Pete Harnden

Welfare is the biggest topic in the sport and rightfully so. But what exactly is ‘welfare’?

The ‘antis’ would have you believe that greyhounds are made to race and the sport is full of evil people making them do so. The biggest welfare issue surely?

Well anybody that tells you that these greyhounds don’t enjoy racing is either lying or ignorant – or possibly both.

If you want proof stand between my kennel door and my van on race or trial days . . . . and prepare to be trampled.

As for the people who ‘make them race’ I’d say that in my lifetime in greyhound racing, the overwhelming majority of people involved in the sport are in it for the absolute love of the dogs.

A few might come into the game thinking that it is a shortcut to riches. They are the same people seen disappearing very soon afterwards.

The rewards simply aren’t great enough if the demands are that you rise at 6am and frequently don’t get to bed until midnight.

This sport could not operate without a love of greyhounds shared by thousands who live and work with them.

From time to time, injuries occur. They clearly could become a welfare issue if not correctly addressed. There are however, part of this, or any other sport.

The majority of injuries are minor and clear up naturally within a few hours or days.

Then we have the bigger problems. . . . When they occur, there are experts on hand such as the track vets to ensure that the greyhounds are immediately assessed and made comfortable.

Yet the bulk of injury treatment, over weeks or months, is administered by the people who care for the dogs seven day a week; the trainers and kennel hands.

Take it from me, seeing a runner return from rehab rates equally as satisfying as winning races.

Inevitably, as greyhounds grow older, and old niggles are not far away, the greyhounds may not be as fast as they once were.

In those circumstances, with dogs dropping down a grade or two, some trainers think about retiring them.

I am not a fan of this approach.

A greyhound can start slowing down a little at as early as three years of age. It is entirely natural.

Yet on one hand we say they love racing, but then decide we should stop their fun because they are covering 480 metres in four tenths of a second slower than they were at two years of age!

That is akin to suggesting that a young man or woman in their thirties should be prevented from playing sports simply because they are not quite as agile as they once were.

But there is another aspect too. If the dogs are genuinely slower due to age and general wear and tear, why do some racing offices continue to make them race according to their old form?

To see a dog recovering from old issues not given an ease in company can be exasperating.

This can be particularly galling for those of us who have spent weeks or months working on a dog to get them into healthy condition – albeit not yet back to their absolute peak – which they may never reach again anyway.

My own personal belief is that various races offices are attempting to protect the bookmaking industry.

They fear that maybe putting a dog back on the card two grades lower that it was previously, it might suddenly rediscover its previous form and the bookmakers might be hurt.

For every time this does happen, I firmly believe that there are many, many more occasions when it doesn’t.

It would be in the dogs best interests – from a welfare view point – to put the dog in at the level that it’s comeback trials suggest if should be.

After the contempt that the bookmaking industry has shown towards the sport on many occasions over the past few years , should we really be putting welfare second to bookmaker protection?

Not in my view and most certainly not in the view of many other trainers, kennel hands, owners who I regularly speak to around the country.

So my plea to racing offices around the country is – ‘Come on – be fair to the dogs’. You might see these dogs once a week when weighing in, however the trainers and kennel hands are with them all day every day.

If trainers take advantage, you have plenty of options open to you. In the meantime, give them and their dogs the benefit of the doubt.
Whilst we’re on the subject of bringing dogs back from lameness I firmly believe tracks and their promoters could do a lot more to help. Most dogs coming back from injury would greatly benefit from a hand -slip at the track before being asked to put added pressure upon themselves by running from the traps.

Towcester are one track that accommodate trainers with hand-slips and deserve massive praise for doing so , but many others don’t provide this service and it really is time that each and every track in the UK offered trainers hand slips for their dogs returning from injury and also for pups just starting off in the sport.

I’ll give you an example. I don’t ever want to be accused of pandering to my own track; indeed this subject affects myself and my team as much as anyone.

This is why hand slips are much needed. We recently had a dog returning from a gracillis injury. As most will know this is the type of injury that can easily get worse before it gets better and requires great patience. It is certainly an injury where a hand slip would be beneficial before being put out of the traps.

The nearest track that I could find to accommodate us with a hand slip was Towcester. ‘Not a problem’ they said and in we were booked for Wednesday morning.

This injury didn’t happen on their track, the dog had never, in fact, even competed on their track. Yet the helpfulness from them in providing me as a trainer with a much needed hand slip couldn’t be more appreciated.

The only downside to this was that either myself or a member of the team has to be gone from the kennels by 6am in order to miss the traffic.

They’ll be lucky to be back at the kennels by 1pm. That’s seven hours out of a day just for a hand slip. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

Promoters could do much more to assist trainers. Not only is it to the benefit of the greyhounds, the trainers and owners, it is also in the their own best interests.

So let’s see hand-slips becoming a compulsory offer at each and every track around the UK.
This brings me on to the subject of schooling tracks around the country.

Make no mistake, even though these tracks don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the GBGB, they provide an absolutely essential service to the sport.

Some of these tracks are struggling, and as with the racing stadia, we cannot afford to lose any more schooling tracks.

I will be pushing for these tracks to receive support from the GBGB. We cannot do without them and for minimal financial support we can ensure that the schooling tracks remain viable businesses.