One of my favourite Facebook videos of the last couple of years concerns the reintroduction of 14 wolves to Yellowstone National Park. You may be one of the 72m people who have already viewed it. Apart from being a great nature story – unless you are a deer – I love two things about it. Firstly, the fact that somebody had the cojones to make such a brave decision to reintroduce wolves to a national park, when perceived wisdom was that they were a menace. Secondly, and more relevant to this article, the story is about evolving positive consequences.
In this case – we suggest that UK greyhound industry should strive to ensure that a home be made available for every suitable ex-racer.
In recent years, greyhound racing has been edging closer and closer to making that commitment and I cannot describe how thrilled I was to break the stories that both Yarmouth and Kinsley and picked up the baton and committed to do just that.
So is it achievable for an entire industry and what would be the cost ?
The first thing to consider is the numbers. We know that between 2013-2016 there were between 7,329 and 7,604 greyhounds registered each year. The 2017 figures were up to 8,094.
(A significant increase, but by comparison, between 2002-2006, there were between 10,101 and 11,902 new greyhounds registered annually – that’s at least a quarter more.)
So, put aside – just for the moment – the 8,100 (approx) for 2017. They will be homed, probably, on average, in a couple of years time. At this stage we are facing the immediate prospect of roughly 7,500 leaving the industry this year.
However the antis try to bump the figures – ‘10,000 greyhounds hung, shot or electrocuted’ as has been suggested in the past – that is the true figure and the size of the challenge.
We also know that the Greyhound Trust (formerly the RGT) home roughly 3,800 greyhounds per year (3,811 in 2016, the 2017 figures are due shortly). That leaves a gap of around 3,700 – the missing, supposedly ‘dead greyhounds’.
However even the most rabid abolitionist would have to confess that there are at ‘some’ old greyhounds still in kennels. Norah Mac has 20 of them!
There are 948 trainers listed by GBGB. Allowing for a life in retirement of roughly six years, and each kennel adding just one pensioner to their strength every two years, that might be rounded up to roughly 500 new hounds being kept by trainers every year.
Many more taken home by their owners – an educated guess would be around 400 per year.
What is indisputable is that the greatest proportion of the 3,700 will go through the hands of independent home finders whose efforts are not included in the Greyhound Trust figures.
The kennels, sanctuaries and rescues, range from the, the ‘simply independent, but pro racing’ end of the spectrum to the ‘fervent antis’ at the other, with the majority in the middle.
(It is perhaps worth greyhound folk acknowledging that many people with strong reservations about racing, nevertheless make a vital contribution to re-homing.)
A check on the Charity Commission website reveals that there are around 30 ‘greyhound’ charities on their books.
Some, like Kent Greyhound Rescue, home around 150 dogs per year, though they include lurchers as well as ex-racers. Forever Hounds Trust (formerly Greyhound Rescue West of England) home over 500 dogs per year, of which a significant proportion are reckoned to be ex-racers.
Others are greyhound specific including some of the most successful home finders in the business.
They would include Wimbledon Greyhound Welfare, with more than 200 re-homings per year, Lincolnshire Greyhound Trust (112), Yarmouth (109), Romford and Hove re-homing schemes.
Last year, Kinsley based their entire re-homing scheme of almost 200 dogs on seven small home finding kennels in the north of England and Wales.
Then there are hundreds more kennels including establishments run by the big players: the RSPCA, Battersea, and Dogs Trust, which home all breeds, including greyhounds. There are also countless small homefinders who don’t even bother with charitable status.
My question: Is the figure of 1,500 greyhounds homed through independent kennels and sanctuaries each year a fair guesstimate?
So that would take the figure down to around 1,300 ‘unaccountables’.
From that figure, take out those who are re-homed by the kennels themselves. Many trainers and staff take great pride in rehoming their dogs, even carrying out their own home visits.
One example: Mark Wallis reports that last year, owners took home ten retired dogs (including Ferryforth Fran, Calco Flyer and Clondoty Alex)
But another 15 were re-homed by Mark and his staff (I own one of them.) Teresa Cahill was involved in the re-homing of more than 50 hounds last year, including through small home finding branches, which we have already been covered.
That is just two kennels. Nationally, how many hounds are homed by their trainers in a year? 300?
Knock off those who are sent to the breeding paddocks, either in Britain or returning to Ireland, and I cannot get the ‘missing’ figure any higher than ‘the upper hundreds’.
That gap is where the scrutiny will lie when GBGB produces its injury and euthanasia data in the next couple of months.
Put simply – how many greyhounds are not living out retirements for whatever reasons?
The GBGB’s retirement forms do not allow for greyhounds to simply disappear and section D ‘The above named greyhound has died or been euthanased’ looks to mop up the rest.
It would include those who die of illness, natural causes, and non-racing related accidents – surely inevitable among a population of 16,000 racers? I have no idea how many that would be. A few dozen?
Then there are those who die as a result of accidents on the track. In the course of a year, and based on evidence previously submitted by the RCPA to EFRA, the suggestion is, that will be between 300-400 in a year.
That figure has apparently been falling due to tracks taking stricter action on non-life threatening injuries.
The percentage of fatalities is around 0.13%, which is considerably lower than for horse racing – as GBGB figures will almost certainly demonstrate.
EFRA’s view in the 2015-2016 Welfare Review stated “For some people the death of even one greyhound resulting from racing is too many, but we recognise that any animal under human control is vulnerable to this fate. Our focus is on the scale of the injuries and whether all reasonable efforts are being made to avoid preventable deaths.”
We then take out the ‘unsuitable for homing’. This is always going to be contentious as many people – as expressed by Norah McEllistrim recently – believe that every greyhound can be re-homed “given enough time.”
