The industry’s increasing concern for the welfare of the dogs, for whatever reason, as made apparent in letters to Greyhound Trust, Greyhound Trust branches and in Greyhound Star, is appreciated, albeit long overdue. However, its statement that Greyhound Trust (originally NGRC Retired Greyhound Trust) was an industry-led initiative, is basically incorrect.
Sixty one years ago the earliest efforts to find homes for the retired dogs and those unsuitable for racing, were greeted with swift command from the NGRC to stop doing so immediately.
I had taken employment as a kennelhand at that time and started advertising for homes when I became aware of the number of dogs in need of such help. I was called before the Racing Manager, who issued the aforementioned instruction. I was told that the adverts made it “look bad for greyhound racing”, presumably because they made publicly known that the dogs were not provided for on retirement or unsuitability. I confess to being taken aback and suggested that it was surely up to the owners. A deadly silence followed, so I left his office and ignored the instruction.
Owners I contacted were always keen to offload the responsibility of their retired dogs and glad of the chance of homes for them. Sadly, the number of dogs exceeded the number of suitable homes, so there was still a regular flow of dogs disappearing by rail, addressed to an individual in Norfolk (a caravan address) who, I was told, also found homes for them. Having discovered how hard it was to find enough good homes, I became suspicious of the Norfolk character, who seemingly could take and home any number of the dogs, even paying their rail fares and returning chains and muzzles ready for the next batch. As an employee it was often my job to put the dogs on the train to the Norfolk destination. I do not forgive the lie I was told; that they were going to homes.
In the process of advertising nationwide for homes myself, as I had taken to doing in an effort to keep up with owners requests to take their dogs, I had contacted the, then, British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) for the help of their experienced members to carry out home inspections nationwide, prior to placing the dogs. The BUAV itself rescued dogs from vivisection, including greyhounds who were taken in under their Derek Roy Homefinding scheme for greyhounds. I asked them to investigate the Norfolk individual: He supplied the dogs to vivisection laboratories, housing them very temporarily in a shed behind his caravan. When they were confronted, it emerged that the trainers knew of the dogs’ fate. “At least they’re doing something useful” was their excuse. Some trainers also sent low grade racers off to be useful on flapping tracks, which were plentiful at that time. Always, the aim was to offload the discarded and retired dogs swiftly. Their kennel space was needed for newcomers.
In the fifteen years between 1959 and 1974, I had a small sanctuary and homefinding scheme in Somerset then, later, a couple of kennels erected in the garden of my bookmaker husband’s London house (plus dogs in every room) when the re-opening of a quarry within yards of the sanctuary destroyed its suitability. Husband’s need was met when, predictably, he wanted homes for his dogs but he did, in due course, then become helpful to the processes of homing other owners’ dogs and to the RGT in general. I was also fortunate to build up a network of nationwide volunteer helpers. Others had also begun homefinding, in particular Johanna Beumer (Walthamstow) and, later, Molly Redpath (Portsmouth), Edna Haddock (Brighton).
The BUAV’s position changed when some of its supporters pointed out that they wished their donations to be used towards finding alternative means of research, to replace vivisection. Consequently, the BUAV formed its Animal Welfare Trust separately, under which some dogs could still be rescued but, the need for kennel space was overwhelming. Understandably, the NGRC was eventually approached by the BUAV to acknowledge and address its own responsibility for the greyhounds. Thus, the industry was EMBARRASSED into forming the NGRC Retired Greyhound Trust. Therefore, basically not an industry-led initiative.
