ANOTHER GREYHOUND welfare scandal has been exposed – this time going to the heart of the UK’s veterinary profession. A veterinary clinic has been killing healthy dogs and secretly selling their body parts to Britain’s most prestigious veterinary college for research, an investigation has found.
Once again, The Sunday Times newspaper has exposed how unwanted ex-racing Greyhounds – perfectly healthy in every respect – are being callously destroyed. The article, written in last Sunday’s newspaper by Daniel Foggo exposed the clandestine financial agreement between the clinic in Essex and the RVC to provide the organs from dogs on a regular basis.
An undercover reporter posing as an owner found that staff at the Greyhound Clinic in Essex agreed to kill greyhounds for £30 each even though he told them the dogs had ‘nothing wrong with them’. The clinic is then paid by the college, which specifically insists the dogs must be healthy before being euthanased, for each animal from which it supplies parts.
Having been put on the spot, the RVC, which is the oldest and largest veterinary college in Britain, admitted that it had a number of similar financial agreements with other clinics to provide specimens.
According to Foggo’s report, the practice has ‘horrified’ the RSPCA and animal welfare campaigners and even one of the heads of the greyhound racing industry itself.
Alistair McLean, chief executive of the National Greyhound Racing Club (NGRC), the industry’s governing body, said he was ‘flabbergasted’ by the trade in body parts. ‘This is completely and utterly unacceptable,’ he said. ‘It is quite scandalous.’
An RSPCA spokesperson said: ‘We are shocked by this evidence which appears to show an opening for greyhounds to be systematically destroyed for profit. We certainly would not like to think that there was a financial incentive to ending a pet’s life.’
Maureen Purvis, of the Greyhound welfare campaign group Greyhounds UK, compared the practice with that of Burke and Hare, the19th century bodysnatchers who killed people to provide corpses for dissection. ‘What this clinic is doing is the canine equivalent of that,” she said. “It is just absolute butchery.’
Although the rules governing vets allow them to use their discretion on putting down healthy animals, in practice most vets are reluctant to do so.
The NGRC states that its trainers should put dogs down only as a last resort. Foggo’s investigation shows, however that some veterinary practices also have a financial incentive to put dogs down without any medical reason.
The Greyhound Clinic is located in North Ockendon, which, according to the article, is in effect a “greyhound village”. The clinic’s immediate neighbours are the kennels of at least six NGRC-registered trainers, two greyhound retirement homes and a practice racetrack.
The Sunday Times’ undercover reporter called the clinic and spoke to practice manager Donna Atkins saying he had two Greyhounds he wanted putting down because he ‘had no room for them’. The reporter asked if the clinic ever took blood from the dogs before killing them and Atkins said the Royal Veterinary College sent people once or twice a week to collect blood from dogs being put down, she said.
When the reporter called back, Atkins said: ‘We are going to take the glands as well. Is that okay?”’
The reporter said it was, but emphasised that his dogs were not old and there was nothing wrong with them. ‘That’s fair enough; that’s not a problem,’ said Atkins, who went to to confirm the appointment time and then said goodbye.
Foggo wrote: ‘When the reporter arrived the next day, two students from the RVC, who introduced themselves as Demi and Rick, were waiting. The reporter, who said his dogs would arrive shortly with his brother, explained there was “nothing wrong with them” but the students appeared uninterested. Asked why they wanted the dogs’s lymph glands, Demi said: “We take tissue from healthy dogs and we look at the cells and put them in an artificial environment and use that to further our research.”
The reporter left but not before paying Atkins £60 in advance to have the fictitious dogs put down. He was not asked to sign any forms and was at no time asked his name, phone number, address or any details as to why the dogs should be destroyed.
He also asked Atkins if the RVC was paying the clinic to take body parts. “No, no, we work in conjunction with them. We all work together from all over the place. It’s part of their learning,” she said.’
The undercover reporter next posed as as an employee of a company wishing to procure canine body organs, and spoke to John O’Connor, the head vet and director of the clinic,. O’Connor, 65, told the reporter that he had an ‘exclusive’ commercial contract with the RVC until November. After that he would review the situation and expected ‘at least £30 per canine part’.
When contacted later by The Sunday Times O’Connor initially denied a financial agreement with the RVC but subsequently admitted invoicing the college at £10 per dog and being paid.
He claimed that he had been paid a few hundred pounds since he began supplying the parts three years ago and that he intended to pay the money to charity.
O’Connor said he put down dogs only if they had medical problems or showed aggression and said he would not have euthanased the fictitious dogs.
Foggo’s article quotes an RVC spokesman who confirmed it had an agreement with the clinic but said owners should be issued with a form ‘to indicate their acknowledgment’ of their pets’ fate. ‘The decision to euthanase an animal must only be taken when both owner and vet agree and the owner has given written consent.’
The revelations caused outrage amongst the animal welfare community. Helen Stevens, of the greyhound welfare group Greyhound Crusaders told OUR DOGS: ‘While we are disgusted, appalled and outraged by this exposure we are not at all surprised. Any animal that is destroyed other than for specific reasons like severe ill health is in our opinion a crime. Yet again we find that greyhounds are being exploited not only for their speed and endurance, but now young healthy greyhounds are being killed for their sacred organs’.
Stevens added: ‘This scandal along with the Seaham horrors that were exposed in 2006 also by the Sunday Times is one that the British public will never forget and as a result will boycott anything to do with Greyhound racing. The racing industry will never recover from this and we strongly now urge you to put all your efforts into ' virtual racing’ which is already proving popular with major high street bookies, where no more animals will be exploited and killed.’
A spokesperson for the Royal Veterinary College told OUR DOGS: ‘The Royal Veterinary College has a number of arrangements with veterinary practices to provide material for research and teaching purposes. The Greyhound Clinic in North Ockendon is currently a veterinary practice with which the college has such an agreement. In line with the requirements of the RVC Ethics and Welfare Committee, the clinic has been supplied with a consent form that owners must sign to indicate their acknowledgment that the animal will be used for this purpose.
‘The college feels strongly that - where possible - animals should be rehomed. However where this is not possible the decision to euthanase an animal must only be taken when both owner and vet are in agreement, and the owner has given written consent.’
A spokesperson for the Greyhound Clinic declined to make any comment at present, but said that a statement would be issued in due course, following consultation with the Clinic’s legal representatives.