This is a corporate failure of monumental proportions.
Greyhounds Australasia, in circulating to state CEOs a supposedly confidential document about alleged over-breeding, has assumed it is in charge of Australian greyhound racing. It isn’t and never has been. It writes the Rules of Racing but they don’t mean much either. Every state has its own local rules as well, some of them 100 pages long, and they take precedence. GA has never voted itself any power over commercial matters which means it cannot even talk about half the industry’s operations, and therefore is not competent to address corporate planning.
GA is a grouping of the bosses from each state which meets once every quarter. Any decisions it makes are then taken back to the individual states for ratification. If they don’t get that, nothing changes. GA, and its parallel organisations in the other racing codes, are effectively powder puffs, and slow-acting ones at that. Even then, often we do not know what GA discusses because it publishes no agendas, no discussion points and no minutes of meetings. All are secret.
GA is the clearing house for stud book information and the registration of names. It also makes rules for the export of greyhounds but, like many of its activities, it keeps that a secret, too. We don’t know how many dogs leave the country. The information is never published.
In that climate it has produced a “Crisis to Recovery Program” and sent it around to all the state CEOs. This happened back in April but it took a while for that to become known. It is now common knowledge to thousands, including Rushton QC at the Special Commission who has used it to back his call for the cessation of all greyhound racing. (Where he obtained the confidential document is unknown. It is on the internet now but it certainly was not when Rushton prepared his attack).
Essentially, the Crisis document says large numbers of greyhounds meet “unnecessary deaths” and therefore the industry must reduce breeding by 40% by 2018. At the same time it should increase re-homing from 1,000 to 8,000 per year between now and 2020. All that will ensure “renewed stakeholder trust in the industry”. The document fails to state how these numbers were dreamed up.
Unfortunately, GA’s data, methodology and concepts are all flawed. Even GA admits “the industry has done a poor job in understanding the nature and depth of this fundamental problem” – ie of what it sees as excessive breeding. Why, then, did it not first attempt to obtain that knowledge?
Not only are the numbers patchy but every inquiry, including the current Special Commission in NSW, has immediately jumped to the conclusion that there is too much breeding and therefore a cut will reduce or eliminate the problem. Yet neither GA or anyone else has properly studied the subject to establish what the real causes and effects are.
GA’s response that cutting breeding in half will sort things out is no more than a knee-jerk reaction. More importantly, it has failed miserably to assess the likely outcome of such a change. In short, a much more likely event is that it would kill off the industry. GA is promoting suicide.
If you halve the activity of a business, the probable outcome is that the decline will continue. Nothing ever stays still, you either go forwards or backwards. Queensland greyhound racing, for example, has been declining for over a decade because no-one has ever bothered to (a) recognise the facts and (b) do anything about them. That’s a gross management failure which apparently bypassed the recent inquiries. But you could say the same thing about halving the number of Woolworths supermarkets, for example. Economies of scale would be lost, prices would go up, distribution centres would become inefficient, shares would be dumped, customers would start looking for other options, and so on.
Such a massive change to greyhound racing, whatever the detail, would cause numerous kennels, studs, clubs and allied businesses to become unviable. And once the rot sets in, it becomes unstoppable.
So what are the breeding numbers? These are the only ones we know about.
Litters: In 2014, the latest figures show 3,232 whelpings were recorded. (NZ is ignored as its circumstances are quite different). From there, the assumption is around 19,000 pups emerged, using an average of six per litter. More exact figures are not available. From that figure you will need to deduct those subject to early death from natural causes, health problems, snake or spider bites, accidents in the yard or other injuries. Numbers of these are unknown but participants claim they are substantial.
Names: Just under 12,000 dogs are officially recorded each year when owners apply for a name. This leaves about 7,000 to be accounted for. Significant numbers of those end up as household pets (of the owner or others) or suffer misadventures of one sort or another. Further reasons are hard to estimate because deaths must be officially recorded only when the “name” is already in the system. Even then, some owners may not get around to it. Efforts are now under way to ensure accurate “cradle to grave” records but that does not help with historical data. In any event, current data is suspect because of the lack of paperwork.
Mature Dogs: Substantial numbers of male and female dogs are retained for breeding but their numbers are unknown. Currently, data from our own organisation reveals that just over 14,000 dogs are involved in actual racing, a number that has been slightly increasing in recent years. Large numbers of dogs are exported for breeding or racing purposes to New Zealand, America, the UK and Asia. Actual numbers are not published but many of them figure prominently in races (especially in NZ) and in breeding stats.
Additionally, while the GA paper suggests only 1,000 dogs are re-homed annually, there are numerous claims informal re-homing would increase that figure significantly.
The end result is that, while a couple of figures are moderately reliable, others are no more than rough estimates. In particular, “unnecessary deaths” claimed by GA in the 13,000 to 17,000 range are flawed for three main reasons – (1) the tracking system does not cover all dogs (2) many owners fail to complete the necessary paperwork yet retain the dogs and (3) many deaths may not be “unnecessary” at all but just part of a normal life and death cycle.
Whatever those numbers are, it is still clear a substantial number of dogs are euthanised, albeit in somewhat smaller numbers than publicity would have it. Rules are in place to ensure that is done humanely. Essentially these would be either poor race performers or those where the owner found it impossible to locate a suitable new home. In that context, the greyhound breed is little different from many other dog breeds (as shown by RSPCA records) and horses, where large numbers end up in the knackers’ yards.
We then move on to the GA plan to radically reduce breeding numbers, usually by administrative devices (fees, licensing), and thereby also reducing the “unnecessary” deaths.
Were this to succeed, it would do so only because the industry had been chopped in half. Even then the difference would be one of degree. Fewer dogs bred and racing equals fewer to euthanase. The image problem would still be there, even with increased re-homing. Assuming always that the industry still existed in any significant form.
Certainly, a major effort towards re-homing is a good idea. But here GA has got the cart before the horse. To spend big bucks on such a program would be worthwhile only AFTER first mounting a program to better educate the public on the worth of the greyhound – its history, its athleticism, its purity, its friendliness. Going out cold will return 20 cents on the dollar when we need $1.50.
The remaining hassle I have with the GA proposal is that it offers to Animals Australia voting power on how the program is carried out. This is an absolute nonsense. This tiny organisation is devoted to the total elimination of greyhound racing and will do anything to achieve that result (witness its apparently illegal but otherwise useful photography of live baiting). Consultation is fine, by all means, as with RSPCA and others. But only the industry should decide on its operating policies. If it gets those wrong – and it has in the past – then it deserves a nasty fate. Only industry management should be responsible for such decisions.
Finally, the anti-racing groups have done greyhounds a service by identifying and then eliminating the totally unacceptable practice of live baiting. I suggest it is now time for them to start attending to more important matters. For example, getting rid of wild dogs which are now ripping the guts out of defenceless sheep, attacking feral cats which are destroying entire species of birds and other animals, and a campaign to wipe out the world’s population of useless and murderous crocodiles. Those sorts of changes would offer huge welfare and economic benefits to the community.
Yes, the greyhound industry has a few problems. So why not fix them rather than killing it off?