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What are the animal welfare issues associated with greyhound racing in Australia?
RSPCA Australia considers that there are significant and entrenched animal welfare problems inherent in the greyhound racing industry. These include problems with over-supply, injuries, physical overexertion, inadequate housing, lack of socialisation and environmental enrichment, training, illegal live baiting, administration of banned or unregistered substances, export and the fate of unwanted greyhounds (high wastage and high euthanasia rates).
Significant overbreeding and oversupply of greyhounds
Thousands of greyhounds are born in Australia each year that are surplus to Industry requirements. Industry statistics show that up to around 40% of greyhounds born (7,200 greyhounds every year) will never receive a registered racing ‘name’ and hence never race. In addition, some ‘named’ greyhounds will never go on to race. This is a very high initial failure rate (also known as initial ‘wastage’). Further ongoing ‘wastage’ continues over time as active racing greyhounds retire from racing or are discarded due to injury or sub-optimal performance, among other reasons. Wastage refers to animals bred for a specific purpose that are discarded by the industry or owner of the animal and often subsequently killed.
This oversupply problem is exacerbated by financial incentives for breeding, appearance fees and the lure of prize money.
The racing career for a greyhound is relatively very short. Dogs who begin a racing career usually start racing at about one-and-a-half years of age and are generally retired by two to five years of age, or earlier if they develop injuries or do not perform well.
Many of these unwanted greyhounds will be euthanased despite being otherwise healthy and rehomable. Statistics on the fate of unwanted greyhounds are not published by industry, but based on the available information it is clear that the euthanasia rate is unacceptably high. According to recent information, between 13,000 and 17,000 healthy greyhounds are euthanased by the greyhound racing industry each year in Australia.
While greyhound adoption programs are a step forward, they cannot cope with the high numbers of greyhounds (thousands each year) moving through the system. Only a very small proportion of ex-racing greyhounds (around 1000) are adopted annually in Australia through industry greyhound adoption programs. A small number of greyhounds may also be adopted through non-Industry groups however the numbers adopted are very low.
The routine use of surgical artificial insemination (AI) methods on female breeding greyhounds is an additional animal welfare problem associated with breeding. Surgical AI is highly invasive involving surgery and general anaesthesia and causes significant pain to the female dog. In some EU countries, surgical AI is banned as it is considered ethically unacceptable.
High rate of injuries suffered by racing greyhounds
Injuries are very common in greyhound racing and are a major cause of wastage. Injuries are a major animal welfare issue as they cause pain, suffering and distress to the affected animals. Various types of injuries are regularly reported including serious bone fractures and muscle injuries. Other injuries sustained relate to physical over-exertion such as hypoxic fits (seizures due to a lack of oxygen), heat stress-related injury and collapsing post-race. The first turn of the racetrack is a common site for accidents or collisions to occur. Serious injuries can lead to death on the track or euthanasia.
Injury statistics are not published for all tracks nationally but based on industry figures we estimate that more than 750 greyhounds are injured every month on greyhound tracks during races across Australia. Additional injuries will occur during pre-training, training, trialling and non-TAB races, however these statistics are generally not published. It is important to note that injuries may be detected post-race day and these injuries may not be formally recorded.
Inadequate socialisation and inadequate environmental enrichment
Many greyhound puppies and adult greyhounds are never adequately socialised, either with other dogs or with humans. Dogs that are socially deprived are more likely to develop fearfulness and antisocial behaviour which impacts negatively on their welfare. Lack of adequate socialisation may also make it more difficult to rehome retired or unwanted greyhounds.
Inadequate housing conditions and a lack of environmental enrichment is another key animal welfare issue for many greyhounds with many greyhounds being kept in small, barren, single-dog kennels for prolonged periods of time.
The routine and regular use of inhumane anti-barking muzzles on greyhounds is also a major concern.
Administration of banned substances
Various pharmaceutical substances have been administered to racing greyhounds in the quest for enhanced performance and increased potential to win races. Racing authorities maintain a list of banned substances and run drug testing programs, however drug use still occurs. Administration of banned substances is a serious animal welfare issue as many of these drugs can have serious physical and psychological effects on greyhounds. Dogs have tested positive to a range of substances including amphetamines, methamphetamines, caffeine, anabolic steroids, Viagra and cocaine, among others. Recently the presence of Erythropoietin (EPO) have been detected in samples.
Live baiting refers to the practice of using live animals for the purpose of training greyhounds. This practice is illegal in all states and territories in Australia. The animals involved experience significant pain, fear, injury and distress and will eventually die. The same animals may be used repeatedly, suffering a very long and painful death.
For many years, the RSPCA has held serious concerns about the extensive animal welfare problems associated with greyhound racing, including live baiting. These concerns were confirmed in the recent Four corners ABC program on live baiting in three states. Multiple greyhound trainers including those with a high profile in the industry are directly implicated in live baiting practices, indicating that animal cruelty is widespread and entrenched in the industry.
Lack of industry transparency and accountability
Currently there is a major lack of published data on the life cycle and outcome for racing greyhounds. This lack of transparency has major ramifications in terms of tracking animal welfare outcomes in the industry. Missing figures include: the exact number of greyhounds born each year; the number of greyhounds ‘named’ as a proportion of the greyhounds born and rates of euthanasia.
Inadequate regulation or enforceable standards
The Greyhound Racing industry is overseen by each state and territory’s Greyhound Racing Authority who is responsible for both the regulation of the industry and its commercial development, promotion and marketing. This self-regulatory model fails to ensure that the welfare of greyhounds is prioritised and can lead to serious conflicts of interest, such as the use of financial incentives to promote greyhound breeding which in turn increase wastage rates.
Export of greyhounds
Australian greyhounds have been sold and exported overseas for racing purposes to a range of countries including China and Vietnam. In 2015, a total of 624 Australian greyhounds were exported to a number of destinations. Exporting places greyhounds at significant risk of poor animal welfare outcomes including stress and injuries associated with long-distance transport, lack of animal welfare legal protection in importing countries, and the potential to enter the dog meat trade. In 2014, Greyhounds Australasia introduced voluntary suspensions of greyhound passports to certain destinations due to animal welfare concerns.
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