UNLIKE other investigations over the past few months, the Working Dog Australia (WDA) report to GRNSW on greyhound welfare delved thoroughly into why things were happening, rather than what happened.
All other reports, conducted by lawyers and public servants, served only to verify what we already knew and failed to study or even question the reasons for actions and abuses. They proved to be of little value and in fact often went outside their area of expertise in making recommendations. A prime example was the structure of controlling boards where little more was put forward than shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic. None considered WHY boards had not acted more productively.
In contrast, WDA honed in on the lack of suitable knowledge amongst participants and the absence of suitable policies amongst boards. It said, “This situation is compounded by the predominant focus of the regulatory framework for Australia’s greyhound industry members being on compliance with regulations, rather than the promotion of education and best practice through the provision of adequate resources”.
This is hardly a surprise. This column has repeatedly pointed out that the industry is being run by administrators rather than proactive managers. Merely making sure the rules are followed is just not good enough in this day and age.
WDA also pressed for more research into why dogs chase, what sort of lure is best and what motivational techniques should be employed in early life stages. It makes a particular point about the need for more careful attention to pups up to three months of age when socialisation is so vital because it influences not only a dog’s racing potential but also its life after retirement. This subject also attracted attention during the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry.
A notable and maybe controversial point was that WDA favours never using single kennels, whether at home or at the track. Dogs like to chat with each other.
All of which highlights the fact that the WDA study is probably the first of its kind to be done independently and by people with no immediate connection with the industry. It need respect no traditions.
Indeed, WDA noted that the industry has been prone to talk only to insiders, thereby missing out on technological advances and intelligence from the general public. In contrast, WDA points out that “the racing greyhound industry has many external stakeholders. Historically, GRNSW has only acknowledged its members and industry participants as stakeholders. Recognising that the general public, animal advocacy groups, animal welfare legislators and media are significant influencers on the industry’s social licence to operate, and therefore future sustainability, is an important cultural shift that needs to occur”.
The key issue now is whether state government will recognise the role it plays in encouraging that culture shift. Simply recharging the existing board and management with a fresh collection of bodies may not help much at all, particularly if they come from various industry fields. More of the same will never encourage innovation.
Indeed, one item outside the WDA brief – that of track design – illustrated that lessons are hard to get across, whether in NSW or elsewhere. The new $6 million dollar Traralgon complex opened on Saturday with much fanfare. While the running around the roomy track looks pretty fair, builders were allowed to install three trips with bend starts of one sort or another. The 595m start is by far the worst. (And the new Cannington and the possible future Logan in Queensland are no better).
Why do they do this? Trainers don’t like them, dogs don’t like them and punters will always by upset at the early smash and grab incidents. It’s a dumb and avoidable practice, yet it continues unabated.
Overall, my guess is that the involvement of WDA in such a research project is indicative of the presence of newcomer, Paul Newson, as interim chief of GRNSW. It may never have happened were the old guard still running the show. More power to him.
WDA’s expertise would have been assisted by its involvements with several other breeds on active duty. These include guide dogs, police, customs and other security industry dogs, all of which have intensive training patterns which have been regularly studied and improved. But, WDA claims, dogs are still just dogs: “it is likely that research on other breeds and breed types should also apply to racing greyhounds”.
Shouldn’t stewards be form students?
“Whalberg (sic) was vetted following the event. It was reported that there was no apparent injury found. Stewards spoke to Mr. G. Shingles, the trainer regarding the greyhound’s perceived below par performance. Mr. Shingles stated that the greyhound is an extremely bad traveller and a bad kennel dog. The greyhound competed over 525 metres last Saturday which he has never been tried over. Mr. Shingles was of the opinion that this may have contributed to the greyhound’s performance. Stewards noted Mr. Shingles explanation and took no further action.”
Now that “perceived below par performance” statement could have emanated from two areas – punters made it an odds-on favourite and so did the Watchdog in his predictions. Both were wrong. Wahlberg has early pace but has never succeeded or even done well over a distance longer than 425m. There is a world of difference between 400m/425m and the 460m of the Geelong trip, never mind the fact that Wahlberg led but faded badly over 525m at The Meadows at its previous start.
Stewards were therefore influenced by price rather than form, suggesting they failed to assess the latter properly. It is no excuse that the Watchdog did the same.
Secondly, it also raises a red flag about dogs backing up. A six day break is not too unreasonable but coming back from a 525m distance to a short sprint is always going to be a question for a relatively inexperienced dog, especially when that 525m effort was its first and only try at the trip.
Punters backed Wahlberg into $1.70, the Watchdog said it should be $1.60, I rated it at $6.00 in an open race. It ran a fading fourth, 3.5 lengths behind an average sort of time of 26.00.
If stewards don’t do the form, how can they assess a race?