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