Thousands of greyhounds are registered each year in the greyhound racing industries in Ireland and the UK. The majority are bred in Ireland.
There are around 14,000 “active” greyhounds on UK licensed racetracks each year. This is an estimate derived from the greyhound racing press and has not been formally disclosed by the industry. Eighty per cent of these dogs originate from Ireland. These greyhounds are racing on tracks in the UK and Ireland from morning until night to stream live greyhound racing into the high street betting shops in the UK and to bookies around the world. Only a small percentage of races have spectators present, it’s largely a media, gambling product which necessitates a supply of thousands of greyhounds so that a punter can watch racing any time of the day, anywhere in the world.
In March 2018 the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (the governing body of licensed racing) published injury, retirement and euthanasia statistics for 2017 for the first time ever since greyhound racing began in the UK in 1926. This step was taken in compliance with a requirement from the Government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in response to its demand for greater transparency from the greyhound racing industry.
The figures for 2017 showed that 1,013 greyhounds were put to sleep or suffered sudden/natural death, in the words of the GBGB. We were astounded that 67% (and that’s being generous because some of the other labels for euthanasia seem to fit with convention but lack proper definition) of these deaths were inadequately explained or attributed to the high cost of treatment, or no home being found. Sadly 25.4% (257) of the deaths took place “trackside”. This equates to 5 greyhounds per week being killed at a race. This is heartbreaking, knowing that these poor, gentle greyhounds suffered so publicly in the name of gambling and entertainment. That is exploitation and we believe The League Against Cruel Sports was right to repeat its 2016 call for greyhound racing to be “consigned to the ranks of cruel sports which are no longer acceptable”. You can read more about the data in our blog.
Greyhounds also race on unlicensed (‘flapping’) tracks. There are no figures are available for the exact number of greyhounds racing, sustaining injuries or dying on flapping tracks.
Not all greyhound puppies make the grade. In 2007 the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare reported that approximately 2,478 greyhound puppies per year failed to make it to the track because they were too slow or ‘non-chasers’. This number may have declined since, but current statistics for those who disappear during rearing are unavailable.
In 2017, according to the Greyhound Board of Great Britain’s statistics: the racing industry’s adoption agency and other charities found homes for 4,536 ex-racing greyhounds; 726 greyhounds were retained by the owner/trainer; and 1,129 were “rehomed” by the owner, trainer or put into breeding. It is impossible to ascertain whether or not this is full extent of the retirement data because the industry does not provide the total number of greyhounds entering the industry in 2017.
Greyhounds race in groups of six at top speed on an oval circuit. Injuries can be a serious problem. The Greyhound Board of Great Britain published 2017’s injury statistics in March 2018 for the first time since racing started in the UK in 1926 in response to a DEFRA requirement for greater transparency. These figures are difficult to analyse because the Greyhound Board of Great Britain did not include the total number of racing dogs. Instead they cited “total dog runs” as being 419,385. Of this figure injuries totalled 4,837 (1.15%) including injuries to the hock, wrist, foot, hind long bone, fore long bone, hind and fore limb muscles. The League Against Cruel Sports provides a good evaluation having derived from this that either one in every three racing dogs is injured, or dogs are suffering multiple injuries. It’s impossible to know from The Greyhound Board of Great Britain stats whether or not they include off-track injuries sustained during training, schooling and trialling. You can read more about the 2017 statistics in our blog.Give greyhounds a better life
In Spain, tens of thousands of galgos (Spanish greyhounds) are bred indiscriminately in the hope that one will become the national champion.
Galgos owners (‘galgueros’) keep their hounds in poor conditions. They have a very poor diet. We have seen rescued galgos vomit rats. We know some are given whisky to pep them up before a coursing meeting. It is not uncommon to find a rescued galgo with his owner’s identification branded with battery acid on the galgo’s hindquarters.
At the end of each annual coursing season in the winter, numerous galgos are abandoned because they are of no further use. Spanish shelters estimate that galgos are killed in the tens of thousands each year. The galgueros will then breed more dogs for the next season.
Many years ago galgueros used to kill their greyhounds by hanging them in the local pine groves. This is now a rare occurrence but corpses or aborted hangings are still discovered from time to time.
The stream of unwanted galgos abandoned at the end of the coursing season each year is relentless. If the galgueros don’t surrender their galgos to shelters or the municipal dog pound, villagers from the surrounding areas report sightings of loose galgos and volunteer rescuers may try to collect them. This is easier said than done because the poor galgos are sometimes so nervous and fleet of foot, it’s impossible to get close to them at the first sighting. Sometimes they are the victims of road traffic accidents and sustain terrible injuries. Rescuers battle against time and volume of stray galgos to save them from being thrown down disused wells in the countryside, storm drains or salt mines. Galgo graves are discovered from time to time – pits in which galgueros dispose of their galgos.
Then there is the problem of abandoned female galgos becoming pregnant and street puppies adding to the stray population of galgos and galgo mixes.
The Scooby shelter in Medina del Campo, Spain, aims to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome these abandoned and injured galgos. There are often up to 350 galgos at Scooby – all need food, shelter and medical treatment. The proceeds of Greyhound Compassion’s fund-raising contribute to galgo rescue at the Scooby shelter.
Q. How are greyhounds kept when they are not racing?
A. They are kept in small, barren kennels with little social contact for 95% of the time. Those that are housed in pairs are kept constantly muzzled which is highly distressing for them.
Q. Does doping take place in greyhound racing?
A. A Greyhound Board of Great Britan (the racing governing body) report by the Independent Anti-doping and Medication Control Review in 2010 acknowledged anecdotal evidence that cocaine has been witnessed being administered to greyhounds to create a rush just before entering the traps.
