Just because Tim Mullany is set to get back involved as a greyhound trainer in Western Australia, it doesn't mean he is ready to sit back and rest on his laurels.
Mullany – who was not afraid to shake the RWWA front office to its core by telling Australian Racing Greyhound that his peers were being unfairly treated with small prizemoney increases back in May – walked away from the industry in disgust.
But after the record increases which RWWA announced last month, the former WAGBOTA president is set to make a comeback to the conditioning ranks.
The father-of-three's pointed words certainly had an impact, with RWWA recently rubber-stamping $3.6 million in stakes and participant funding across all greyhound meeting types, increasing to $7 million by the 2025 season.
Feature-race increases will also be implemented, including a rise for the Perth Cup to $200,000 and the Galaxy to $125,000 to the winner.
But what most pleased Mullany were the raises in trainer subsidies, ensuring they all get a fair slice of the pie for entering participants, encouraging smaller kennels to stay involved.
However, these positive developments do not mean he will suddenly stop fighting for the rights of his peers.
“People have told me ‘see, you just had to be patient – they (RWWA) are doing the right thing',” Mullany told Australian Racing Greyhound.
“And I said no, because Victoria got an extra $5.3 million, and they announced another $9 million.
“In the same time we've had one hit and they've had two.
“You've just got to hold them accountable with what they're doing before it gets to a point where it looks silly and they have to do something.
“That's always been my fight.”
Part of Mullany's ongoing battle for his fellow trainers and breeders is focused on integrity and how – at times – he feels these people are placed under too much scrutiny.
He is passionate about everyone involved in greyhound racing being held accountable, and not just the trainers and breeders.
A recent example is the fact that trainers across the nation now have to vaccinate their dogs once every year.
Yet, day-to-day pet owners do not face the same kinds of regulations.
“There's a new C5 vaccination rule coming in across Australia where all dogs have to be vaccinated now every year,” Mullany said.
“That's a new national rule that's coming in. What was the first state to put it in? WA.
“As soon as it's integrity-based it's another hoop the participants have to jump through.
“If I said to you go and ring 15 vets across Australia – ask them how often they vaccinate their dogs and they'll tell you every three years.
“I've got mates who are vets so I know this. The reason they say three years is that is the term that matches their science.
“After three years the vaccinations were still doing what they were meant to do with the right antibodies in the system.
“But for greyhounds – nope, we've got to do it every 12 months. So it's just another $120 per dog every year.
“We keep getting hoops in front of us, and WA is always first. But when it's extra prizemoney – or any reward to participants – we're the last people to get it.”
It appeared unlikely back in May, but Mullany has publicly supported RWWA after the recent developments in stakes increases.
“I've actually gone it to bat for RWWA and said what we've got is pretty much (a similar percentage to) what they (other states) are getting,” he said.
“So we've actually done really well out of what we got. But I also said the disappointing thing was that was their (Victoria's) second boost in two years.
“Whereas, we just received our first. And in that 12-month period RWWA has pocketed millions of dollars.
“I think they've nailed everything. There was only one little item I also wished they upped, which was that we have to get every dog de-sexed now before we re-home them. Which – the desexing of dogs at retirement – I do 100 per cent support.
“They give us a $280 rebate for that, and we had vets in WA who were doing it for $300.
“After COVID, vet bills have gone up. It's now $500. I thought it would've been good if they increased that as well to match it, and they didn't.
“It would've been good if they upped that to $350.”
Mullany is not one to boast.
But he saw this moment coming when the pressure on RWWA from its industry would be too great and the governing body would have to react and increase available stakes money to its participants.
“COVID lit them up like a deer in the headlights. All of a sudden they had all this revenue and they still weren't spending it,” he said.
“The business was booming, and they weren't spending anything to keep it going, through some of the world's hardest times financially.
“I'm sorry to say ‘I told you so', but they just had to give us something and all that criticism of them goes away and everyone would've been happy.”
Mullany – who will only mentor six dogs when he becomes a trainer again – said it was crucial to keep like-minded small hobby-trainers involved in the sport.
“I'm not the best trainer in the world but I get winners. And I just use public facilities. What's stopping the person with 10 acres having four dogs?” he said.
“Then you'll generate income with people who are looking for more dogs.
