Greyhound lovers and charities were outraged earlier this week as the The Sunday Times exposed an unofficial abattoir in Seaham, Co Durham which disposed of dogs for £10 a time.
David Smith, a local builders’ merchant and his father, 81, before him allegedly have provided the service to the racing industry and trainers for many years.
Smith was captured last week by a photographer for The Sunday Times dispatching two dogs in a breeze block shed. It was repeated a day later with greyhounds emerging from a white van and a silver Ford Mondeo before disappearing into the makeshift shed.
Smith’s unofficial abattoir and graveyard - he buries the bodies in a plot at the back of his house - have, allegedly, quietly serviced the greyhound racing industry in the north of Britain for about 15 years. Calculations in the paper suggested that over that period at least 10,000 dogs had been killed.
Campaigners had long suspected that such an operation was being run somewhere in Britain but had never been able to pinpoint its location. The RSPCA says about 12,000 greyhounds a year disappear and many are unaccounted for.
Greyhounds have only a short racing life. Once they reach 3 to 5 years old - out of a natural lifespan of about 12 to 14 years - they are considered too slow to compete. Some go to new homes as pets, in accordance with the official policy of the National Greyhound Racing Club (NGRC), the industry’s governing body. Many others simply vanish.
Greyhound racing is big business, attracting 3.5m people to its tracks each year, with millions more watching races on television. Every year £2.5 billion is bet on the sport and about £70m goes to the government in tax.
The Sunday Times began its investigation after a tip-off from a racing insider who also felt it was time to expose and end the practice. A reporter, posing as a greyhound owner who wanted to dispose of his dogs, rang Smith and asked what he wanted.
Last week the reporter turned up at the Smiths’ business just as two other dog owners, a man in jeans and a baseball cap and a woman in a quilted waistcoat were leaving in a van. Smith told the reporter that he was cheaper than a vet and that a £10 a time he was ‘doing it for nothing’.
Since 1997, anyone can own a bolt gun to kill animals without a licence but can be prosecuted if the animals are put down inhumanely.
Alistair McLean, chief executive of the NGRC, said that the industry helped to fund the retirement of about 3,000 of the 10,000 dogs that stop racing at its 30 registered tracks each year. But although they ask their trainers to confirm what happens to dogs after they retire, making exacting checks is difficult.
‘Our policy is clear, which is that we would wish the greyhound to be suitably rehomed. Greyhounds make great pets. It is absolutely against our rules to use someone like this,’ McLean said.
Clarissa Baldwin, chief executive of the Dogs Trust, said: ‘One of our very big fights with the industry is that they have no idea what is going on in their ‘sport’.’ When confronted, Smith denied any knowledge of killing dogs but later said he was doing it only to ‘do society a favour’ and gave the proceeds to charity. He claimed that most of the dogs were sick or injured. He refused to estimate how many dogs he had put down and said that some weeks he did not kill any. ‘But I am stopping it now,’ he insisted.