ABC live-baiting investigation draws blood
“This is the vision the greyhound racing doesn’t want you to see.”
Powerful opening words backed up by a horrific image of a terrified live rabbit on the lure.
In the lead-up its screening on Monday night, ABC’s investigative program Four Corners promised to expose “the gruesome underbelly of greyhound racing” in its latest episode, Making A Killing, following last week’s co-ordinated raids by police and RSPCA on multiple training establishments across the country, which found illegal live baiting occurring on-site.
CEO of Greyhound Racing Victoria Adam Wallish called the story, which started with findings from Four Corners in conjunction with Animal Australia and Animal Liberation Queensland, “explosive, emotive and extremely damaging to the future of this sport in Australia.”
What was delivered is a serious wake-up call for regulators and a shocking look into the illegal practices of some trainers – one that can be used as a vehicle for change.
Prominent greyhound breeder and trainer and president of the United Queensland Greyhound Association Deborah Arnold allowed her 70 greyhound puppies and racing dogs at her property ‘Dessa Downes’ in Churchable to be filmed by Four Corners. “The kennels have to be RSPCA QLD-approved,” said Arnold. “It definitely meets the requirements.” When questioned on the practice of live-baiting, Arnold denied any knowledge of it: “If they do I don’t know about it, and I don’t really want to know about it.”
Undercover footage from Animal Liberation Queensland and Animals Australia earlier filmed a training track in Churchable, Queensland, across the road from Arnold’s property. On film, it captures Arnold and her dog Dorak Des chasing a live pig on the lure while Arnold asks “what’s the quickest been today” before being informed her dog is. Arnold is later asked by Four Corners what mantra is at the forefront of greyhound racing in 2015, to which she states, “animal welfare.”
Professor of animal behaviour and animal welfare science Paul McGreavy offered his comments on the matter of live-baiting coming from a decade of research into the breed, insisting there are breeds far more dangerous and that greyhounds are simply “chasing to catch, not to kill”. He emphasises the dogs “love racing, they love moving around that speed – they’ll be getting off on this,” and that they “are so sedentary when they’re not exposed to this stimuli.”
Animal Liberation Queensland investigator Hailey Cotton reveals the first tip-off regarding live-baiting in Churchable was passed to her: “Their words to me were ‘something really bad is going on there,’ and they said ‘it smells like death’”.
Undercover cameras were placed in the property of prominent Queensland trainer Tom Noble, a celebrated, award-winning greyhound trainer with almost 50 years in the game. His break-in centre is the epicenter of greyhound training in Queensland, and the live baiting footage of Deborah Arnold’s dog occurred on his track.
More than 40 owners, trainers and handlers are recorded on camera while live baiting occurs on Tom Noble’s property. “These people are leading trainers, they’re training their dogs with these methods,” said Cotton. “They’re then going on to win races using these methods, so the whole integrity of greyhound racing is really brought into question here.”
Footage confirms four times a week, piglets and later possums are flung around Noble’s track 26 times at high speed. The piglet is shown squealing with a man on the camera swearing at it, and one or two dogs are let loose to chase, grab and maul the possum while it’s still alive. Some 56 minutes later, the lure stops and the possum is snapped in half, the corpse still attached by its spinal cord, with the men in the footage making light of the situation.
Discussion of dumping dead dogs is captured on film, leading the investigation to ask NSW greyhound trainer John Thompson about the issue. Animal Liberation Australia links him as the man in the footage telling others to smash a baby possum’s head in so the live baiting of its mother can begin. “They ripped the baby from the mother, they tied the mother on the lure, and they then stick the baby’s head in the sand to kill it while its mother is watching on, all the time laughing and joking on how amusing it is,” said Hailey Cotton.
In mid-November 2014, Lyn White of Animals Australia simultaneously led an investigation at the Tooradin Trial Track in Victoria after a tip-off. Considered to be in the heart of greyhound racing territory in the state, the track is run by owner operator Stuart Mills, whose brother is Andrew Mills, former deputy chief steward for Greyhound Racing Victoria and now the regulator’s chief racing grader for the entire state.
Lyn White reveals 17 people were captured live baiting the first time undercover footage was recorded. The first trainer identified is former steward of Greyhound Racing Victoria Paul Anderton, who arrives as Stuart Mills attaches a lure on a wooden plank with leather straps, before returning with a live rabbit and stretching it out tightly as he buckles it down flat. The rabbit is shown returning five minutes later, mauled but still alive and twitching in agony. “It tells me this is a practice that has been going for an acceptable level to trainers for years and years,” White said.
Anderton’s dogs went on to win three races days after being captured on the footage in Tooradin. President of Cranbourne Racing Club Neville King is also filmed on camera live baiting two days before Christmas at Tooradin.
Trainer Dennis Dean and a young girl watch as live rabbits are leashed and thrown to the dogs to kill. CEO of Greyhound Australasia Scott Parker was questioned on his thoughts of live-baiting behaviour during the revelations of the footage and the discovery of children being brought to watch while it occurs: “I think that’s ridiculous and abhorrent. I don’t support that at all. I’m not aware of it, and never heard of it, live baiting is illegal as well as being wrong and against the rules of greyhound racing.”
Footage of dogs on the Tooradin track is shown, encouraged to savagely kill several rabbits, which are skinned or tied as they maul them.