“Then your GAP (Greyhounds As Pets) numbers reduce because all these hobby people – when the dog's finished racing they don't necessarily want to GAP the dog.
“They want to keep them as pets, so it doesn't clog up the system as much.
“There are a lot of positives to it, rather than getting another good trainer to come in and look after a big number of dogs.”
Mullany owns a wildlife park in Perth, so he has been in the unique position of often playing a mediator role between passionate industry peers and staunch animal welfare activists.
But even he admits he doesn't have an answer to another big issue in greyhound racing at the moment – the time it takes to get a dog assessed for a GAP program.
“On May 11, the next available pre-assessment for GAP was October 14,” he said.
“Now you get to a stage where there are probably dogs going to GAP who have plenty of racing left in them. That's because people don't want to run the gauntlet where they have to wait five months.
“If a dog starts to switch off a bit, these days it's getting harder and harder to make them chase with synthetic lures.
“So you might say I want to sell it or GAP it or give it away.
“So many times you get to your GAP appointment and the dog comes out and wins. It's getting to the point where your trainer is saying ‘I know he won, but if we push off this appointment we've got to wait another five months to get him back in again'.
“So there are now dogs going to GAP before they should be.”
Under the current system with greyhound adoption wait periods, Mullany believes this is putting a strain on how owners view the trainers of the dogs they've invested in.
“It reiterates the fact that owner-trainer relationships are rocky because you've got people who might've been with a trainer for five years,” he said.
“And then all of a sudden the trainer makes a decision to GAP a dog that the owner doesn't agree with.
“Trainers need to be able to make decisions on a race dog's career based on both finances and the best time for the dog to be retired.
“So having a five-month period to re-home the greyhound is a very fine line between the right time and the cost of waiting an additional five months, if the dog was to not go to a previously booked-in appointment.
“It's such a vicious cycle and I don't have an answer for it.”
With his background in animal conservation, Mullany – who served his wildlife conservation apprenticeship under the late, great Steve Irwin in Queensland – believes the greyhound industry is both over and under-regulated.
And this has frustrated him at times.
“If you've got something to hide, then we need to fix it. How do we do that? Making sure everyone can make some money and then make them accountable,” he said.
“That money could come out of their starter allowances.
“And give someone, say, 12 months so they can invest their money back into greyhound welfare. But they (governing bodies) sit in the dark for years.
“And then something will happen and that person will be in the bad press, and the greyhound world and RWWA will turn around and say ‘oh, he's a bad person – we're giving him 12 months'.
“But why hasn't this been picked up earlier by the stewards? We are over and under-regulated.
“We're over-regulated on the wrong things and we're under-regulated on other things. So it's a catch-22.”
Last week, Picton-based hobby breeder Jason Bolwell had many talking in the industry he loves after he outlined a range of concerns about over-regulation in NSW.
Among his concerns was a call for dead rabbits or cooked meat to be lawfully used on lures again so greyhounds can rediscover their natural instincts of chasing prey, while continuing to heavily outlaw live baiting.
In WA, using skins after purchasing them from a rabbit farm has continued to be legal.
This despite the ABC exposing live baiting with bombshell vision of the shocking practises in 2015, and the subsequent strict regulation which has affected trainers and breeders across the nation.
But using rabbit skins on lures will soon be outlawed, re-iterating Mullany's point that the industry in WA is both over- and under-regulated.
“Live baiting happened seven years ago. Every other state decided to take a stance to cut out anything that was raw animal material,” he said.
“They went purely synthetic. In WA, we put forward a paper because we have a rabbit farm that sells commercial rabbits to butchers.
“For years we've gone there, and we can pay $10 and get a sleeve of 10 skins. They skin them and we can only buy the skins.
“We went through a stage after live baiting when we fought to use them and we were still allowed to use them – we just had to dry them out so they didn't have any blood on them.
“That for us was great because when you'd go to the track the reward was still there.
“There'd still be some natural instincts and it was some form of reward. You could dry them out and give them to pups as chew toys.
“It's no different to a pig's ear which you can buy from any shop, and they would associate it with food. So when you put them on the arm, they'd want to bite it or chew it or chase it.”
Mullany cannot understand why – seven years on from the live baiting saga – WA trainers will soon not be allowed to use rabbit skins on lures to help their greyhounds have an incentive to chase harder.
