Animal lovers were understandably appalled recently when two young dogs were killed and four injured in a single night on an Australian greyhound racing track. While this happened in Townsville, it could just have easily been on any track anywhere in Australia. Indeed 15 greyhounds died on Tasmanian tracks in 2021 and almost 370 were injured.
Disturbing allegations hit the headlines in Tasmania late last year about a racing dog with a broken leg left whimpering in pain overnight so the owner could avoid paying out-of-hours vet fees. The dog reportedly suffered the injury while taking part in trials and was put down the next morning despite an offer of rehabilitation and rehoming from Brightside Animal Sanctuary.
Revealed as a parliamentary committee examined the operations of government business enterprise TasRacing, these claims are still being investigated by the RSPCA and the Office of Racing Integrity (ORI) but left many of us asking the obvious question: Why on earth do we persist with this so-called “sport”?
And let’s not forget the ORI is itself under scrutiny after revelations of a toxic work culture fuelled by the departure of more than 20 staff from the office since 2018. Fran Chambers, from the advocacy group Let Greyhounds Run Free, fears the ORI lacks the financial and human resources to carry out its charter to investigate the welfare of animals under its brief.
All the while, racing dogs continue to suffer painful and entirely avoidable fates. The Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds’ (CPG) Lethal Tracks report shows 12 greyhounds were killed and 230 were injured on Tasmanian tracks in 2020. Last year there were 15 deaths (seven in Hobart, four in Devonport and four in Launceston) and 367 injuries. Nationally, the track death toll for 2021 was 177 while incidents causing injury numbered 10,198.
A broken leg is a death sentence for a racing dog, with the CPG noting the cost to treat even a basic fracture is about $4,000 compared with $4 for the drugs used to put a dog down. Bred for a purely commercial purpose, these majestic creatures – known for their loving nature and goofy antics – are sadly disposable to racing industry owners when they can no longer perform.
Yes, it is true some owners of racing greyhounds genuinely love their dogs. But even in their case they are participants in an industry that is systemically cruel and banned in most countries. Part of the problem is the unavoidable tension between animal welfare and the demands of the gambling industry.
A recent article on the future of greyhound racing across the ditch in New Zealand noted Australia, along with its trans-Tasman neighbour, is one of only seven countries globally that persists with commercial greyhound racing. The others include Ireland, Mexico, the United Kingdom, parts of the US and Vietnam. The ACT banned it in 2018 and it is high time Tasmania did the same.
But instead of calling time on this state-sanctioned cruelty, Tasmania is sinking millions of dollars of public funds into building a new racing track at Latrobe. A 2020 Treasury and Finance review of TasRacing shows Tasmania already subsidises racing at more than double the rate of any other state, so spending millions more from the public purse is nothing short of outrageous.
I’m sure I speak for many Tasmanians in saying such money would be much better spent on health, social housing or the environment. I also stand with the coalition of canine-loving groups which has lodged a petition with Tasmania’s House of Assembly calling for an immediate end to taxpayer funding of greyhound racing. Why wait until the state’s 20-year funding deal expires in 2029? To date the petition has attracted almost 3,000 signatures.
Nationally, again according to the Treasury and Finance report, it’s an industry very much on the wane – particularly in Tasmania. Greyhounds Australasia logged a 39 per cent reduction in the number of greyhounds bred in Australia between 2014 and 2018, with a 70 per cent drop in Tasmania over that same period.
Ultimately, there is simply no way to conduct races in a way that meets appropriate animal welfare standards. It’s not possible. Just look at the sickening list of fatal greyhound injuries on CPG’s website: paralysis; spinal injury; catastrophic fracture; and acute abdominal haemorrhage to name but a few. All in the name of “sport”. The evidence just keeps mounting that this cruel industry must be shut down. And while dogs keep dying, there’s no time to waste.
This opinion piece was published in the Mercury newspaper on 3 February 2022