds that were killed with a static bolt pistol by a builder in a village called Seaham in the North East.
It was not a nice story, but as I think I may have explained in this publication before, there was a lot more to this tale. Firstly, the reporter, apparently kept watch on the premises for two weeks before two greyhounds were brought along for destruction.
Yet, I am reliably informed, a number of pet cats and dogs were similarly despatched during that time. Unless they were Greyhounds, they weren’t newsworthy apparently. Interestingly, the villagers drew up a petition to defend Mr Smith. I wonder why? There wasn’t a greyhound track for many miles!
When the case came to the greyhound authorities, the owners of the Greyhounds were banned for life. Yet the RSPCA never prosecuted. The only prosecution came from the local council for unlawful use of the land. When the Greyhound authorities pushed for the use of the static bolt pistol to be made unlawful who do you think fought the plan? Why the RSPCA of course, who use one to despatch deer and other large animals every day of the year.
Secondly, the recent story of young Greyhounds being sold for vivisection for £30. Is it disgraceful or are people simply hypocrites?
Personally, I would defend the right of any individual to abhor the use of animals in vivisection. But how many people who read that article are actually against the use of animals in research?
Most people I have asked reply something like – ‘yes it’s horrible - but I suppose it has to be done.’ The work is legal, and is carried out by vets. Maybe the scientists should stick to animals that we don’t get so emotional about. But ‘pigs for vivisection’ wouldn’t sell many newspapers.
In my thirty-some years in Greyhounds, I have never known a Greyhound be hung – unlike the Galgos, hung by Spanish gypsies. I have never known of a greyhound to be electrocuted or drowned.
I bet it has happened though. I don’t doubt that some evil person has carried out some dastardly deed to this gentlest of hounds.
You can be sure of one thing. If something so ghoulish occurs, and it is a greyhound, and not a cross breed, it will make the national papers. I have heard stories of mongrels being thrown from bridges, pups being left in re-cycling bins, and one case recently of a dog being found encased in concrete. You didn’t read about them though, because they weren’t exploited Greyhounds.