Q. What happens when doping is discovered?
A. We are aware that reprimands have been issued to trainers found guilty of doping and referrals have been made to the police when class A & B drugs were found to be in use in greyhound racing.
Q Are children allowed into greyhound racing tracks?
A. Yes. This is a cause for concern knowing that gambling and alcohol consumption takes place in the greyhound stadia. It is even more worrying knowing that track officials also have to be alert to potential doping as the greyhounds enter the traps.
Q But I thought greyhound racing was less popular nowadays?
A. Yes. That is true, track attendances have declined. The problem is different and much grander. Live racing is streamed into betting shops on the UK high street and to bookmakers around the world. This means greyhounds are racing around UK tracks without any spectators in the stand from morning until night to provide a media betting product to the tv screens in the bookies. This necessitates a supply of thousands of greyhounds – literally a commodity.
Q. What injuries do racing greyhounds suffer from?
A. Racing can cause painful, and often lethal, injuries such as broken backs and shattered limbs. In 2018 the Greyhound Board of Great Britain published injury statistics for the first time ever since greyhound racing started in the UK in 1926. Out of 419,385 “total dog runs” in 2017 there were 4,837 injuries and 257 racetrack fatalities. Injuries were categorised under these headings: hock (843); wrist (707); foot (833); hind long bone (48); fore long bone (100); fore limb muscle (540); hind limb muscle (1,110); other (656).
Q. Surely that can’t be allowed?
A. The greyhound racing industry is self-regulated and whilst this is the case, fatalities and injuries will continue.
Q. What happens to the dogs once their racing careers are over?
A. According to the racing industry’s 2017 statistics 6,391 greyhounds were “retired”. Of these, 726 were retained by the owner/trainer; 4,536 were homed by The Greyhound Trust (industry homing agency) or other charities; and 1,129 were homed by the owner/trainer or put to breeding. Sadly, some 257 ended life at the track as a result of a fatal injury. Another 625 greyhounds were put to sleep because veterinary treatment costs were deemed to be too high (interesting in a multi-million pound industry) or no home could be found or they were designated unsuitable for homing (the suitability assessment is not disclosed by the racing industry). Some 131 greyhounds died, according to The Greyhound Board of Great Britain figures, of “medical & other”; “terminal illness”; “natural causes”; or “sudden death”. In total the Greyhound Board of Great Britain’s statistic for “put to sleep”, sudden or natural death totals 1,013 in 2017.
Q. Is anything being done about this?
A. Animal welfare organisations in the UK, including the League Against Cruel Sports, are raising awareness and have taken their concerns to parliament. DEFRA is largely satisfied that The Welfare of Racing Greyhound Regulations (2010) are working, subject to greater transparency of injury and euthanasia stats. The EFRA Select Committee members are still concerned, however, and have called for a statutory levy to be placed on bookmakers and further effort to reduce the number of greyhounds being put to sleep on economic grounds. DEFRA has said it will consider other approaches, including regulation, if the Greyhound Board of Great Britain fails to put its house in order.
Q. What do other animal welfare charities say about this?
A. In 2016 the League Against Cruel Sports announced its belief that the greyhound racing industry should be actively phased out leading to a complete ban on greyhound racing across the UK. This view materialised after the industry’s repeated attempts to reform itself failed. The League repeated its position in 2018.
In January 2018 The DogsTrust stated that the 2010 Regulations and the Greyhound Board of Great Britain are failing to deliver the improvements needed if all greyhounds are to be protected. The DogsTrust is disappointed by the Government’s weak stance on legislating for much needed improvements to greyhound welfare. The DogsTrust believes that unless the industry takes urgent action to reform, a ban may be the only option.
Q. Is there anything I can do?
A. Yes, please lobby your MP to urge him/her to call for the following:
• An independent body to oversee regulation of the greyhound racing industry (licensed and independent tracks combined).
• Greater transparency about breeding, import/export, transport, kennelling, injuries, retirement, rehoming and euthanasia. Demand better granularity to the data.
• There should be full public disclosure of all regulatory and enforcement activity within the industry.
• The use of testosterone to suppress oestrus, and anabolic steroids, should be prohibited.
• There should be a system that allows tracking of every dog from birth.
• There should be a statutory requirement for tracks, trainers and owners to rehome all greyhounds bred for racing.
• There should be a licensing regime for British breeders together with joint initiatives between DEFRA and the devolved nations of the UK and Irish government over breeding and the trade in greyhounds.
Q. Who is my MP?
A. Find out who your Member of Parliament is here.
Q. Does dog racing take place in Spain with the galgos?
A. The galgos are used overwhelmingly for hare coursing in the countryside in Spain. Commercial greyhound racing came to an end in Spain in 2006 when the greyhound track in Barcelona closed. Until this point Irish greyhounds had been exported for racing in Spain. Some straight racing of galgos occurs in village fiestas in Spain.
Q. Are any Irish greyhounds being exported to Spain nowadays?
A. Spanish buyers have been buying a small number of Irish greyhounds from the auctions in Ireland in the last couple of years. They buy about 20 greyhounds twice a year for straight racing. There are two official straight races in Spain. The buyers purchase good Irish stock which may have sustained a career ending injury. These greyhounds are then taken to Spain, rested for six months. If they recover, they are used for straight racing, if not they are used for breeding. The Scooby shelter has had a handful of obvious greyhound/galgo cross-breeds come into rescue.
Q. Is there any chance that things might change for the galgos in Spain?
A. It’s hard to say. Certainly, public awareness of the issues surrounding coursing is growing and there are annual anti-hunting with galgo demonstrations across Spain and in some other European countries. In Spain, there are signs that the tide is turning. However, until there is better law enforcement or an outright ban on cruel sports, charities and shelters will continue to do what they can, with the generous support of others.