One of NSW’s leading trainers has spoken out regarding the shape of the greyhound racing industry after one of the most turbulent and testing times within the sport. As participants prepare to face the Parliamentary Inquiry sought by the NSW Greyhound Action Group, the reputation of the industry was dragged through the mud last week with a controversial story aired on the ABC’s 7.30 Report.
The program alleged widespread doping, cruelty and collusion within the sport and whipped social media sites into a storm in its wake. The general public, outraged by unsubstantiated claims of high euthanasia rates and mass over breeding; and fuelled by animal welfare activists; launched an unprecedented attack on the industry via social media on Facebook and Twitter. Those attacks have seen greyhound industry participants join the debate to defend their sport where Greyhound Racing New South Wales (GRNSW) and Greyhounds Australiasia (GA) failed to do so.
Greyhound industry trainers, owners, breeders and enthusiasts are justifiably irate over unverified claims made on the 7:30 report by the RSPCA which alleged 17,000 greyhounds are killed each year in the industry; and from another that “greyhounds are hit on the head with hammers” to euthanaise them. The claims, which border on the irresponsible if not fictional; have demonised greyhound trainers in the public eye. Despite requests, GRNSW and Greyhounds Australiasia (GA) failed take the opportunity to defend the industry on the tv program and rebuke the wild accusations, leaving most greyhound trainers to take the task on themselves.
Andy Lord is one such trainer. Lord, who is based at Gunning, is one of the most successful trainers in the state. He was the NSW trainer of the year two years in a row in 2011 and 2012 and has produced countless city dogs and proven group performers throughout his 35 year involvement with the industry. Lord was left disgusted after viewing the ABC’s story and has stepped forward to defend the reputation of the greyhound racing industry and address the allegations.
“I thought it (7.30 report) was a disgrace”, Lord stated.
“I’m an owner, I’m a trainer, I’m a breeder. I love greyhounds. I’m not doing this for money. This business about hitting dogs on the head with a hammer and shooting dogs……..shooting dogs went out years ago. If I caught anyone hitting a dog on the head with a hammer; I’d hit them on the head with a hammer and I think most greyhound people would.”
“The two people that they did interview- which were Mark Azzopardi and Chris Arletos- they may have said some good things too, but they didn’t put them on there. That’s the trouble.These people want to sensationalise these things and make it look really bad. I think there should be a law that they should be able to prove what they say before they go doing sh*t like that.”
Amongst the baseless claims presented as fact on the 7:30 report were claims from RSPCA spokesperson Jade Norris that 40% of greyhounds bred never go on to race. Janet Flann, who runs a greyhound “rescue” website; claims greyhounds are subject to widespread cruelty, “They bludgeon them to death. That’s quite common. But shooting is quite common. If they get to the vets to be euthanaised properly they’re lucky.” An an unattributed claim by the 7:30 report itself was that “17,000 greyhounds are killed in Australia each year”.
These unsubstantiated figures, paired with the accusations of widespread animal cruelty, has further enraged participants after the reporter and those who made the claims failed to provide evidence to support their allegations. Australian Racing Greyhound approached the RSPCA to substantiate their claims in the days after the program aired but the RSPCA failed to respond to repeated requests by email and phone.
While he cannot speak for the industry as a whole, Lord has revealed to Australian Racing Greyhound the statistics of his kennel over the past few years.
“It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. It doesn’t matter whether you’re taking your kids to little athletics and they break their leg out on the field. It’s not something you want to see happen to your kid, is it? Look at track and field, look at horse racing, do they realise how many horses go through the knackery each year? They have got a hide to talk about how many greyhounds get put down.”
“As far as their numbers, I don’t know what the numbers are and how many dogs get put down. But I can tell you, and I have a record of this, in the last four years Cawbourne Racing has bred approximately 300 dogs.”
“Now Ted Humphries puts our dogs down and out of them 300 dogs we have probably euthanaised 20 dogs, for various reasons. We had pups that got snake bite. We have got no control over that. We have had pups that smashed legs in the paddock in freak accidents and we have had dogs that have just got too old and beyond us helping them and them helping themselves. Our records can be checked and that’s where we’re at.”
“None of us trainers and none of us breeders want to put greyhounds down, but the sad fact is that somewhere through their life we have to euthanaise them for various reasons. One, they may break their leg on a track and it can’t be fixed. The dog’s in a lot of pain and we have to make a decision on the spot. Now we’ve had that dog for two years, three years….it has earned us money, it’s our pride and joy and we don’t want to hurt the dog. You see people crying their eyes out they get that upset. It’s like them losing a kid.”
