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Greyhound Racing

Last updated 31 December 2017

The greyhound is a breed of dog (Canis familiaris) that can be traced back at least 5,000 years, and remarkably reaches speeds of up to 17 meters per second for short periods of time[1],[2]. In Australia, greyhounds are produced for entertainment within a powerful racing and wagering industry. The speed of greyhound racing is likely the reason for its’ popularity among punters: once betting is closed on a race, the result (and return on investment) is typically known within 1-2 minutes.

Format of Greyhound Races

A maximum of eight dogs compete per race, each wearing a colorful numbered vest that corresponds to a starting box (i.e. number 1 to 8). The dogs are trained to chase a mechanical lure attached to the inside rail on a track, which often emits a high-pitched squeaking noise.

There are 65 TAB and non-TAB greyhound racetracks in operation across Australia (NSW = 32; VIC = 13; QLD = 7; SA = 5; TAS = 3; WA = 3; ACT = 1; NT = 1)[3]. Tracks are either round (oval, circular or u-shaped) or straight, and have a surface made of grass, sand or loam. Races are run over a range of distances from approximately 250 to 750 metres.

Industry Structure and Governance

Greyhounds Australasia is the peak body for greyhound racing, and encourages a national approach to the ‘sport’ by uniting the controlling bodies in Australia and New Zealand. The organisation comprises representatives from each controlling body and also publishes basic nationwide statistics[4].

The eight State and Territory controlling bodies for greyhound racing in Australia have traditionally been responsible for both commercial and regulatory functions. Each has a set of racing rules that include policies for registration of dogs, clubs and individuals, race meeting requirements and swabbing. Those bodies are: Greyhound Racing NSW, Greyhound Racing Victoria, Racing and Wagering Western Australia, Racing Queensland, Tasracing, Greyhound Racing South Australia Ltd, the Northern Territory Government, Racing Gaming & Licensing, and the Canberra Greyhound Racing Club.

The stewards employed by controlling bodies are responsible for the conduct of race meetings. Stewards also have a broader responsibility for investigating incidents and potential non-compliance with the rules, conducting inquiries and imposing penalties where applicable[5]. A ‘Stewards Report’ is published following each meeting, which includes commentary for the races and performance trials held, as well as details of any dogs vetted or swabbed.

Animal Welfare

Some of the main animal welfare issues in the Australian greyhound industry include wastage, race-related injuries, live baiting and use of prohibited substances.

Wastage

Greyhounds have a natural lifespan of 12-14 years. Racing greyhounds begin their ‘careers’ at around 18 months of age, and finish by the time they are 4.5 years old. A racing greyhound in NSW has a career that lasts, on average, for only 363 days[6].

A leaked internal Greyhounds Australasia document reveals that between 13,000 and 17,000 young greyhounds are killed annually in Australia[7]. Evidence further suggests that, of the 97,783 greyhounds bred in NSW over the last 12 years, somewhere between 48,891 and 68,448 (50-70% or more) were killed because they were considered too slow to pay their way or were unsuitable for racing[8].

There is a growing body of evidence showing greyhounds are frequently killed in inhumane ways. Instead of paying a veterinarian to administer pentobarbital (euthanasia solution), industry participants have opted for cheaper methods such as a gunshot or bludgeoning[9],[10]. The dogs’ bodies may then be dumped in pits on private properties or scattered in bushland[11],[12].

Race-related Injuries

The rapid acceleration and extreme speed at which these large dogs chase the lure around a track inevitably results in collisions, falls and injuries. The most frequent injuries are tears to the back muscle of the hind legs, the hip support muscles and the shoulder muscles, ligament ruptures and tarsal (hock) fractures[13]. Racing greyhounds also suffer a number of other fractures and dislocations, as well as skin lacerations, split webbing between the toes, bruising and cramping[14].

Extrapolations from analyses of injury incidence for racing greyhounds suggest that between 6 and 10 greyhounds die on Australian tracks each week (includes euthanasias and on-track deaths)[15]. It has also been estimated that over 21% of greyhounds competing at any meeting in NSW are likely to sustain an injury. About 4.7% of those dogs will suffer a serious or catastrophic injury, causing severe pain and potentially death[16].

Live Baiting

Greyhound racing emerged as a technological consequence of the rural, monied blood sport ‘hare coursing’, whereby two dogs pursued a hare in open countryside[17].

The Australian greyhound industry has been using a mechanical lure at race meetings since 1927; however, the barbaric practice of live bait training was still widespread across the country nine decades later. In February 2015, the ABC’s Four Corners program aired graphic footage of live animals (rabbits, possums and piglets) being tied to mechanical lures before the dogs chased, mauled and killed them at the command of their trainers[18]. Many high-profile industry participants from Victoria, NSW and Queensland were identified in the footage and subsequently stood down from racing, and independent inquiries were launched in each state[19],[20]. However, as the key evidence had been illegally obtained with hidden cameras (and is almost impossible to obtain legally), only a small number of those people were successfully prosecuted for animal cruelty offences.  

Use of Prohibited Substances

Different types of drugs are administered to greyhounds against the rules of racing for the purpose of enhancing performance, inhibiting performance, or for therapeutic reasons.

Some of the prohibited substances that have been detected in swabs from Australian racing greyhounds include caffeine, steroids, cobalt, erythropoietin (EPO), beta-blockers, barbiturates, ibuprofen, procaine, prednisone, dexamethasone, meloxicam, morphine, strychnine, oxazepam, ketamine, ethanol (alcohol), benzoylecgonine (cocaine), amphetamines (speed) and methylamphetamine (ice).

