UP TO 12,000 greyhounds are killed or abandoned every year at the end of their racing lives, a study has found. Animal welfare groups have said that the report provided the first reliable figures on what happens to the dogs and exploded the myth that most were kept as pets in retirement.
Abandonment and slaughter were so common that greyhounds fate was "a major animal welfare problem", the report commissioned by the National Assembly for Wales said. The report also prompted calls for legislation to regulate the independent greyhound racing sector and for the industry itself to meet strict guidelines.
Research revealed that between 8,000 and 12,000 greyhounds were slaughtered or abandoned annually, of which only an estimated 2,800 were rescued or impounded by local authorities. The cost to the taxpayer was estimated at £600,000 annually, with lurchers (greyhound crossbreeds used as working dogs) costing a further £1.35 million. Up to 30,000 greyhounds cease racing each year and animal rights activists have long believed that many are killed or abandoned.
The report concludes: "Large numbers of greyhounds and lurchers are abandoned once they are no longer useful. The study shows that the argument that most are kept as pets by their owners cannot be sustained."
David McDowell, of the RSPCA, said: "There is no justification for abandoning or killing these animals simply because they cant do their job any more. An animal should be the owners responsibility for life, not just until theyve reached the end of their usefulness. It is imperative that the industry finally admits there is a problem and works with welfare organisations to look at ways at tackling this as a matter of urgency."
Greyhound racing is split between the regulated registered sector, which has 31 tracks in the UK, and the unregulated independent sector, with 21 tracks. The independent sector was singled out for criticism by the report. Industry representatives, however, dismissed the estimates of killed and abandoned animals as "hugely overblown". Jeff McKenna, on behalf of independent track owners, said of the figures: "The only reason for euthanasia is if theres a fatal injury to a dog. The majority of independent owners regard their dogs as part of the family. Thats the whole ethos behind independent racing. They are part of the family, not just racing machines."
Emma Johns, of the British Greyhound Racing Board, an umbrella group for registered tracks, said that the organisation was in contact with animal welfare groups to help to protect dogs, notably the Greyhound Trust, which rehomes retired animals. "Nobody would say there cant be improvements, but we have already made many."
A few days after a story about the report appeared in The Times, an angry letter from Clarke Osborne the Executive Director of the British Greyhound Racing Board was published.
Mr Osborne derided the report, claiming that the authors had overestimated the number if Greyhounds killed each year, saying: "The authors of the report on greyhound welfare published for the National Assembly for Wales (report, October 22) appear to have collated figures for the number of greyhounds impounded by local authorities in Wales, and then decided that three to four times the number of dogs abandoned are likely to be killed or discarded in other ways.
"Having collected their statistics in an area where 5 per cent of the countrys population lives, but 20 per cent of independent greyhound racing stadia are based, they projected this on to the rest of Britain on the basis of the number of greyhounds abandoned per head of population. They also failed to acknowledge the long-term existence of the Greyhound Forum, which has worked successfully with leading animal welfare organisations to tackle welfare issues."
However, the findings of the report were welcomed by Alain Thomas, of Greyhound Rescue Wales, who said that the most common methods of killing unwanted dogs were to shoot them or beat them to death. Lorraine Barrett, chairwoman of the Assemblys All Party Group for Animal Welfare, which carried out the study, said: "This report is confirmation of the terrible truth weve suspected for a number of years."