The 7:30 report claimed that greyhound adoption programs only accounted for a small percentage of greyhounds who are not currently racing, but the obvious truth behind the sensational claims went unsaid. Many trainers, such as Lord, keep their retired greyhounds as pets or rehome them privately.
“We rehome dogs. The only condition that we rehome dogs on is that we want to know where they are going and we want to know what is going to happen with them”, Lord said.
“I know Paul Wheeler is very passionate about the sport and is passionate about his dogs, he must love greyhounds to be doing what he is doing because he has made plenty of money he could leave the industry now and be quite wealthy.”
While acknowledging that there is a minute percentage of ‘bad’ trainers within the industry, Lord also disputes the cruelty claims presented by the 7.30 report, indicating that he, like most participants, treats his dogs with love and care.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s greyhounds, poodles, racing cars or even a pie shop; there is always going to be one bad egg in the basket. That bad egg eventually will get caught out and he will be dealt with.”
“99.9% of greyhound people do not take kindly to people being cruel to animals.”
“It is a little bit like Ted Humphries, and I know Ted quite well. He has made accusations, trainers have made accusations and the 7.30 report has made accusations. Unless they have got proof, well really they should go and stick it where it fits. You can’t go around accusing people saying greyhound trainers are doing this, greyhound trainers are doing that without any proof. The RSPCA and the board raided four properties yesterday and you know what they found? I’ll tell you what they found, they did find something….they found a bunch of really well fed dogs.”
Australian Racing Greyhound made repeated requests to the RSPCA to verify the raids, on what basis they had been conducted and the outcomes. Specifically Australian Racing Greyhound was extremely interested in the timing of the raids, which were allegedly held the morning prior to the day the 7:30 report aired. Those requests for information from the RSPCA have all gone unanswered.
Aside from animal welfare concerns, the 7:30 report sought to give credence to allegations that the sport was saturated with drug use and race fixing. The allegations were supported by greyhound trainer Chris Artelos who made the startling allegation that “80 per cent of greyhound trainers are looking for something to dope their dogs’. Arletos himself has had a positive swab to Heptaminol in 2006 which resulted in a three month disqualification.
GRNSW have confirmed that in the past 12 months 5,562 swabs were performed, an increase of 47% on the previous year. With over 10,000 races conducted annually in New South Wales, only 35 positive swabs were confirmed.
“GRNSW, in fairness to them, 3-4 years ago they were so far behind the 8 ball as far as Victoria goes. Since then they have implemented that many great things in greyhound racing for us, for them (and) for everybody and that’s what they are doing now.”
“I don’t mind speaking out and I’ll tell it how it is. There is a few more improvements that need to be put in place in this game and once they’re done, what more can we honestly do?”
“I think their concerns are ridiculous.”
“They need to categorise these swabs. 70% of these swabs are what’s called therapeutic drugs. A therapeutic drug is a drug that helps. It’s not a drug that hinders or harms.”
However, one problem that Lord does see with the industry relates to the swabbing issues and the sensitivity of modern drug testing techniques.
“My biggest beef with the industry at the moment- I think the stewards, the CEO and the trainers; I think everybody is doing the right thing…but the biggest problem is (that) I think the swabbing is out of hand.”
“The only reason I say this- if they want to swab every race, then swab every race- but they still need to have their machines set at a reasonable level so that environmental contamination doesn’t come into play.”
“A lot of these positive swabs we are getting at the moment, away from testosterone, are environmental contamination. Is it going to get to the stage in years to come where our empty yards (at the track) are going to be concrete?”
“Footballers go to Wentworth Park and for arguments sake they train on the field….not to say that footballers snort coke or snort speed or whatever; but what if someone is snorting coke or snorting speed and urinated on that grass and the dogs licked it? Is it possible for that dog to then get a positive swab?”
“The answer is yes because the machines are set that low that environmental contamination comes into play. This is why in America now they have levels on everything. It’s not to say that everyone can go out and coke their dog, they have already tried and tested to say that the amount of nanograms they have found is not enough to make a dog run fast. But it is a safe level to say that if you’re over that level then you’re in big big trouble, but if you’re under that level they don’t even report it, it’s environmental contamination.”
“That’s where my biggest beef is. They are trying to do the right thing with swabbing and keeping everybody honest and that’s fine; that’s fair enough. But when people are getting punished for things that they didn’t do, that’s wrong. As far as the game goes prizemoney is great, racing is great, I don’t have any problems.”
“I don’t think NSW needs an independent inquiry. I think NSW needs a board of greyhound trainers and vets…and we can take our concerns to the stewards or to Brent Hogan and we can sit down with them and actually try and nut a few things out to make things reasonable.”
“I don’t know where it is going to end up but I honestly believe that the greyhound industry is going good.”