A sport on its last legs – can greyhound racing in New Zealand survive? – Stuff.co.nz

Posted: January 9, 2022 at 4:15 pm

When Racing Minister Grant Robertson revealed his review on greyhound racing in September last year, it looked like the possible end for a sport that has been long debated over in New Zealand.

It was the latest in a series of reviews and reports designed to improve industry practices following the WHK report in 2013, and the Hansen in 2017 but this seemed to have more substance than its predecessors.

Lamenting the industry and issuing strong dissatisfaction with the lack of progress made since the Hansen report, Robertson said the greyhound industry must now finally make the improvements needed by the end of 2022, or risk closure.

It was a shape up or ship out-style message that identified three fundamental issues that needed to be addressed: data recording, transparency of all activities, and animal welfare.

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Green Party MP Chloe Swarbrick, a long-time campaigner for the closure of the industry, believes the message issued by Robertson is the strongest one to date but one that does have to be backed up by action.

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The greyhound racing industry has been under scrutiny for decades.

It may seem a promising step forward, but those who have been battling for change for years fear it could be another review in a string of reviews that calls attention to the issues, but does little to remedy them.

Cut through the noise made by the reports, and people are still voicing the same concerns they had decades ago.

The numbers of dog deaths and injuries 232 and 900 respectively in the past year remains at an unsettlingly high number. Breeders are still being accused of mistreating or doping the animals. The past 12 months alone have seen trainers fined for assaulting their companions, dogs plied with methamphetamine and other substances, and racing suspended at a main raceway following ongoing concerns surrounding the safety of its dogs.

Aaron Cross, co-founder of the Greyhound Protection League of New Zealand, has dedicated more than a decade to advocating for the safety and wellbeing of greyhounds. He says the spread of issues that continue to alarm activists is wide and far-reaching.

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Greyhound racing at Hatrick Raceway in Whanganui was suspended earlier this year.

Its the severe injuries caused directly from racing. Its the training techniques which reinforce harmful behaviour, like chasing fluffy things and rushing out of gates as soon as they open, which causes troubles when they are rehomed. Its the euthanasia of slow and underperforming animals, he says, highlighting how euthanising in itself has been the topic of hot debate for naysayers of the industry.

In 2017, the Hansen report uncovered unacceptably high rates of dog euthanasia, with a large proportion of dogs put down with no reason noted.

Robertson said in his report that Greyhound Racing New Zealands own data spanning the previous four years revealed 923 dogs had been euthanised, with no reason given for 462 of the deaths.

The latest annual report by GRNZ shows that 232 racing greyhounds died this year, 27 of which were euthanised, says Sean Hannan, the companys chairman.

SAFE NZs Will Appelbe says hes spoken with a number of people in the industry who all fear the rapidly declining numbers are not an example of an industry bettering itself for the sake of its dogs, but one willing to do everything it can to save itself even if that means harming them further.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Racing Minister Grant Robertson put the industry formally on notice earlier this year.

There seems to be a drop in euthanised dogs over the last couple of years, which, on principle, sounds good, but what were worried about is that there could be dogs that are actually suffering with injuries, and then not being euthanised when they arguably should be.

Fears that the industry is doing everything in its power to keep numbers low is strongly disputed by Hannan.

Last season 27 greyhounds were euthanised due to racing incidents, but the anti-racing groups suggest this is excessive and sufficient reason to ban an entire industry, he said.

Hannan says he is proud of the significant progress achieved in the past season, which has had a strong focus on the transparency of information, and says the accusation proffered by activists is untrue: Unjustified euthanasia has been eliminated from the programme entirely.

Hannan is one of a dwindling yet steadfast number fighting for the industry, a minority that are often forgotten about when most of the focus is trained on the dogs themselves.

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Chloe Swarbrick has been a long-time campaigner for the demise of the greyhound racing industry.

The demise of the industry would mean a loss of jobs for the likes of trainers and racetrack owners some who have dedicated their lives to the sport, upholding a tradition that has been passed down through generations.

The sports history in Aotearoa stretches as far back as the late 19th century, when coursing which saw dogs using sight rather than scent to hunt live rodents was first introduced. The very first clubs were founded in 1876, in Southland, and the New Zealand Federation of Coursing Clubs formed the succeeding year.

Hannan says there would be many unintended consequences across New Zealand if greyhound racing were to lose its social licence.

This would not be limited to the economic, social and wellbeing of those directly linked to the industry.

There would also be the ripple effect onto the wider New Zealand community, including suppliers, service providers and the families who adopt our greyhounds once they have been retired from racing, he says, adding the country would also have to deal with the loss of the much-loved breed.

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Greyhound Racing New Zealand chairman Sean Hannah says significant progress has been made in terms of animal welfare in the past season.

John Roberts has been the chairman of the Auckland Greyhound Racing Club for nine years, and a greyhound owner for the past 25. As a man who is absolutely passionate about the welfare and upkeep of the animals he describes as wonderful athletes, he says a full banning of the sport would be a blow to a longstanding loyal community.

The sport is an essential part of the New Zealand Racing setup. It provides employment for many and make no mistake these people are passionate in the care and attention of their animals.

Roberts says those at AGRC were somewhat dismayed at Robertsons review, which he says used historical data and failed to give consideration to the huge efforts made to improve welfare, rehoming, track preparations and data recording.

He notes on the trainers who are dedicated 24/7 to caring for their dogs, the punters who continue to return, and the dogs who, apparently, love to race.

One only has to be near when it is load-up time to see the excitement of our canine athletes, he says.

It may ring true that some owners regard their dogs as companions, and treat them as such, but there is still a disconcerting number of owners who favour generating profit over the wellbeing of animals.

While efforts are being made in terms of better track safety, rehabilitation and rehoming, there are still injuries occurring, and problems that occur long after the rehoming process.

The dogs who are rehomed through the likes of Greyhounds as Pets and other organisations face continuous health problems, and often struggle to adjust to being pets. As Cross mentioned earlier, their training to chase and rush out of gates can come back to haunt them long after their racing days are over not to mention the underlying anxiety and mood disorders that are often overlooked.

As Swarbrick puts it: We can all bicker and argue about the numbers and whether they are good enough, but the core point remains that that number still represents suffering, no matter how small.

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A sport on its last legs - can greyhound racing in New Zealand survive? - Stuff.co.nz

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