Having opposed advertising for homes for fifteen years, it then had the brazen audacity to ask for a list of all my contacts, on which to build its RGT. Other founder members were required to cough up all monies raised, but, fundings subsequently given out for homefinding expenses were virtually non-existent. Dogs waiting for homes were mainly accommodated in various trainers’ kennels. Kennel bills needed to be paid. Soon the NGRC instruction was to reduce the numbers. Eventually, a £5 fee was added to the NGRC registration charge but, even then, reimbursement of homefinding expenses was typically six months in arrears and the fee also had the effect of owners expecting immediate homes for their retired dogs. This was rarely possible and kennel spaces financed by the RGT were severely limited, as described. The best that could be offered was that the owners should advertise for homes themselves then contact homing groups to check any responses for suitability before handing the dogs over. David Poole was appointed as National Organiser. A room in his house served adequately as an office. Likewise, in the case of the Trust’s efficient and transparent Treasurer, Len Carter. Predictably, the tide of dogs was, and remains, too great.
There are many skeletons in the greyhound industry’s cupboard, not least those of the discarded tools of its trade, Seaham being just one example. Dogs abandoned with their ears cut off to avoid traceability, before microchipping became compulsory. Low grade racers exported to Spain, not just from Ireland but by a known UK dealer and also a so-called top UK trainer, about which the NGRC did nothing, despite promising action in such cases.
Proof exists of the history outlined in this letter, so denial is inappropriate and pointless.
Public exposure of the industry’s welfare failures prompted the balanced Parliamentary enquiry of 2006. There was, and publicly remains, particular concern about the industry’s self-regulation and conditions endured buy the dogs in many trainers’ kennels (details available). As a result of the enquiry, recommendations were issued in 2007 which, 13 years on, remain largely unobserved.
Given the industry’s track record of welfare failures, even the most blinkered and self-centred fans of greyhound racing cannot fairly deny that those who oppose it do have ample grounds and the Covid-19 situation has proved that life can well go on without it. People rightly point out that it could be replaced by virtual greyhound racing, which would not involve welfare issues.
The old argument that a ban on racing live dogs would result in euthanasia for many of the dogs currently involved (a figure of 16,800 has been mentioned) is not valid in light of the industry’s recent assurance that they will all be homed at the end of their track careers anyway, albeit courtesy of the great British public in providing the homes and the free workforce of GT branch volunteers and other greyhound rescue groups whose services, including fundraising, the industry has enjoyed from day one, in its attempt to protect its image, following being embarrassed into acknowledging its responsibilities. It has conveniently ignored the fact that the tide of dogs is too great. Its former hackneyed phrase that “the dogs are the responsibility of their owners” realistically can no longer apply since, in order to satisfy the industry’s requirements, particularly the bookmakers’, no limit is placed on the number that any one person may own, often far to many for that person to provide for, long term, on retirement or unsuitability for purpose, even if they had mind to do so. Sadly, owners who are able and willing to adopt their redundant dogs personally are in the extreme minority. Now, apparently, the industry has devised a loophole of “not suitable for homing” to cover the surplus dogs. I have yet to meet a greyhound who is not suitable for homing. It just needs understanding, patient people and the new environment of a home and interests, away from kennel life and racing (and how can it be decreed unsuitable for homing if it’s never had one?!)
Greyhound racing is an industry. The discarded dogs are its waste product. Industries are legally and morally responsible for acceptable methods of disposal of their waste products. Vast sums of money are required to cover the industry’s legal and welfare responsibilities, including improvement of trainers’ kennels and the dogs’ lifestyle. Bookmakers are the industry’s main stakeholders. Why are their contributions to the dogs’ welfare allowed to remain voluntary? Any monies supplied for that purpose are not generous favours. They are a duty and the dogs’ entitlement. The Government is failing its responsibility in allowing the shortfall to continue.
The Industry’s future lies in its own hands. It needs to look at both sides of the coin. Those who oppose greyhound racing are unlikely to walk away unless it does cover all of its welfare responsibilities. If that is not possible it breaks the law and puts its own self at risk of appropriate action.
We do now know for sure that life can well go on without live greyhound racing and there is the alternative of virtual greyhound racing.
