Gavel / The risks of greyhounds going to the dogs

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greyhound_racing-1IF ever a sport in Canberra was at a crossroads, it’s greyhound racing.

The ACT government has stopped short of banning it, but has reiterated that its annual $1 million to the Canberra Greyhound Racing Club will be withdrawn.

Tim Gavel
Tim Gavel.

Without the funding, it’s fair to say the club would struggle to exist and there is a perception that the government doesn’t need to ban the sport in Canberra because it would die a natural death through lack of funds.

It’s worth having a look at the history of the sport and why the decision was made in the first place.

The NSW government moved to ban the industry in the wake of the “Four Corners” report. As a result, the ACT government then released a statement saying there was no future for the sport in Canberra, stating it would stop paying the annual $1 million to the club.

The Canberra Greyhound Racing Club estimates that up to $100 million is bet on the club’s two meetings each week. On Sunday, about $50 million is bet, while on the Wednesday meet it’s $40 million. Given that gambling also takes place offshore it is hard to provide an exact figure.

However, it’s worth noting that the gambling aspect hasn’t been raised as a major issue in the debate.

The government has been providing the club with $1 million a year as part of the share of funding to the racing industry in Canberra. As I understand it, there is an $8 million pool with 75 per cent going to thoroughbred racing and 12.5 per cent going each to greyhounds and harness racing.

The argument for withdrawing the funding to greyhound racing focuses on welfare issues with 80 per cent of the dogs racing in Canberra coming from NSW.

In researching this column, I have found no instances of abuse of greyhounds by any trainers in Canberra.

In chasing up what the money is used for, the club says it is used for maintenance of the track, animal welfare, swabbing and integrity.

If the club is able to continue without the government funding, does the track become unsafe, does integrity suffer and what happens to dog welfare? 

There is the possibility that the club will continue if NSW rationalises its tracks and meetings. Will that result in even more NSW dogs racing in Canberra with even more meetings?

Opponents of sport have spoken out about issues ranging from dog welfare to the reasoning behind the government providing funding to a sport that has gambling as its basis. There has also been the problem of over-breeding with the culling of dogs deemed to be slow.

If the government funding is cut, the question I have is: If the industry continues in Canberra what government controls will be enforceable, will the welfare of the dogs be compromised? That, surely, is at the heart of this issue.

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Tim Gavel
Journalist and ABC sports broadcaster

8 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Tim. Animal welfare takes many guises. The current (but very dated – 1985 I believe) codes for greyhound racing in the ACT only refer to animal welfare in the context of kenneling and transport, and humane euthanasia when a greyhoun gets injured. Nowhere do they mention the fact that any time a greyhound races, it runs (literally) the risk of injury or death. To me, and many others involved in the rescue of greyhounds, this is a very valid animal welfare issue. We pick up the pieces of greyhounds that are deemed “not fit for purpose”. The fact that they are referred to by a NSW breeder as “product” should send chills down the spine of anybody who believes that greyhounds should be pets, not bets. Whenever money talks, welfare walks.

  2. Why were you looking for abuse of greyhounds? It’s the overbreeding and disposal thats the main issue, and then the horrific injuries they suffer during racing. And Live baiting. And Doping. And poor kennelling and being forced to travel with post -race injuries.

    Best just to shut it down and be rid of it.

  3. We too have a concern about the welfare of dogs if the greyhound racing industry continues in the ACT, but for different reasons – certainly NOT because of any direct correlation between current government funding and the industry’s spend on animal welfare.

    The greyhound industry is self-regulated. Racing stewards for Canberra based races are from Greyhounds Racing NSW, and they can overrule a vet on the race track. Revelations from the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry into Greyhound Racing produced copies of emails where the Chief Steward told his subordinates to doctor reports to downplay injuries. This same individual has overseen races in Canberra in recent times.

    The local industry itself decides how often it swabs for prohibited substances and conducts its own investigations for any issues with racing integrity. Furthermore, starting in February this year, public access to the race steward reports was turned off making it even harder to monitor any animal welfare concerns independently.

    As far as the cost of animal welfare, if one actually reads their financial statements for 2014/15 (last year’s is still unavailable), “animal welfare” costs appear to be less than 10% of their total operating and administrations expenses.

    Finally, the reason why the gambling aspect has not been raised as a major issue is because the financial benefit to the ACT is minimal, particularly since there appeared to only be 12 trainers who were residents of the Territory in 2015. If the $90 million a week figure suggested in the article is accurate, then the local industry wouldn’t need any government funding to survive. That’s because at $90 million a week for 40 weeks, they would be responsible for generating about $1.4 billion MORE revenue than Tabcorp reports in their own financial statements.

    Purely looking at publicly available information, evidence would suggest that animal welfare is not a financial priority now and therefore is unlikely to change when the ACT Government cuts funding as promised at the end of this financial year.

  4. You’re being very selective with your facts and quite frankly, I’m saddened by the level of investigation you did for your report…although, as Tammy mentions, it would have been hard to investigate further given the amount of transparency at the track.

    You say 80% of dogs raced here are from NSW but point to the issues with NSW racing, claiming that they aren’t experienced here in the ACT…

    Your article also implies that without the Government regulations around the use of funding that welfare would somehow be compromised…which doesn’t speak highly for the industry’s ability to self regulate.

    You know the best way to ensure the welfare of the dogs isn’t compromised? Ban the whole damn thing…

  5. Dear Tim, You stated, and I quote, ” it’s worth noting that the gambling aspect hasn’t been raised as a major issue in the debate.”

    Whilst gambling might be an issue in this debate, gamblers have a choice, greyhounds do not, and there are plenty of support networks available for problem gamblers.

    During your investigation, did you ask how surplus greyhounds are disposed of? By surplus, I am referring to the hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs that are born each year that do not meet trainers/owners racing expectations. From my observation, the number of surplus dogs that are re-homed are far less than the total, which suggests that they might be euthanized – either humanely or otherwise.

  6. Tammy Ven Denge,

    I have a question. RSPCA raises a question on animal wefare yet NSW RSPCA put down 27,000 animals last year (its own figures). Does this not smack of hypocrisy?

    • John, I can’t speak for RSPCA NSW, but in the ACT we had almost a 94% rehoming rate. This is despite the fact that almost all dogs that we rehome are coming via our inspectors right now.

      The biggest omission when people compare numbers between what the greyhound industry does and RSPCA does is that fact that RSPCA does NOT breed these animals to be put down. We are merely the recipients of animals in need, and we do our very best to find them new homes. We did NOT cause these issues of overbreeding, we are merely responding and trying to do something about it. The industry cannot say the same.

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