Let Greyhounds Run Free Rally Speech, 9 April 2017
Dr Polly McGee
Our boy Rocky has had a good run in life. He was a Tasmanian track champion, with many wins and plenty of silverware. When he retired from the track at 4 years old, he lived with his trainer until he was ready for the GAP program where we adopted him pretty much the day he was listed. He came into our family happy, healthy, and we know he was adored by his trainer who made sure he was adopted into a loving home.
But I also know that his story is rare and lucky, and if during one of his races he had torn his hock, he would have been killed without regard to his sweet nature and former glories. He too would have been another one of the casualites of an industry where productivity is the only measure of value.
I’ve spent the last decade in Tasmania working in economic development, growing this states business capacity and economy. I’m a champion of startups, of industry, of innovation, and I’m as excited as the next person about jobs and growth.
But do you know what I’m not a champion of Suffering and cruelty.
I hear the greyhound racing industry say that to shut it down will mean the loss of livelihood for many, and a significant hit to Tasmania’s economy. I hear the outcry from the racing sector at the mere suggestion that the industry should be shut down just because of a few so called bad apples.
I hear all the time that greyhound trainers love their dogs. For those of us who have owned greyhounds, that is understandable - they are an easy dog to love.
The greyhound racing industry between 2013 and 2016 loved 1608 dogs to death.
They euthanised them for a range of reasons, mostly to do with a lack of performance on the track, or antisocial activities like barking or messing up their beds, activities that most reasonable people agree should be punishable by death.
1608 dogs killed, who knows what the true body count is today on 9th April 2017. And these are just the statistics for our very small state.
Imagine if these statistics came from any other breed of dog, or a puppy farm or pet store chain, there would be a level of outrage that would force governments and authorities into immediate action. But not when there are jobs at stake, or tax revenue to be gained, or a larger wagering industry that persuasively argues about economic benefits, especially to regional Tasmania.
According to a recent study on the racing industry undertaken for Tasracing and the State Government, there were 135 FTE jobs associated with the Greyhound racing industry in Tasmania.
That’s roughly 11 dead dogs for every full time job equivalent.
We seem to live in a two speed economy here when it comes to animals: those animals who are adorable and belong on Instagram and Snapchat, and those animals who we are happy to kill indiscriminately when it comes to racing, entertainment or food production, as if their lives didn’t matter.
Well I’m here to say that Grey Lives Matter.
Every one of them matters.
No matter how slow they are, how injured they are, how loud they bark, or how messed up their beds are. These animals are not just commodity junk to be written off when they are no longer any use to humans. These are not lives to be euphemistically wasted. These are feeling, loving, sentient beings, who’s only crime is to be born as a breed that is held apart from other dogs, and not treated with the same degree of humanity, dignity and mushy Hallmark sentiment.
The issue of cruelty to greyhounds through their continuation as a racing animal is an issue for all of us. The industry is so small in Tasmania, that relatively few people have ever seen a greyhound race.
According to the Tasracing industry report, 26,000 people attended a greyhound race meeting in Tasmania over a one year period. It’s safe to say that individual industry participants attended multiple races, and a relatively small percentage of Tasmanians would be at home on the couch sobbing on a Friday night if greyhound racing was banned.
This isn’t sport.
It isn’t entertainment.
We don’t give our beloved AFL players a needle and put them down when they tear an ACL joint. We don’t waste our popstars and actors when their popularity wanes.
There is no benchmark aside from the live cattle industry and duck hunting that I can think of where this level of killing and cruelty to animals is sanctioned and supported. And it’s ironic when you really think about the economic development implications of protecting this industry and measure the costs to individuals, families and communities of problem gambling.
Because greyhound racing is ultimately not about racing, its about gambling and wagering. Surely it is time to proactively look for better ways for greyhound breeders and trainers to repurpose their supposed love of dogs so racing can stop. The greyhound as a breed can get some new branding, and that can start with a change in legislation so all greyhounds are treated as ordinary dogs, no muzzles, no stigma.
We are living in a halcyon time where the pet care industry in Australia earns $9billion dollars per annum. Where there are 22 dogs for every 100 people in Victoria and Tasmania – higher ownership figures than any other state. In Tasmania we really love dogs, and we love owning and spending our disposable income on them. But seemingly not all of them.
Imagine if greyhounds were highly regarded just because they were cute couch potatoes that are the perfect low maintenance family pet, and breeders could sell their excess pups, not just kill them.
