Talking Point: Stop industry going to the dogs

Talking Point: Stop industry going to the dogs

by Peter West CEO of RSPCA Tasmania.

If the problems in the greyhound industry are not effectively resolved, the RSPCA does not support greyhound racing.

Since the NSW Premier handed down his decision to close down the industry and the ACT Government also withdrew its support, I have been trying to see past the emotion from both sides of the debate, and focus on the facts.

Everyone I have spoken with, even in the industry, agrees the concerns about greyhound racing are larger than just euthanasia rates, and that there are complex issues that need to be addressed.

Industry representatives stress that in Tasmania there has been a concerted effort to address the main concerns around animal welfare, especially after the ABC story on live baiting went to air about 18 months ago.

While NSW and the ACT are making the bold move to shut down the industry, Queensland and Victoria are moving to a model more closely aligned to the Tasmanian system, which separates the integrity arm of racing from the racing authority.

The Queensland and Victorian decisions have given their greyhound racing industries more time. Time to come good or time to hang themselves? I guess time will tell. In those states, the governments are pulling every lever, including a massive injection of funds to achieve better greyhound rehoming rates, to get positive results.

Does the Tasmanian Government have enough money to make an effective or significant difference?

There is no doubt there are good people in greyhound racing in Tasmania; people who care for animals, who abide by all the rules, and who genuinely believe the industry can and should continue.

In its formal submission to the sitting Tasmanian Parliamentary Inquiry, RSPCA Tasmania outlined 14 areas of serious animal welfare concerns with the greyhound racing industry.

The concerns were: significant overbreeding and high wastage rates, high euthanasia rates and low rehoming rates, injuries suffered by greyhounds, lack of industry transparency and accountability, insufficient socialisation of greyhounds, housing conditions and environmental enrichment, enforceable standards for greyhounds, licensing and inspection regime, education of participants, extending the racing career of greyhounds, administration of illicit drugs and other banned substances, illegal live baiting, the welfare of greyhounds in the possession of disqualified owner/trainers, and issues around the export of Australian greyhounds.

Together with the Office of Racing Integrity, Tasracing believes it has addressed or is working toward addressing these 14 points of concern.

Progress definitely is being made, however there are still serious issues that require consideration and change.

It is clear that just by running greyhound races there will be injuries and sometimes deaths.

In 2014 there were 157 races across the state. Stewards report that there were 274 injuries, 13 illness-related incidents and 14 greyhounds were euthanised.

Is this acceptable?

On the issue of “wastage”, the significant number of dogs that will inevitably be made redundant at the end of their racing days cannot be sustainably rehomed.

Even if the number of post-racing greyhounds reduces, as the industry is saying it is, there will still be hundreds of greyhounds needing a new home each and every year.

The 35 per cent increase in rehoming retired greyhounds by the Greyhound Adoption Program this year represents just over 20 dogs (85 in total).

This is a tiny number considering about 400-500 greyhounds exit the industry in Tasmania each year.

The RSPCA has long expressed concern about poor animal welfare outcomes in the greyhound racing industry and has been frustrated in the past by the inability of the industry to see that there was need for change.

Tasmania has a limited market for new dog homes. What is the rehoming saturation point? What is an acceptable level of animals not being rehomed? I would suggest there isn’t one. It is clear to me that Tasmanians do not accept the killing of healthy dogs — once their value for sport, entertainment and gambling is over.

Whatever the Tasmanian inquiry report recommends, committee members must satisfy themselves that every dog going into racing will find a home at the end of their career. If the committee members cannot assure Tasmanians this will occur, the Government should be left with no choice but to follow the NSW lead.

On the issue of live-baiting, it is not correct to claim, as the industry does, that there have been no complaints or reports of live-baiting in Tasmania.

The last conviction for live-baiting in Tasmania was eight years ago. After the Four Corners story on ABC TV there were 12 reports of live- baiting or similar, all of which were investigated by RSPCA inspectors. While there was not enough hard evidence to prosecute any of these cases, it would be naive to believe live- baiting does not happen here.

The RSPCA has long expressed concern about poor animal welfare outcomes in the greyhound racing industry and has been frustrated in the past by the inability of the industry to see that there was need for change.

It is pleasing to see the desire of the greyhound racing industry in Tasmania to achieve better animal welfare outcomes, but is it all a case of shutting the gate after most of the greyhounds have bolted?

This opinion piece appeared in the Mercury Newspaper on August 5, 2016.