Reading a 2011 report from the Los Angeles Times it is extraordinary how greyhound racing has declined in the USA over the last decade – something which has attracted little or no comment from visiting Australian breeders and trainers.
The number of active American tracks has fallen from 50 to 25 and the number of states authorising greyhound racing from 15 to 7. Half of all racing is now in Florida, a state which is dominated by retired folk and those of Hispanic origin. Breeding figures are not much higher than those in Australia.
Two of the bigger reasons for those changes would be opposition from anti-racing lobbies and financial hassles caused by poor patronage.
Anti-racing groups list bad kennel conditions and injury rates as key factors in their hate campaigns. Yet closer inspection suggests that while, there is sometimes truth in the claims, they are isolated cases or not unusual in the context of active animals (or even people) in everyday life. That was certainly true in the case of Massachusetts where the local kindergartens were found to have a higher incidence of injury than at its two greyhound tracks. Nevertheless, racing was shut down following a referendum.
Remember that most of these groups – Grey2K, for example – are opposed to all forms of racing, both horse and hound. Apparently, all animals should be left in the wild, which is patently a ridiculous notion, given that dog and man have been companions for thousands of years.
The emotional aspect is clearly more influential than the facts. Still, you cannot dismiss it.
Probably more important is that gambling competition is now so extreme that the share going to the dogs has fallen to unsustainable levels, even though most tracks also offer poker machines and the like.
A classic case is in Arizona, a fairly popular greyhound state, where there are now 27 casinos in operation. James Packer, eat your heart out! All of those are on Native American reservations which enjoy special privileges under US law – ie they can’t be refused a license.
Seemingly, pure gambling urges dominate and an educated interest in greyhound racing is in short supply – both there and here.
England and Ireland have problems, too, although different to those in America. However, its anti-racing lobby is still quite noisy, helped along by groups dedicated to locating the occasional abuse. They have around 50 tracks between them but their opening and shutting rate might be said to be not much different to that in Australia.
Back home, we already know that a large section of the population – almost certainly the majority – does not like the greyhound breed to start with. For example, they came out of cracks in the ground when a proposed new track at Murwillumbah in northern NSW was put up for public comment a year or so ago. It follows that the industry’s future will be affected by how well it manages to achieve a neutral or supportive position amongst the general public.
Certainly, current attempts to better promote the breed via retired greyhound programs, agricultural shows and the like are a good thing. But they are nowhere near enough to do the job required. As with campaigns to attract more and bigger punters, a concerted and co-ordinated effort is needed to win more friends. We need to take greyhounds to the people rather than wait for them to find us. That means diverting cash from existing areas and putting it into a professionally organised program, hopefully on a national basis. Doing it piecemeal will not cut the mustard.
Moreover, both subjects – punting and the image of the breed – can be expected to return good cash dividends on the investment, given time to make headway.
Australia has an advantage over the USA in that its greyhound model is not based on massive on-track kennels but rather on more personalised establishments, both big and small, scattered around the country, often with extensive acreage and with some opportunity to interact with the local communities.
That’s a start, but the key is surely to get inside the heads of men and women in the street, find out why they have adopted a negative position, and take serious steps to convert them. After all, we live in a society where kids grow up enjoying contact with dogs (and vice versa). Why, then, are they not supportive of greyhounds?
Let us not follow the USA on this one. 6,000 years of history is too much to risk.