Joint Working Group report is another curate’s egg

THERE is good stuff and doubtful stuff in the 110-page report by the Joint Working Group in NSW. It is massive by any measure. It involved lots of work, plenty of help from consultants, and plenty of travel around country areas to talk to raceclubs. The report now goes to GRNSW CEO Paul Newson for further action.

Three points of caution. The 14-strong group was comprised almost entirely of insiders – people from GRNSW, raceclubs, participants and the like. It was therefore surprising to see a major section discussing how the GRNSW board should be constituted and how it should operate. Surely an independent group would be better placed to take that on.

Secondly, in what we have to call the politically correct approach, the beginning, middle and end of the report concentrate on the supposed overbreeding-cum-welfare problem in the industry and how to combat it.. Even so, it does that without the benefit of reliable backing data, which means many statements are no more than assertions.

In essence, the report sees a need to not only reduce breeding but also to closely regulate what happens in the future in NSW and elsewhere.

Thirdly, in its narrative and in charts and tables, the report places welfare at the top of the list. That’s a mistake. Vital though welfare is, it begs the question of how you will pay for it. Greyhound racing is first and foremost a business, not an animal shelter. It must earn profits to be able to create the right environment for animals, customers, participants and, yes, the staff. Anyway, space here will allow only one big subject to be properly addressed – overbreeding.

The problem with the JWG overbreeding argument is that is simply will not fly. Here are the facts:

– 10-year data show that Australian breeding is in decline.
– The same data shows that more dogs from each litter are being named – and therefore available for racing – ie a more efficient use of resources.
– Almost any measure of field sizes reveals that some 20% or more races are short of starters.
– Recent grading changes offer much-increased opportunities for low standard and younger dogs, particularly in Victoria, NSW and SA.
– Regulation updates now impose severe limitations on the age of dams and the number of litters allowed. (Litters from aged bitches are claimed to offer pups of lower quality – something which may well be true but requires statistical justification).
– Attention to overbreeding originated from poorly researched claims by government-appointed investigators, most of whom had minimal knowledge of the industry. It became a catchphrase, and remains so.
– Adverse publicity arrived following dramatic incidents involving the discovery of dead animals. While disgraceful in themselves, these events should be treated in the context of a very large industry with tens of thousands of dogs active and more being whelped. Crooks and fools are present in any sector of society.
– The same factors are true of live baiting.
– The industry must accept and cater for litters where the norm, if you are lucky, is to see one good dog, perhaps one more of average/fair quality and a remainder with little hope of being competitive or even keen to race. It is that remainder that needs attention, not the good ones.*
– Even were breeding reduced – by some magical device – the proportions and the nature of the problems would remain the same. On the quantity would change.
– The importance of the subject has been amplified not by facts but by repeated publicity by media, anti-racing organisations, narrowly focussed investigators, politicians seeking public approval, and some racing authorities. The subject has been blown out of proportion and all commentators have utilised incorrect or no supporting data.
– Calls to radically lower the quantum of greyhound racing are widespread – all without adequate data to support the case – but would, if implemented, significantly reduce the number of races and endanger the viability of parts or all of the industry. Particularly at risk are the smaller states with only a limited number of meetings/races. Ironically, such changes would cut the funds needed to better support welfare initiatives.
– Arbitrary reductions in breeding in one or more states could well transfer the activity to a state where no restriction exists. Politically, a national policy of restriction has little hope of getting up because of the likely unbalanced impact across the country.
– The JWG proposal to limit breeding by quotas or other bureaucratic means will attract widespread opposition and will prove difficult to justify (for all the above reasons) and probably impossible to implement in practice. Its legality is already in question and enabling legislation would be massively controversial given that no obvious precedent is available and supporting justification varies from fragile to non-existent. For example, the nation does not ban breeding by crocodiles, taipans, tarantulas or bull terriers so how could it attack the otherwise friendly greyhound?
– The greyhound is not the real issue. Man is.

Having said that, there are positive points to be considered.

– To the extent that, at the margin, some breeding may have been unwise – or just hopeful – the new regulations should help reduce the proportions of dogs with insufficient ability to compete. The numbers may not be huge but their elimination would help improve average quality.
– Increased emphasis on lifetime care and re-homing are good outcomes, albeit they will require funding in the long term.
– Lifetime record keeping is on the way to being universal and hopefully, reliable.

On this score alone, making what are really bureaucratic changes surrounding the alleged overbreeding will never advance the industry. Indeed, some measures would endanger its survival. If overbreeding does need more attention, let that emerge as a by-product from proper studies of related subjects, some of which are in train now.

CEO Newson originally announced that the industry’s biggest problem was finance. In later statements he changed that to overbreeding. He got it right the first time.

More on the report later.

* I stand to be corrected but in the last 20 years the only litter which I can recall having multiple winners of good races was the 1966 whelping by Head Honcho x Maudie. Five of the eight pups ended up winning Group races. They were Fibba, Fraud, Malice, Mrs Kravitz, Runaway Jury, Superbee, Blue Protégé and Excalibur.

Past Discussion

  1. Animal welfare is no longer focused on live baiting or over breeding in the greyhound industry.
    GRNSW this week released the report on track injuries for the three months prior to February 2016. There were 39 broken hocks in that three months obviously caused by the (almost) flat turns on all NSW tracks (plus other states).  How disgusting is that? 
    The lobbyists will focus on this as their next campaign for animal welfare, there’s no escape. GRNSW must now concentrate on track design for all tab tracks in NSW.

  2. Animal welfare is no longer focused on live baiting or over breeding in the greyhound industry.

    GRNSW this week released the report on track injuries for the three months prior to February 2016. There were 39 broken hocks in that three months obviously caused by the (almost) flat turns on all NSW tracks (plus other states).  How disgusting is that? 

    The lobbyists will focus on this as their next campaign for animal welfare, there’s no escape. GRNSW must now concentrate on track design for all tab tracks in NSW.