“I was 18, working a second job as a part time kennelhand at a greyhound kennel in Hampshire. On more than one occasion I can remember preparing the food, minced beef with fresh vegetables and some garlic and I remember thinking, ‘they eat better than me!’”
The GBGB’s new Greyhound Retirement Scheme (GRS) Coordinator Paula Beniston has some fond memories of her first encounter with racing greyhounds – writes Floyd Amphlett.
But she also has experience of the non-racing side of the industry. She worked for many years as a volunteer for a ‘rescue’ kennel (my words not hers – used because it would have been the label that the kennel would probably have assigned themselves.) She then ran her own kennels for seven years homing greyhounds and lurchers. In more recent years, she was Head of Finance at the Greyhound Trust.
Given this background, one might assume that Paula has some reservations about the greyhound racing industry. But this could not be further from the truth.
Paula said: “Not at all. I have had a greyhound interest for many years and think I have a good insight into both sides of the sport. I have seen some greyhounds in less than good conditions but I know that fundamentally the people who do not look after their greyhounds properly are not at all representative. They are a tiny percentage of people and I know that, as the regulator, GBGB is working really hard to clamp down on this unacceptable behaviour. There really is no place in the sport for this and it is very encouraging to see how, through the Greyhound Commitment, welfare standards have improved significantly in recent years.
“My first experience in Hampshire when I was a young girl was incredibly positive. The trainer and his family loved their greyhounds and even though it was 30 years ago, had a small part of the kennel set aside for re-homing.
“In the following years I have dealt with a large number of greyhound homing kennels and have met some amazing and dedicated people. If I hadn’t felt that way, I wouldn’t have taken this job.
“I absolutely adore greyhounds and have my very own large black boy, Blake. Once you meet them, how can you not be taken in by their friendly and lovable nature? And whilst I love seeing Blake lounging around my house or on the sofa, there is nothing better than seeing a racing greyhound on the track. This is what they were born to do and there is no better sight than seeing them zoom around the track.
In truth Paula dislikes talking ‘politics’ but realises that in the most sensitive and emotional sector of the greyhound industry, ‘the new girl’ will face some scrutiny.
Indeed, with so much at stake, there is huge interest in the entire operation of GRS.
So to get the first query out of the way – who can claim the £400 re-homing bond?
The simple answer is “an approved kennel”.
There are currently 70 approved kennels which include 44 kennels operated by the Greyhound Trust, to include some kennels that only recently broke away and became independent of the Trust.
There are, in addition, a further 26 independent kennels. They would include some long established names, like Lincolnshire Greyhound Trust, plus others who have been approved on the recommendation of GBGB stewards or staff.
Here is a full list
To become approved, the kennel needs to uphold the highest standards of welfare and comply with a series of procedures such as having suitable bedding, being attached to a local vet and having a responsible euthanasia policy: Read
One of Paula’s tasks is to vet all the applications. The work is already underway with Paula having started visiting new kennels who are applying for GRS status.
She said: “I am travelling across the country trying to visit as many homing centres as possible to add them to our approved list. There are some amazing centres out there and it has been a pleasure to meet the volunteers and see what a brilliant job they are doing.”
Owners are still able to send their greyhound to a non-GRS approved kennel. In this case, providing GBGB receives the green form and veterinary verification the greyhound has been neutered, the owner’s £200 will be returned to them. They will, however, not be entitled to claim the additional £200 matched bond from GBGB.
The scheme has made an astonishing start. In its first month, the bonds received amount to over £90K and equate to over 700 greyhounds being registered on the scheme.
Paula said: “I was hugely impressed to be honest. I think everybody anticipated that a lot of owners would save themselves the £200 fee by rushing through registrations before the start of September as is human nature.
“But of that 741, there were 104 voluntary payments from people who could have actually paid less, but chose to pay the full amount. That gives me such huge encouragement and belief.
“I am loving being involved in the whole scheme. I am a qualified accountant and greyhound welfare has been my passion for 30 years. This really is my dream job.”