Here they come. Each greyhound bounding out of the compound and carefully manoeuvred to their starting box by the Lead Out. Now they look around, tussle and nudge, look again, curious and eager; they’re on for the chase, wagging tails, barking excitedly; none seems the least bit fazed by the ordeal.
That’s how the Greyhound Board of Great Britain would like you to imagine the start of a race. The GBGB is the body responsible for governing and regulating racing and as such they want you to love it. However, concerted efforts to ban the sport outright have been gathering momentum.
Greyhound racing is a gambling medium worth around £1.3 billion per year to trainers, bookmakers and the GBGB. But recent years have seen its decline due in the most part to the public perception of it as a cruel sport.
Hard evidence of the maltreatment of animals on and off the track has fuelled the public condemnation. Notwithstanding the claims of racing dogs being doped, drowned, bashed or having ears severed to avoid identification, the plight of retired dogs is just as unpalatable.
The GBGB responds by saying the majority of retired hounds are either rehomed, saved for breeding or live in kennels until they pass peacefully away. But the truth is rather more unsettling. A recent probe by The League Against Cruel Sports estimates that 1,000 of the 8,000 greyhounds retiring from racing annually are not rehomed and instead just vanish.
In light of damning evidence we might expect the GBGB to tighten its grip. But it hasn’t. And off the back of yet another doping scandal four years ago BBC’s Panorama revealed the self-regulating organisation to be “failing in its remit to clean up the sport” and devoid of regulation and compassion.
Where this percentage of retired dogs is going is anybody’s guess but two news stories suggest it isn’t the nirvana dreamed up by the governing body. In 2007 The Sunday Times exposed the “killing fields” belonging to builder merchant David Smith who, “charged £10 to shoot the dogs. He then put their bodies in a wheelbarrow and dumped them in a hole.” It was claimed that 10,000 greys had passed through Smith’s “euthanasia factory”.
Then only last year The Greyhound Trust – Britain’s biggest charity for retired greyhounds – blogged a statement expressing concern following the online publication of “disturbing images of greyhounds linked to the dog meat industry in Asia”.
There are still 33 tracks in the UK of which 24 are regulated by the GBGB. This can only mean that many thousands of greyhounds are still being put through unnecessary suffering every year in order to earn people money. Campaign organisations, charities and parliamentarians are pushing for an all-out ban but that could be some way off. If they are successful it would spell better times, perhaps, for such a loveable breed