Animal welfare is perhaps the single biggest issue for the industry to confront as wagering and profitability clash with emotion and changing community sentiment. While some underestimate the power of the animal welfare lobby, overseas experience has shown the power of the animal welfare faction is potent enough to see the sport in both England and the United States severely dented.
In England, greyhound tracks have been in steady decline over recent years, and although this is not solely related to animal welfare, there is no doubt animal welfare issues have been a contributing factor in this wane. The USA has also experienced a sharp fall of tracks in recent years, with 27 tracks closing since 2001. As of August 2013, there are only 21 tracks left operating in the entire United States, with the popularity of the sport, in both attendance and wagering, falling dramatically. Again, the Animal Welfare antagonists are not entirely responsible for this fall from grace, but their continued bad-mouthing of the industry has ensured the general public have a slanted, if not misinformed, view of greyhound racing.
So what implications does this have for Australia and New Zealand. We have already witnessed the animal welfare lobby trying to ban hurdle racing from thoroughbreds, and there is no reason this sort of protest will not lend itself to greyhound racing in the future. There has already been negative web sites and social media designed to rally animal activists to campaign against the sport of greyhound racing, some of which I am sure you have seen in one form or another. While the future is always difficult to predict, the greyhound racing authorities in both Australia and New Zealand have recognised the importance of animal welfare and have been preparing for issues of animal wellbeing for some time.
This week Greyhound Racing Victoria and Greyhound Racing New South Wales have adopted a joint animal welfare strategy to provide new standards of animal welfare for participants in both states. Some of the initiatives include tighter controls on breeding regulation, improved inspection and compliance on greyhound properties and a tiered system of trainer types which will stipulate how many greyhounds a trainer can train.
While I applaud the proactive approach provided by our racing authorities, I wonder if we are going down a slippery slope with regards to some of the measures proposed.
The sovereignty of our racing landscape in Australia is something most of us treasure. The option to breed, rear and train our own greyhounds is a facet of our sport that should be supported and promoted. We surely don’t want to have contract trainers supplying large numbers of greyhounds to tracks while our hobbyists are lost to the sport.
The recommendations surrounding breeding should also be looked at carefully. Should I wish to breed with a bitch which perhaps does not meet the criteria, should I be excluded from doing so?
Should an authority be able to legislate against me doing so?
Should I wish to increase my race team to compete on a level playing field, should the authorities have the right to stop me?
So long as the said greyhounds are cared for properly and well educated, who should be able to prohibit me from training as many greyhounds as I like.
Breeding especially, is not an exact science. So should GRV or GRNSW have the authority to stop a participant from breeding with a certain bitch. I would hope not. As almost any experienced breeder will tell you, predicting a successful brood bitch is almost impossible, it’s almost always a try and see approach.
I worry if we employ some of these strategies without question, would we then be placing some of our rights in jeopardy, limiting our options and losing some of the sovereignty greyhound racing in this country has always offered.
There is no doubt the issue of animal welfare, whether it’s retirement of ex-racers, placement of young greyhounds which are not of race standard, or protection of our breeding stock requires much thought and planning.
I fully support animal welfare contingencies and the protection of our noble greyhounds, so long as the rights and interests of all in the industry, professionals and hobbyists alike, are also maintained.