Yet, if they don't chase competitively they are punished by stewards with stand-down periods.
“Has there been any live baiting in WA or anything close to it? Nope,” he said.
“But why now – as of next month – are they banning skins?
“I feel like we're falling into the laps of the people who want our sport banned now where it's almost like every six months we've got to bring something in.
“We had a COVID outbreak and brought in all those restrictions. And now in greyhounds we're saying ‘right, we just need to keep implementing things every so often. We need to put something else in'.
“Should these training methods be changed? I don't think so. I think we've got it pretty much down-pat now.
“We're already struggling to get dogs to chase. Do we need to keep changing it? I don't think so.”
Mullany believes there is still plenty of scope to reward WA trainers for doing the right things from an integrity and welfare perspective.
For one, with the sport booming financially he would like to see more of a variety of tracks built.
“The other states have put in coursing tracks to get them chasing better. They've also put in straight tracks to help dogs chase better,” Mullany said.
“What have we done in WA? There are no coursing tracks. Besides a straight track to run your dogs there are very minimal public facilities.
“We don't have all these options that they have on the east coast. So you want to match the rest of Australia from an integrity point of view, but you don't want to match them with what they're also doing regarding prizemoney and facilities.
“I think Victoria does it very well. Victoria thinks about what it wants to bring in, and it thinks about the consequences of what it will do.
“They're very good and proactive. In WA, we race seven days a week and we trial four days a week, and we've only got two tracks.
“We've got one circle track and one U-turn track. Do certain dogs like different tracks, just like horses? One-hundred per cent they do.”
Indeed, you will have no problem finding greyhound trainers and breeders across Australia who have varying concerns about where their sport is headed.
But in order for the number of participants in the industry to be happy moving forward, Mullany has a simple solution – listen to your marketplace.
“I think racing bodies need to realise that the more positives they can bring to the table for participants, the more the participants are going to get behind the changes that need to be made to turn us into a new-age sport,” he said.
“I think we're starting to see some real positive energy from the stake money in NSW. If you do that, and then keep in check your integrity as far as your upgrades, you're going to get a more positive response.
“When your participants speak you've got to listen, and try to bring in something that's in the direction we need to move in.
“So if we stop dogs chasing the way they are right now, shouldn't we be putting in more coursing tracks as an example?
“You can't keep bringing in regulations and not backing your industry, and not listen to what your participants are saying.”
Mullany believes the same regulations which trainers are now faced with would be interesting if applied to greyhound pet owners.
If this happens, he believes owners of re-homed greyhounds would face similar issues to trainers, and they would develop a better understanding of what conditioners often have to go through.
That is because of the amount of minor injuries they would need to address out of their own pockets.
“All these greyhounds given out as pets – what if we made all those owners go through the same processes that trainers go through?” Mullany said.
“What if they had to sit tests and show minimum sizes of their properties? What if they had to do all the same things trainers have to do?
“You wouldn't get anyone doing it, but we have to. This is where greyhound-racing governing bodies go wrong.”
Mullany believes – from his own experiences working with animals outside of the greyhound racing industry – more attention should be focused on greyhounds and dogs who carry injuries as pets.
“I get paid to fly up every year to check 80 dogs from the Northern Territory Dog Association – the show dogs,” he said.
“I treat more injuries on the pet dogs up there than I do with race dogs. Let's not hide behind these statistics. Let's be honest about it and educate the public about what these injuries are.
“We can then say we're fixing 90 per cent of broken hocks and see that very few dogs are being put down.”
Mullany is adamant that most recorded injuries in greyhound racing are not of the serious variety.
“Ninety-eight per cent of our injuries that we record are minor tears and sprains that a lot of pet dogs at home would be carrying,” he said.
“We just have vets checking them regularly. What if we said that to the animal welfare groups – ‘you're regulating us, so what if we regulate you?'
“And that means every person who adopts a greyhound needs to have weekly vet checks – just like us.
“Just say to the activists – live a day in the life of a greyhound trainer. And if you're not willing to do it, don't comment on how we look after dogs.
“You can't say that we do this (malpractice accusations) and not do it for yourself.
“Bring in your pet greyhounds and have them checked. Most of them will have slight tears in back muscles, or slight sore hocks, or swelling here and there.”