Former steward at Greyhound Racing Victoria Amanda Hill says there was a problem inside GRV regarding regulators failing to pick up and follow on rumours of live-baiting in the state: “Lack of resources, lack of funds, lack of knowledge, or plainly, they don’t want to accept that it’s a possibility.” She believes some trainers are “doing it to try and get an edge. It’s probably harder to get caught live baiting than what it is to using performance-enhancing drugs.”
Hill left GRV in 2004 and became the Chair of Stewards in Greyhound Racing Tasmania, where she was able to do better in stopping live baiting. In 2008, Hill caught a female trainer red-handed live baiting a possum. Possum carcasses were found all over the track, and it remains one of two cases in the past decade where a steward has followed through and successfully convicted a live baiter.
Hill identifies two-time Australian greyhound trainer of the year Darren McDonald as one of the figures caught on film three days before the 2014 Melbourne Cup, engaging in live baiting at Tooradin alongside handler Chris Connelly. He is shown on camera carrying a sack with a tiny pink piglet before placing it on the lure. The two men remove the muzzles on their dogs after two laps and the dogs maul the piglet, heard squealing as it dies off-camera. McDonald has since transferred all of his greyhounds to his wife’s name.
New South Wales wrap-up:
McDonald’s top sprinter Keybow is revealed by Four Corners to have been broken in across the border in NSW at Londonderry by Zeke Kadir.
Four Corners received a tip-off within the industry that Kadir was rumoured to be the best live baiter within the state, and that it occurred at his property as part of his training purposes. “He mentioned that he broke (in) Keybow, and he talked about how he gets live rabbits from a person he knows, and he gets about 30 a week,” a private investigator for Four Corners confirms.
Footage shows Zeke Kadir using the rabits tied to a hand-pushed lure, controlled by Kadir. They’re dragged along the ground at speed pursued by dogs in training. On January 12, 2015, the footage captures Ian Morgan arriving at the venue for a private session, where a native possum is strung to the lure struggling to escape as two muzzled greyhounds attempt to bite the possum. Four minutes later, the muzzles come off and the cry is captured off-screen of the possum’s demise. “I am fearful at how widespread this is, and the consequences for literally thousands of animals each year,” said Lyn White.
Morgan is later seen removing the dead possum from his greyhound, Cee Cee Quoted. Four days later, Four Corners catches him leaving his Western Sydney home bound for an afternoon race meet in Newcastle, where Cee Cee Quoted places third. John Cauchi, of Box Hill, was also caught practising live baiting by hand.
Four Corners notes requests for interviews with the regulators in all three states caught live-baiting were declined, deferring comment to CEO of Greyhounds Australasia Scott Parker. “I don’t suspect this is a systemic problem at all,” Parker said. “It’s illegal, abhorrent, and totally rejected by the industry.”
When asked about how three tracks have been confirmed to have had live baiting occurring on site that have not been detected by regulators, Parker surmises “our controlling bodies do a great job, but it’s a big industry and a lot of these facilities are a long, long way away from Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane – and that’s why compliance officers are employed to get out there.”
In Queensland, RSPCA caught the live-baiters at Tom Noble’s establishment during their follow-up raids and saved a live piglet tied in a sack moments away from being bound and baited. Tom Noble was on-site, as well as his staff James Draws and Tony McCabe. They denied any wrong-doing despite being caught on film. RSPCA eventually found a second piglet hidden inside a shed on the property, wounded from a previous live-baiting session.
At Tooradin, Stuart Mills was watched closely, but no animals were caught on-site. Four Corners visited him the next day of the raids, and he’s clearly shaken as he maintains his denials about live-baiting.
Zeke Kadir’s property was visited, but he refused to answer Four Corners’ reporters on live baiting.
Four Corners’ investigations are now a criminal matter, with state charges imminent.
In Victoria, GRV chair Peter Caillard has welcomed a $6 million government investment for investigative resources for GRV to help detect and prevent practises such as live-baiting from occurring in the future. In addition, GRV have also announced that dead animals will no longer be allowed to assist in the training of greyhounds. “The use of live animals is already outlawed. GRV will also outlaw the use of dead animals in greyhound training whether on private premises or registered training premises,” Mr Caillard said in a press release. Caillard has also agreed to cancel the Greyhound Industry Awards night, which was to be held this Friday night, after instruction from MP Martin Pakula. The Darren McDonald-trained Sweet It Is was the frontrunner to take out the highest honour, 2014 Victorian Greyhound of the Year.
In New South Wales, GRNSW have announced that a taskforce has been established to investigate the extent of the live-baiting practices in the state. The taskforce will be led by former High Court justice and eminent legal practitioner, the Hon. Michael McHugh AC, QC. The taskforce will look into the training methods used in NSW and will arrange for trial tracks and training facilities to be monitored. It is also set to examine whether GRNSW and relevant agencies such as the RSPCA NSW have the necessary powers to correctly investigate animal cruelty allegations. “We need to stamp out live baiting once and for all. Not only is it illegal but it is sickening and we are disgusted with what we have witnessed on air,” GRNSW CEO Brent Hogan said in a press release. “GRNSW welcomes Michael McHugh’s acceptance to head this taskforce and is committed to working closely with him and the taskforce as quickly as we can. The taskforce will help ensure that live baiting and other acts of animal cruelty identified in NSW are eradicated as quickly as possible.”