Summer is no picnic for racing greyhounds
Over the past few weeks we have seen a raft of warnings from the RSPCA after dogs were left in hot cars – a breach of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Healthy dogs are also dying from heatstroke whilst being walked during the cooler parts of the day. But what about racing greyhounds who are consistently transported, paraded and forced to perform in scorching temperatures? Do they not deserve the same protection?
Successive governments have failed to appoint an independent body to enforce the AWA for racing greyhounds so their fates lye entirely in the hands of a self-regulated industry that only enforces a set of rules of racing predisposed to protecting the integrity of the betting rather than the dogs themselves.
So, what do the rules say? Not surprisingly there are no rules about when a greyhound meeting should be cancelled due to extreme weather conditions such as heatwaves, blizzards or even thunderstorms. It has been known for tracks to cancel mid-meeting during heavy rainfall but this is only because the flooded track has shown a bias to either the inside or outside rail, which would of course make it easier for the punter to determine the winner.
However, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB), the industry body responsible for regulating racing, does issue guidelines for transporting greyhounds and advises that if the “temperature rises above 26°C it is important that dogs are regularly examined for signs of distress and removed from the vehicle to cool down if necessary”. Bizarrely, it has nothing to say when it comes to racing in these same extreme temperatures.
Licenced Track Vets (LTV) examine a greyhound to ensure he/she is fit to race but this is normally done when the dogs arrive at the track prior to kennelling up to 4 hours before they race. “Oh well at least the greyhound can rest in nice air-conditioned kennels before the race”, I hear you say.
Well guess what? There are no rules requiring track kennels to be air conditioned. Even kennels built after the 2010 Greyhound Welfare Regulations came into force only require that they “have a regular flow of clean air, whether by natural or artificial means, to allow sufficient ventilation for a Greyhound and have an ambient temperature suitable for Greyhounds just raced”. Anyone who has opened their windows to cool down in the summer heat knows how little difference that makes.
You can also thank Defra for deciding “that not all greyhounds need to be kennelled at racetracks” and so current legislation dictates that kennels must only “be provided for at least 20% of the total number of greyhounds which are present at the track at any one time for the purpose of taking part in a race or trial” which would allow for greyhounds to be left in stationary vans at race tracks!
Most alarmingly the track vets are powerless to cancel a meeting for whatever reason- the GBGB state “He/she can only advise the local stewards of his/her concerns and hope that they are listened to and acted upon”. The decision to cancel can only be made by the Racing Manager, whose priority is to protect profits. For the record, no meetings have been cancelled during the current heatwave.
Following pressure on July 2nd the GBGB issued a hot weather advice note to all tracks. However, since this is just advice it can and has been ignored by the tracks without fear of being disciplined, leaving the dogs to suffer in this summer heat. The note advices that “A greyhound’s welfare must take precedence above all else and the opinion of the attending veterinary surgeon at each race meeting will be respected. Race courses have been instructed to keep parades to a minimum and racing managers have been advised not to stage six bend races during the day.”
So why then have we since seen greyhounds paraded over 200 yards on hot pavements and raced in temperatures in excess of 28°C/84°F? Why have we seen tracks continuing to race greyhounds over 4 bends and in one instance in a marathon over 8 bends?
It is because contrary to what the GBGB would have us believe, their priority is and always will be the health of betting, it is after all the bookmakers who pay the GBGB’s wages through the British Greyhound Racing Fund.
It is appalling in my opinion that the greyhounds who generate millions of pounds profit for the gambling industry, and millions more for the Government through betting tax revenue, receive no protection under the Animal Welfare Act and greyhounds are consistently failed by a self-policing industry that has no concern regarding the racing of dogs in extreme weather conditions.
An animal’s welfare will always be compromised where there is a profit to be made – never more so than in greyhound racing.