I was reminded of my dad’s ex-open racer Bepe Black, an absolute killing machine, even with other greyhounds. When dad moved house, ‘Sid’ was put into a re-homing scheme with the strict instruction that he had to be supervised at all times.
A few months later, we heard that Sid had slipped his lead and ripped open a Jack Russell.
As I say, opinions are divided, even among greyhound people, with some not prepared to take the chance.
Interesting then that in 2014, Battersea admitted that 1,200 dogs – a quarter of its intake – were euthanased for behavioural issues, though they would have included a significant percentage of Pit Bull Terriers.
From personal experience, backed up by the views of many homefinders, I wouldn’t have thought that more than one in every 100 greyhounds could be classed as dangerous.
That leaves the biggies:
– ‘no home or retirement placement could be found’ and
– ‘injury not treated on economic grounds’.
Which returns us to the basis of this article. Is either reason acceptable for a greyhound industry in 2018?
Personally – I would say ‘no’.
It is all very well deleting the ‘economic euthanasia’ section from the green form, but it doesn’t resolve the problem.
A solution has to be found but I suggest there is one within our grasp.
In 2013 when Betfair decided to stop paying into the British Greyhound Racing Fund they justified their actions by basically saying ‘Why should we pay? The others don’t.”
Like most of the UK’s on-line betting industry, notably excluding Bet365, they used a foreign base as a means of swerving Gross Profit Tax (since replaced) and not paying into the voluntary fund.
That move was strongly condemned by the 2015-2016 EFRA report into Greyhound Welfare.
Two years later – Ladbrokes Coral announced that they would contribute to the tune of £750K per year.
Betfair though, and their partners Paddy Power, continue to stick two fingers up to the Minister of State and greyhound welfare in general.
Although they are not alone, their cynicism is the most significant and lucrative.
Although the BGRF are bound not to divulge the size of the contribution, back in 2013, it was reckoned to be somewhere in the region on £1m per year. Given inflation and the increase in on-line betting, through mediums such as RPGTV, it would now surely be more.
They have already saved their shareholders an extra £5m that morally belonged to the greyhound industry.
So let’s assume that Betfair paid their £1m per year into the BGRF. I have been assured by no less than GBGB Managing Director Mark Bird, that ‘every penny would go into welfare’.
So is it feasible that the greyhound industry could make a home available to every suitable (temperament debate to be continued) ex-racer?
What would it cost . . . . and how could it be delivered?
Well the Greyhound Trust costs in the region of £4m per year to operate and each re-homing is budgeted at around £900. Assuming there were 1,000 greyhounds to be re-homed, you could do the job out of the Betfair cash with some to spare.
But is there scope to re-home 7,500 greyhounds per year?
(The UK dog population is assessed by the RSPCA at 7.5m).
No one is suggesting dumping the Greyhound Trust, or even reducing its funding, but does it have the scope to more than double its current efforts?
The answer, I believe, may lay in a conversation I had with Kevin Stow of Lincolnshire Greyhound Trust.
He have been chatting to a animal rescue centre in Cardiff about the identification of a lost hound when the subject turned to the £300 payment available to the re-homing organisation for every greyhound re-homed.
The rescue centre manager was astonished. Of course they could re-home plenty of greyhounds. Most of their strays came in with no cash subsidy. In fact, re-homing a few greyhounds would help subsidise the entire shelter.
Kevin sounded out some more animal shelters with the same result.
So let’s return to the story of the Yellowstone wolves and how their introduction led to the unforeseen but ground breaking transformation of forests and rivers, and the return of long lost species of birds and animals.
Soon there will be 8,100 greyhounds to home in a year. But imagine, for a short period of time, the whole kitchen sink being thrown at re-homing? Let loose the wolves!
At registration, ask each track and each owner to contribute £100 towards the sort of bond scheme that Gary Noble recently suggested.
It is not difficult.
The better tracks already throw that level of money at their retired schemes. They could pay it out and get it back if they re-homed the dogs themselves. Most owners already pay at least that to get their dogs into retirement kennels.
Top that up with Betfair cash to a £400 travelling pension for every retiree.
But don’t just home the 8,100. Set a target of 10,000 re-homings per year for maybe three years.
Find homes for the bulk of the dogs who are running up kennel bills on the Greyhound Trust waiting list. Re-home the pensioners who are taking up valuable space in racing kennels.
More runners for the track without the need for more kennels or trainers, and a reduced financial burden for the trainer.
The ‘no suitable home or retirement placement’ excuse would cease to exist.
With ready homes available for all ex-racers, I suspect that ‘euthanased due to injury’ numbers might start to fall, along with a more honest view on ‘unsuitable temperament’ numbers
The additional cash released once the re-homing logjam was smashed would also pay for veterinary costs and ‘injury not treated on economic grounds’ would also disappear.
Although no industry is perfect, I believe UK greyhound racing’s welfare record is already the best in the world in terms of both re-homing and injuries. The GBGB figures will soon prove it.
But the catalyst to an even better industry is just one signature away should Betfair/Paddy Power do the honourable thing.
I would ask both greyhound racing supporters – and its critics – to make this one huge push.
Contact your MP, ask questions of the new Secretary of State Matt Hancock as to why, despite many warnings and pleas from his junior minister, Betfair/Paddy Power, among others, continue to defy Government wishes on the voluntary levy.
Crack re-homing and we can concentrate on injury rates and kennel conditions for racing dogs. The tracks still want to aggregate their injury returns, but maybe the harder triers should start asking questions of the ‘don’t care enoughs’? Even within the realms of RCPA.
The wolves referred to earlier, were introduced over just a three year period 1995-1997.
A national re-homing drive could have a similar effect in a similar time period and change the welfare landscape forever.