David, Lord Lipsey’s written statement to me that an end to greyhound racing would be the end of greyhounds, is way off the mark. In the beginning there were greyhounds. They were not raced. They did not disappear from the planet. Beautiful, swift, sensitive, loyal creatures. They were treated with respect; revered and admired. Ownership was limited and the penalty for harming one was severe, to fit the crime. As a nation known to appreciate dogs, we surely need to return to those values. Others might then follow the example.
Thank you for any kind attention
Firstly – I would like to acknowledge Ann Shannon as one of the true pioneers of re-homing. For those of lesser vintage, this lady is a homing legend in her own lifetime. It is impossible to underplay Ann’s contribution to welfare, undervalue her selfless dedication or argue with a concise history from someone who viewed greyhound re-homing from the front line.
I would though, be keen to put her views into some historical context. Ann’s work began before I was born, and greyhound racing was a very different sport in 1959.
My first point is that the general public held a significantly different view on animals in general during those early days, be that a milkman’s horse or miner’s pit pony. Greyhounds were considered a working dog, and there was a perception that at the end of their careers, most were unsuitable for re-homing. We can argue about percentages, but in my near half century around the breed, the temperament of the majority has changed considerably.
This has been discussed previously on this site, but in my days working in kennels, a small percentage of dogs were almost as dangerous to their handlers, as they were to each other. There were plenty of savages who couldn’t even be kenneled with another dog, let alone re-homed.
(We recently quoted Linda Mullins’ whose career in kennels began in the 1940s, and her assertion was that the nature of the breed had changed dramatically during her lifetime. Greyhounds have become ‘softer’. They are now a largely placid breed.)
I would suggest that even since Linda’s training days, the introduction of Australian/American breeding has continued to reshape the mentality of the racing greyhound from ‘hunting’ to ‘chasing’, much in the same way that a foxhound only wants to kill a fox but a Collie chases a ball on an entirely different instinct.
There was a genuine belief that existed, and which Ann is fully entitled to challenge, that many greyhounds were simply too unsafe to be re-homed. She will surely recall dozens of tales of greyhounds savaging family pets.
Of course some trainers refused to re-home their dogs ‘on principle’ and we recently retold the story of the wartime Harringay trainer who had his ex-racers put to sleep with clear conscience. His logic was that he knew they wouldn’t end up abandoned or abused after a second career on a flapping track, in illegal hare coursing, sold to Spain, or of course, in a vivisection lab.
I would fully endorse Ann’s view that for many decades, the greyhound industry played lip service to re-homing and I can clearly recall the frustrations of David Poole trying to run a national scheme on £80K. In 2020, the budget for re-homing runs into millions.
With absolute respect, I utterly refute Ann’s suggestion that the re-homing numbers are insurmountable. From a peak of nearly 11,912 greyhounds registered in 1994, the 2019 figure was down to 7,252. We know that 87% of greyhounds are currently re-homed and it is not unrealistic to assume that that figure can be increased to 100% – excluding deaths through injuries and natural causes – with a planned bond scheme.
Yes – we know that life could continue without any sport, including greyhound racing, but ‘cartoon’ or ‘virtual’ racing is not the solution. If it was, live product would have disappeared from betting shops years ago – horses and dogs. If punters want to play ‘fruit machines’, there is no shortage of options.
I do accept that NGRC and GBGB were slow to enforce better kennel conditions, but I cannot accept that ‘very little has changed’ since 2006; not least the 2010 Welfare of Racing Greyhound Regulations accountable by law and monitored by UKAS. These have been reviewed by Government through DEFRA with Neil Parrish MP, Chairman of the Welfare Committee, commending greyhound racing’s welfare record.
It is impossible for any organisation to claim it is entirely clear of bad eggs (ask FIFA, World Athletics, or the Jockey Club) but the mindset among the stipendiary stewards is to drive up standards. Providing they continue to receive backing from the superiors, there is no reason why this shouldn’t continue.
Time has progressed since Ann’s pioneering days. This is a different industry run by different people, and operating to very different principles.