Environment – Call for greyhound racing re-think

By Christine Rose

Greyhound racing is legal in only eight countries globally. New Zealand is one of them. In New South Wales, Australia, it was legal, but was recently banned and then reinstated due to political pressure. Greyhound racing is portrayed in Australia, in particular, as the sport of the ‘little battler’, in contrast with more elite horse racing, the ‘sport of kings’. But there are many reasons to ban the greyhound racing ‘industry’ for good, both here and across the ditch. In Australia, revelations showed mass killing of dogs (between 49,000 and 68,000 dogs killed because they were deemed ‘uncompetitive’) and live baiting and maltreatment of animals. Groups such as the New Zealand Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and the NZ Greyhound Protection League are supporting a ban on greyhound racing here. The SPCA says NZ has higher standards than Australia and not as many dogs are killed. Apparently there’s no evidence of live baiting in New Zealand, but there are estimates of the same sort of ‘wastage rates’.

Greyhounds were first used in NZ to deal with hares introduced by Governor Grey. Using these dogs to chase hares was considered a sport from 1876, with betting on the outcome practised from the outset, but soon outlawed. When a greyhound domiciled in NZ was gifted to the Duke of Edinburgh in 1970, he returned the favour with the gift of a silver collar prize for a sponsored race. The first ‘Silver Collar’ race was run in Kumeu in 1971 and attracted a record crowd of spectators. On the wave of public interest generated, totaliser betting was introduced, and greyhound racing betting was enabled through the TAB in 1981.

These days there are high stakes with greyhound racing. The Christchurch Casino NZ Cup offers a first prize of $100,000. It’s currently a $157 million industry including betting income and other economic generators. The industry is increasing at about five per cent per annum, with an astonishing 5573 races this year.

In greyhound racing, dogs are treated like commodities, just a means to an end –  for entertainment, economic value and sport. I assume owners love their dogs (especially when they win), but many of the 950 dogs bred each year and the 200 dogs imported, are not the champions their owners might wish for – 450 uncompetitive dogs have been rehomed and 1300 have been resettled since 2006. But there are 600 to 700 dogs unaccounted for. A total of 43 dogs died or were killed, excluding off track deaths, in the 2011 season alone, the last year for which figures are available. Dogs are often confined in small cages and injured in training. The industry ‘integrity unit’ is self-regulated. Greyhound racing is entrenched in gambling and the exploitation of animals, and morally questionable as a result. Many say it’s only a matter of time before it’s banned here, too.