IF LIVE baiting was not a lead story before, it certainly is now – and deservedly so.
The Sydney Morning Herald wrote three news pieces on Wednesday, including the editorial, although all were coloured by the paper’s left-leaning inclinations. The views of so-called reporter Natalie O’Brien were prominent. On this subject she has long been an opinion writer, not a reporter, and regularly acts as a mouthpiece for Greens MLC Dr John Kaye, an anti-greyhound campaigner whose views were roundly rejected by the rest of the Parliamentary Inquiry committee. “I told you so” is his current mantra, but it is a pointless one.
Nevertheless, public interest is massive, even if it is noisiest among anti-racing groups. This time they are quite justified in their disgust, as are the vast majority of greyhound fans and participants.
The subject is now being dumped into the laps of newly appointed task forces, whose brief and qualifications will be variable. Doing that three times in three different states also poses questions about consistency. Their initial value will be to ease the pressure on those really responsible – racing authorities in the same three states. Inevitably, time will pass slowly as they complete their circuits and write reports.
Consequently, let’s jump over the assumption of guilt or innocence and lay out those facts we do know – or some of them.
First, it is a terrible measure of the effectiveness of racing authorities that outsiders became the whistle-blowers, assisted (properly this time) by the ABC, about what is clearly a horrible practice in certain areas.
Second, that two well-known, well-advertised and widely used trial tracks, licensed by two different authorities, can be seen to have erred in such a glaring fashion is a terrible indictment of the inefficiency of the management and staff of those authorities. The odd early morning visit would surely not have been too much to ask for. After all, that is their routine duty, nothing exceptional about it.
Third, using animal baits has been around since “Judge’ Roy Swindell set up mechanical hare racing at Glebe in Sydney in 1927 (and no doubt before). In fact, he also used live hares in actual races, as well as a forerunner which chased a hare in front of the field (the hare had an escape hatch). Indeed, it was legal enough until live hare coursing was shut down at Rooty Hill and elsewhere after WW2. Unfortunately, using dead baits is not illegal for reasons which are hard to understand. After all, a dead bait can come only from a live one, whether road kill or not. That law must be changed.
Fourth, despite some emotional outbursts, there is no evidence that live baiting is a widespread practice. That is yet to be established. The same whistle-blowers, and the RSPCA, have long been doing the rounds of racetracks and kennels looking for ammunition to support a case against greyhound racing. No previous evidence of this sort has emerged. Dead baits, yes, but not live ones.
Fifth, the obvious shortcoming in the performance of stewards is not a new subject. For years now I have been writing about failures to properly assess such things as form, fighting and reporting of injuries, only to find the advice ignored but never refuted. The inference is that their training is inadequate, they are the wrong people or they are being managed the wrong way – something ICAC once identified in NSW. The “too busy” argument is a weak one, considering registered trial tracks are, or should be, a major part of their normal circuits.
Finally, let’s go to the editorial in the SMH, a reasonably influential publication (like it or not). The writer called for the shutdown of the entire industry, listing a range of mostly emotional reasons for that including the current disastrous events. But they also ignored some obvious related points.
The most significant of these is the fact that any animal breed is sustainable only if it is of general value to the larger community – either of itself or as part of the ecological chain. Greyhounds have persisted for more than 6000 years in a virtually pure form only because humans placed a high value on them. The same cannot be said for any other dog breed from dingos to labradoodles, some of which undergo serious genetic and sometimes debilitating changes as time passes.
Part of that underpinning is that greyhounds actually like to chase a prey. That is in their DNA, just as comparable qualities are present in other branches of the hound species. Without that opportunity the breed would fade away or be introduced to poodles and the like. Greyhound racing actually performs a major part in preserving that quality.
The editorial makes no attempt to put into perspective the huge number of abuses suffered by other dog breeds, mostly as household pets, but also in breeding establishments. These fill to overflowing the premises of the RSPCA and others. Once again, you can’t blame the dogs but you can call the owners to account. Regular incidents of savage attacks by certain dog breeds, sometimes on greyhounds themselves, sometimes on children, would also provide balance to the story.
But what of the greyhound itself? Two quotes are worth mentioning.
A study by the Anthrozoology Institute at the UK’s Southampton University examined 49 dog breeds and classified them according to their aggressiveness, reactivity and immaturity. Greyhounds found their way into the fifth of seven groups, described as “Low aggressiveness, low reactivity, low immaturity”. Even traditional family pets such as Retrievers and English Setters were found to be more aggressive than the greyhound.
Breeding experts are in no doubt of the greyhound’s disposition, and are well agreed on the pleasant demeanour displayed by the greyhound. The Standard Guide to Pure-Bred Dogs offers an excellent example:
“The greyhound has a wonderful temperament; friendly, refined, as gentle with children as he is affectionate with adults. It is remarkable that he has not become more popular as a house pet. His size is against him, though he curls up into a small space, and is quite wonderfully trainable.
“The greyhound is one of the few breeds that takes quite naturally to the lead, obeys commands usually without demur, and is easily handled by a child. It is being well-behaved that makes him a magnificent show dog. He stands like a statue in the ring, and a parade of these magnificent hounds in their varied colours, with their coats shining in the sunshine, is a fine sight.”
Meantime, a verdict on the industry should wait until the shouting dies down, investigations are complete, convictions are recorded and the offenders dismissed. After all, we have lots of murders in this country but that does not mean we should tag everyone as a potential murderer and shut down the whole society.