I empathise with those employed by the greyhound racing industry, who have devoted their lives to it and their dogs. If their industry is shut down without strategy and planning, hardship and suffering is a reality. I don’t want that for people who are just doing their jobs, and I’ll be happy to help anyone who is part of that sector to develop an exit strategy toward a cruelty free way to earn a living that doesn’t involve animals having to die.
The head of the Game Management Authority when being interviewed about mass duck slaughter in Victoria on the 7.30 Report recently, talked about people who were ‘sensative to animal welfare issues and seeing animals die’ like we are a minority subset of caring freaks who’s opinions aren’t valid. For all of us who believe that this industry has to end, we must continue to find ways to bring the plight of greyhounds to the Tasmanian people, to appeal to the inherent kindness and compassion I believe all people have.
We must maintain the rights of all sentient beings to be free from suffering.
Until we stop valuing some lives over others, some dogs over others, we will never be able to live in a society that celebrates all its members equally.
Where the suffering of one is the suffering of many, and the suffering of one, is one too many.
On Saturday I went to the vet’s with a friend and her greyhound George, a retired racer adopted three years ago after 12 months of solitude in someone’s backyard.
George has been having strange illness symptoms for a while now, and tests reveal his heart is severely dysfunctional.
He has trouble breathing and the trigeminal nerve in his face is damaged, causing neuralgic pain and a dropped jaw so he can't eat or drink. His eyes are red and swollen.
The vet says this is known to happen due to the drugs given to racing dogs.
George’s mum is one of the gentlest people I know. She is so angry that anyone could have given George these drugs. Not only did they push him to race, then abandon him when he was no longer winning . . . they condemned him to a life of suffering far beyond racing.
And yet, George is one of the lucky ones.
As a pup, George had a 50/50 chance of survival. Each year, some 300 Tasmanian pups ─ about half of those born ─ are killed as surplus.
He also survived the track, where the risk of injury and death is high.
The most frequent injuries are tears to the back muscle, toe ligament ruptures, tears to the triceps, thighs and other muscles, and hock fractures.
In Tasmania this year, nine greyhound have died and more than 200 have been injured at the track, and of the dogs nominated to race, nine have died and more than 300 have been injured prior to racing.
These are just the deaths and injuries that were officially recorded.
The Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in New South Wales reported in June that vets have limited time to examine greyhounds before and after races, and not all injuries are detected.
The inquiry also found that many trainers make unprofessional diagnoses, prefer cheap and sometimes painful treatment methods, and don’t bother with pain relief.
Another concern for the NSW Commission was the industry’s lack of interest in socialising puppies.
Greyhound pups are unlikely to encounter different people, urban environments, loud noises or other potentially frightening situations, so they are likely to be fearful during training, transportation, or at the track.
After his racing career, George eventually was lucky enough to find a loving ‘forever home’, and three years of love and care.
The odds of this outcome were low. Only 20 per cent of healthy young Tasmanian greyhounds get that second chance. The rest are killed because they no longer are, or never were, competitive.
George’s story is one of survival. We can’t really know what his early life in the industry was like, because so much is hidden from view.
Did he have untreated injuries? Did he experience pain and fear? Was he kept caged with little comfort, exercise, affection or stimulation?
George may have been given Artificial EPO, a performance enhancing drug that can cause blood thickening, heart disease, stroke and autoimmune disease.
So at the age of seven, he lies at the vet’s on a drip, his slack jaw unable to hold water or food.
As the first Australian state to ban greyhound racing, New South Wales joins many jurisdictions across the United States and the world.
The NSW Commission found greyhound racing could not survive without immense cruelty, overbreeding and mass slaughter of greyhounds, and that the industry culture condoned sickening animal mistreatment and could not be reformed.
No one told the NSW Commission there were any differences in greyhound welfare across the states and territories. In fact, Greyhound Racing New South Wales made a point of suggesting there were none.
In the words of Greyhounds Australasia, it is a culture which to date has been defined by animal deaths being acceptable and necessary and where profits come before welfare.
We should not have to tally deaths, injuries and pain to show this industry no longer has a place in our society.
To those who disagree I say please read the reports of the independent NSW Commission and the Joint Select Committee on Greyhound Racing in Tasmania.
To those who say the Tasmanian industry is different, I ask for proof.
Fran Chambers, coordinator, Let greyhounds run free
Illustration: Rachel Tribout