Despite the fall in popularity of Greyhound racing within the UK over the last couple of decades, Greyhound racing is still big business. There are twenty five registered Greyhound racing stadiums in the UK, and another nine independent and unaffiliated stadiums, all contributing to an industry that is estimated to be worth £1.7 billion.
Greyhound racing within the UK and the welfare of racing dogs and ex racing dogs is regulated by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB), which sets the care and welfare standards required of dog racing tracks, trainers and breeders, and monitors and inspects their premises and the welfare of the dogs in question. However, many people involved in Greyhound welfare and advocacy for dogs in general feel that the GBGB does not go far enough, have enough powers or resources, or place enough onus on the welfare of the dogs used for racing, and that the organisation fails the dogs in terms of protecting them from abuse and keeping them safe.
Greyhound racing is a tough sport for the dogs involved, which are viewed as profitable commodities by the people who train, breed and race them. There is no place in the racing environment for dogs that do not make the grade, or that have become injured or too old to race. Every year, thousands of ex racing Greyhounds are in need of homes, as the surplus of unsuitable dogs outweighs the amount of breeders, trainers and racing employees who are willing to care for the dogs that worked for them in their old age.
The average age at which a racing Greyhound is retired is between four and six for successful dogs, or as young as one for dogs that become injured or prove unsuitable for racing. These dogs all have long lives ahead of them after their racing careers are finished, but often, no one willing to provide for it.
With this significant excess of retired and unsuitable racing dogs, comes one of the dark sides of Greyhound racing- what the industry or individual dog owners do with dogs that are no longer of value to them. While many Greyhound owners and trainers love their dogs and care for them for the duration of their lives even after racing, the industry also has a very dark side, which should be of concern to all dog lovers.
Facts and figures
- Only 25% of Greyhounds that race within the UK are bred in the UK, with the vast majority of racing Greyhounds imported from abroad. The Greyhound is actually one of the UK’s native dog breeds classed as “vulnerable” in terms of the number of dogs of the breed born and registered with the Kennel Club each year as pedigree dogs. The breeding and import of Greyhounds for racing is largely unregulated, and over all, it is generally cheaper for racing trainers to import large numbers of Greyhounds for the tracks from other places in Europe.
- The racing industry in England and Wales registers a “surplus” of around 13,500 dogs per year. This means dogs that are not actively used for racing, either due to unsuitability, ill health, injury or retirement.
- Of these 13,500 dogs, over 4,000 of them end up being “unaccountable” every year- they simply fall off the radar and where they ultimately end up and what happens to them is not known. It is known, however, that some unscrupulous owners and trainers have these unsuitable dogs euthanized, or destroyed by unsavoury means.
- Of the 4,000 “unaccountable” dogs every year, over half of them are dogs that never make it as far as the racetrack, due to being deemed as unsuitable for racing. A shocking 80% of these dogs disappear without trace, with no record of their having been re-homed or otherwise provided for.
- Only around 3,500 dogs out of the 13,500 per year are rehomed or handed over to the care of Greyhound rehoming charities for rehoming. Undoubtedly many of the remaining number are rehomed privately or kept by their owners and trainers, but it would be impossible for the remaining 10,000 dogs every year, year on year, to be provided for privately in this way.
- Greyhound racing is hard on the dogs involved- around 4,000 dogs are injured annually on the race track. While many of these receive the appropriate veterinary care and go on to make a full recovery, on-track veterinary surgeons are all too often asked to euthanize dogs for minor injuries if their trainer deems the cost of caring for their recovery to be uneconomical.
- Greyhound puppies that are considered to be unsuitable for racing may be culled when young- put to sleep or otherwise destroyed. The Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) suggests that as many as 12,000 Greyhound puppies are culled in this way each year.
- In one famous court case in 2007, Greyhound racer David Smith of County Durham was convicted of killing and burying up to 10,000 Greyhounds on his property. While the sheer number of dogs involved in this case was unusually high, this is by no means the only example of Greyhound owners killing and disposing of their own dogs.
- Up to 80% of the Greyhounds used for racing within the UK are bred in Ireland, where their welfare, breeding standards and care are unregulated.
- Even for Greyhounds that make it to rehoming shelters and Greyhound welfare organisations after retirement, it can be challenging to find homes for the dogs. Many ex racing Greyhounds have never experienced being cared for properly or living domestically in a home environment, which can make them challenging to rehome. Added to this, the sheer number of Greyhounds from the racing industry that require rehoming each year takes away valuable resources from organisations seeking to rehome other breeds of dogs, and less than 1p out of every £1 spent on Greyhound betting goes towards supporting the welfare and retirement provision of racing dogs.
How can you help?
- Consider rehoming an ex racing Greyhound or adopting a greyhound dog rather than buying one if you are on the lookout for a new dog or puppy.
- Support the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare in lobbying for changes and improvements to the Greyhound racing industry, with the welfare of the dogs first and foremost. You can read the APGAW report on Greyhound welfare here.