Thousands of greyhounds are registered each year in the greyhound racing industries in Ireland and the UK. The majority are bred in Ireland.
In 2013, 7,250 greyhounds were registered to race on licensed tracks in Britain. This included 6,203 greyhounds bred in Ireland and imported for racing in the UK. Some of these greyhounds will also race on unlicensed (‘flapping’) tracks. No figures are available for the exact number of greyhounds racing 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. The most recent retirement figure for greyhounds leaving racing at the end of their career sits at 8,000 per year. This, combined with the likely number of failed ‘saplings’, implies that the number of surplus greyhounds each year is around 10,000.
This statistic was confirmed by Michael Watts, Honorary Secretary for the Society of Greyhound Veterinarians and spokesperson for the Countryside Alliance Ireland, to the Northern Ireland Assembly during consultation on the Welfare of Animals Bill 2010.
In 2012, the racing industry’s adoption agency found 3,910 homes for ex-racing greyhounds. Other greyhound welfare charities and dog rehoming centres find homes for approximately 1,500 greyhounds each year.
The Greyhound Board of Great Britain (the governing body of licensed racing) assumes that 1,500 greyhounds are rehomed directly by racing owners and trainers. This leaves a minimum of 1,000 ex-racing greyhounds unaccounted for each year, according to a report by Grey2KUSAWorldwide and League Against Cruel Sports.
Greyhounds race in groups of six at top speed on an oval circuit. Injuries can be a serious problem. However, the racing industry does not publish injury statistics and is not obliged to.
Industry spokespeople claim that money has been invested in track safety. However, a large number of otherwise healthy and young greyhounds are put to sleep annually having sustained injuries in races and trials on British tracks.
The only published injury figures to date are contained in an academic paper in the Journal of Small Animal Practice (2014) and were based on data from 2002 – 2006. During this period a total of 1,168 injuries were recorded at the two tracks studied – Rye House and Walthamstow, both of which are now closed.
The National Greyhound Racing Club (the regulatory body until 2009) estimated that on average two greyhounds per race meeting require treatment at the track for injuries ranging from skin trauma, to fracture, or injuries requiring euthanasia.
“It is a matter of fact – in racing – dogs do get injured. The fact they race round an oval circuit means that as they all come together at the first bend there are a number of collisions and that can result in injury. A lot of injuries may be minor – there may be bruising but some of them can be more major and involve fractures – particularly hock fractures and the majority of dogs that suffer a significant fracture do get euthanased, which is a shame.”
Graham Oliver BVSc CertSAO MRCVS, an orthopaedic veterinary surgeon
“On average 10% of all runners on every track tonight – are carrying injuries before they start. They’ve got an injured toe – torn muscle – a strained tendon or perhaps an arthritic joint. 10% have an injury starting off.”
Paddy Sweeney – respected greyhound vet
Sources: “The State of Greyhound Racing in Great Britain: A mandate for change”, Grey2KUSAWorldwide & League Against Cruel Sports.
The GreytExploitation film below, shot in February 2015 at Romford Stadium, shows greyhounds ploughing into traps because they hadn’t been removed from the track.
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. Many come into the Scooby shelter having sustained broken limbs if left to roam in the towns.
An estimated 30,000 Spanish greyhounds are killed each year. The galgueros will then breed more dogs for the next season.
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.
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 but we don’t know if the law enforcement agencies are informed when class A & B drugs are 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. What injuries do racing greyhounds suffer from?
A. Poorly maintained tracks and racing frequency cause painful, and often lethal, injuries such as broken backs and shattered limbs. The industries in Great Britain and Ireland are allowed to keep injury records secret.
Q. Surely that can’t be allowed?
A. Unfortunately, industry sanctions against those who treat dogs in this manner are feeble and ineffectual in the UK and Ireland. Self-regulation of the industry and the resultant lack of transparency are not working to protect greyhound welfare.
Q. What happens to the dogs once their racing careers are over?
A. Every year in the UK, at least 10,000 dogs are surplus to requirements. Eight thousand are retired racers, the rest are young dogs that didn’t make the grade. Charities rehome many surplus dogs, but many are unaccounted for each year. Some are abandoned, some killed. The picture is similar in Ireland.
A. Is anything being done about this?
Q. Animal welfare organisations in the UK, including the League Against Cruel Sports, are raising awareness and have taken their concerns to parliament. DEFRA is committed to a review of the Welfare of Racing Greyhounds Regulations in 2015.
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.
• Transparency about breeding, import/export, transport, kennelling, injuries, retirement, rehoming and euthanasia.
• 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.
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. 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.