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. At least 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.
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. Dogs are believed to pass between both unlicensed and licensed 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 Seaham killings of 2006 shocked the nation when the Sunday Times revealed that a builders’ merchant had killed 10,000 greyhounds over 15 years using a bolt gun, charging £10 per greyhound, and burying them on a one acre plot at the back of his home in Seaham. This was a catalyst for review from the Government’s point of view.
Greyhound Compassion was among a group of welfare organisations pushing for greater transparency and the independent regulation of the greyhound racing industry. That was not to be and The Welfare of Racing Greyhound Regulations 2010 permitted self-regulation of the racing industry and did little to improve greyhound welfare.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) reviewed the 2010 Regulations in 2015 and in 2016. Again Greyhound Compassion provided its input. DEFRA considered the Regulations to be broadly successful when compared with their original objectives. The EFRA Select Committee was less impressed and recommended a 2 year probationary period for the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB: the regulatory body for greyhound racing). DEFRA, however, believed the GBGB was starting to address concerns.
EFRA Select Committee members are still concerned about welfare provision and a two tier racing industry (GBGB licensed tracks as well as independent, “flapping” tracks). The EFRA Select Committee has kept racing under review, having questioned the Minister in February and the EFRA Chair is adamant that the greyhound racing industry “must not make money out of misery”. The EFRA Select Committee is keen to see greyhound racing receive more money for welfare from the bookmakers. However, the injection of much needed cash does not appear to be forthcoming.
In March 2018 the GBGB published injury, retirement and end of life statistics for 2017 for the first time ever since greyhound racing began in the UK in 1926. This step was taken in response to a requirement from DEFRA and its demand for greater transparency from the greyhound racing industry. The end of life and injury data is now published annually.
In 2017 & 2018 combined 2,032 greyhounds died in the hands of the industry (499 on the racetrack). Many greyhounds have been killed for ‘economic reasons’. In 2018 175 were destroyed because of high treatment costs, and 144 were labelled as having ‘no viable option’ away from the racecourse.
The Greyhound Board of Great Britain 2019 injury, death and “retirement” stats show a reduction in the number of deaths in absolute terms (710 in 2019; 932 in 2018) but an increase in deaths on economic grounds (“Treatment Costs”) and on “Humane Grounds at Racecourse” combined as a percentage of all deaths. In 2018 44.7% of deaths took place on “Humane Grounds at Racecourse” or due to “Treatment Costs”. In 2019 this percentage was 46.5%. These deaths were a direct consequence of racing and avoidable.
Considering injury levels the statistics present an undefined “Total Dog Runs”, while the more relevant but undisclosed figure would be the total number of active racing greyhounds or dogs registered for racing. Although there was an approx 4% fall in “Dog Runs” the number of injuries did not reduce at all: 4,970 in 2019; 4,963 2018.
As for homing stats, thanks to the sterling efforts of dog rescue groups and charities, 4,716 greyhounds of the 6,460 redundant greyhounds were homed in 2019 (4,588 of 6,773 in 2018). We all know so many groups who are dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and homing of greyhounds. They have changed the lives of these dogs. The GBGB figures also show how many dogs are retained by their trainer/racing owner. Over the last 3 years an average of 12.8% of the dogs “retiring” from racing have been kept by their trainer/racing owner (2019: 783; 2018: 878; 2017: 1,037). This cumulative retention of greyhounds in addition to a trainer’s active racing dogs is unsustainable. Who follows up on the audit of the fate of these dogs once the statistical year has lapsed?
Another issue is the number of greyhounds put to sleep because they are designated as “Unsuitable for Homing” (83 in 2019 and 190 in 2018). There is no obvious uniform standard or dog behaviour professional advice articulated within this conclusion. These may be needless deaths.
There were 142 greyhounds destroyed under “PTS On Veterinary Advice (Non -Racecourse)”. The absence of a reason or diagnosis in these figures further demonstrates the need for greater transparency in the data. Were they on-track fatal injuries and the dogs were killed away from the track to keep the on-track death stats around the annual 200 mark?
Still much to be done to eliminate deaths and injuries. Some way to go on data transparency. Observers of these statistics would welcome a declaration of the total universe of racers, more granularity of the data and a full accompanying audit statement.
Greyhounds race in groups of six at top speed on an oval circuit. Injuries can be a serious problem. In 2018 Prof. Knight (Professor of Animal Welfare & Ethics, Founding Director of The Centre for Animal Welfare – University of Winchester) completed a report called “Injuries in Racing Greyhounds”. The report outlined the need for track improvements to improve greyhound welfare, including: straight tracks which would significantly reduce injury risks, redesigned traps, padding on rails and more vets in attendance to handle the number of examinations per race meeting.
Prof. Knight’s report indicates that “congestion significantly increases risks of high speed collisions with other greyhounds, the rail or track surface. An inquiry undertaken by New Zealand’s Racing Integrity Unit (RIU 2016) concluded that 68 per cent of injuries, and 75 per cent of fatalities, occurred from accidents at or approaching the first bend, when congestion is often at a maximum.
Greyhound racing in Ireland is seen as a national tradition although nowadays it has become very much a national disgrace. The Irish Greyhound Board is a semi-state body and receives an annual government subsidy to the tune of €16.8m. In June 2019 an RTEInvestigates tv programme revealed the ills of greyhound racing in Ireland and showed that 6,000 greyhounds are culled per annum. The atrocities shown in the programme led to discussions in the Irish Parliament, a petition calling for government subsidies to be discontinued and moved Barry’s Tea, Treacy’s Hotel, FBD Insurance and Connolly’s RED MILLS (a leading manufacturer of animal feed products in Ireland) to withdraw from sponsorship agreements. Others may follow. Greyhound Compassion blogged about the RTEInvestigates tv programme.
In Spain, tens of thousands of galgos (Spanish greyhounds) are bred indiscriminately in the hope that one will become the national champion.
Galgo 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 Britain (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. The Greyhound Board of Great Britain publishes updates about disciplinary action taken in doping cases. 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.
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 2019 statistics 6,460 greyhounds were “retired”. Over the last three years 2,742 greyhounds have died within greyhound racing.
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.
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. The DogsTrust has called for a statutory levy to be placed on greyhound race betting.
Q. Is there anything I can do?
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 a few greyhounds for straight racing. 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 rescued Irish greyhounds found stray in Spain and a handful of obvious greyhound/galgo cross-breeds come into their 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.