Numerous doping and corruption scandals have plagued the Australian greyhound industry[21],[22],[23], in addition to positive swabs found for dogs that have won the country’s top races[24],[25] and claims of widespread drug use even when the industry is under intense public scrutiny[26].

 

References

[1] J. Usherwood & A. Wilson (2005). No force limit on greyhound sprint speed. Nature Communications, 438: 753-754.

[2] S. Williams, A. Wilson, L. Rhodes, J. Andrews & R. Payne (2008). Functional anatomy and muscle moment arms of the pelvic limb of an elite sprinting athlete: the racing greyhound (Canis familiaris). Journal of Anatomy, 213: 361-372.

[3] K. Ernst, “Greyhound Racing Tracks in Australia”, The Australian Racing Greyhound, 11/09/2015,  <https://australianracinggreyhound.com/tracks/> (accessed: Dec 2017).

[4] “About Greyhounds Australasia”: <http://www.galtd.org.au/general/about-greyhounds-australasia> (accessed: Dec 2017). 

[5] McHugh Report (2016), Vol. 3, pp. 69, cl. 24.1.

[6] McHugh Report (2016), Vol. 1, pp. 2, cl. 1.13.

[7] Greyhounds Australia: Crisis to Recovery Program, Subject: Framework for Achieving Zero Euthanasia (Special Commission of Inquiry into Greyhound Racing in NSW, Exhibit J).

[8] McHugh Report (2016), Vol. 1, pp. 1, cl. 1.4.

[9] N. O’Brien & C. Roots, “Greyhound welfare: It’s $50 for the bullet and the dog is dead”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 22.02.2015, <http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/greyhound-welfare-its-50-for-the-bullet-and-the-dog-is-dead-20150220-13kyps.html>.

[10] C. Knaus, “Greyhound racing banned in Canberra after reports of ‘egregious’ cruelty”, The Guardian, 29/11/2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/nov/29/greyhound-racing-banned-in-canberra-after-reports-of-egregious-cruelty>.

[11] “100 greyhounds killed and dumped in mass grave in Hunter Valley”, The Daily Telegraph, 20/07/2016, <https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/100-greyhounds-killed-and-dumped-in-mass-grave-in-hunter-valley/news-story/b1c895a441f8f335b1f8595e642121ff>. 

[12] N. Bochenski, “More that 50 greyhound carcasses found in Bundaberg bushland”, Brisbane Times, 02/04/2015, <https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/queensland/more-than-50-greyhound-carcasses-found-in-bundaberg-bushland-20150401-1md2ub.html>.

[13] McHugh Report (2016), Vol. 1, pp. 10, cl. 1.64.

[14] J. Iddon, R. Lockyer & S. Frean (2014). The Effect of Season and Track Condition on Injury Rate in Racing Greyhounds. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 55: 399-404.

[15] Dr. Jade Norris’ Notes from the Australian Greyhound Veterinarians Conference, Melbourne, 09/10/2015 (Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW, Exhibit GG).

[16] McHugh Report (2016), Vol. 1, pp. 11, cl. 1.72.

[17] M. Atkinson & K. Young (2005). Reservoir Dogs: Greyhound Racing, Mimesis and Sports-Related Violence. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 40(3): 335-356.

[18] View Four Corners program “Making A Killing”: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/making-a-killing/6127124

[19] D. McGrath, “Live-baiting scandal: the darkest week in an industry’s history”, Australian Racing Greyhound, 23/02/2015, <https://australianracinggreyhound.com/australian-greyhound-racing/live-baiting-scandal-the-darkest-week-in-an-industrys-history/61738/> (accessed: Dec 2017).

[20] “How the live-baiting scandal led to the downfall of greyhound racing in NSW”, ABC News Online, 07/07/2016, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-07/the-downfall-of-nsw-greyhound-racing-after-live-baiting-scandal/7577250>.

[21] NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (2000), The Greyhound Report: <http://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/dmdocuments/pub2_69i.htm>.

[22] S. Rubinsztein-Dunlop, “Greyhound racing industry hit with doping, cruelty, collusion allegations”, ABC News Online, 16/10/2013, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-15/greyhound-racing-industry-hit-by-doping,-cruelty-allegations/5024714>.

[23] K. Burgess, “Shane Rattenbury hits back at Canberra Greyhound Racing Club”, Canberra Times, 01/08/2017, <http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/shane-rattenbury-hits-back-at-canberra-greyhound-racing-club-20170801-gxmybw.html>.

[24] K. Ernst, “Finn found guilty over Sweet It Is’ cocaine positive”, Australian Racing Greyhound, 23/06/2016, <https://australianracinggreyhound.com/australian-greyhound-racing/victorian-greyhound-racing/finn-found-guilty-over-sweet-it-is-cocaine-positive/78506/>.

[25] K. Ernst, “Disqualified Linda Britton takes out WA’s leading trainer award”, Australian Racing Greyhound, 03/02/2015, <https://australianracinggreyhound.com/australian-greyhound-racing/west-australian-greyhound-racing/disqualified-linda-britton-takes-out-was-leading-trainer-award/60855/>.

[26] C. Knaus, “Greyhound doping: 51 NSW trainers offended after inquiry began”, The Guardian, 27/01/2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/jan/27/greyhound-doping-51-nsw-trainers-charged-from-may-2015-to-september-2016>.

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