Features Australia

Baiting greyhound owners

1 October 2016

9:00 AM

1 October 2016

9:00 AM

Greyhound racing is to be outlawed in NSW from July 1, purportedly based on the findings of the McHugh report, commissioned after the airing of a Four Corners programme which depicted horrific scenes of live-baiting.

But in the aftermath of the show, just three out of the 4,400 trainers registered in NSW, were convicted of the barbaric practice of ‘blooding’ race dogs with animals such as rabbits, piglets or possums. It subsequently emerged the real catalyst for the Baird government’s ban was the McHugh report’s assertion that ‘between 13,000 and 17,000 greyhounds are euthanised annually simply for being too slow.’

Later however, it was conceded this figure, which claimed 50 to 70 per cent of greyhounds met an unnaturally early demise, was a ‘guesstimate’ as no data had ever been kept by NSW’s racing and breeding authorities. Subsequently the government-appointed Greyhound Racing NSW conducted an audit which showed an average of 504 greyhounds had been destroyed in each of the three most recent years. That is a wastage rate of just under seven per cent, a figure which pales when compared with thoroughbred and harness racing, which see between 25 and 61 per cent of horses sent off to a knackery or to meet a similar fate at a rate as high as 37,000 per year. And with restrictions on breeding implemented this year, wastage will soon be close to zero.

Yet there has never been, and never will be, a suggestion that any horse racing should be banned. That alone makes the Baird/Grant ban nothing but an elitist piece of legislation, targetting the ‘battlers’ of the racing world while rewarding wealthy thoroughbred racing participants through increased prize money.

But how relevant was the McHugh report to the NSW Government? Justice Michael McHugh, 80, provided his findings to the Minister for Racing and selected members of government on June 16. On July 7 his report was made public, simultaneously with the Premier’s announcement of intent to close down the industry. Yet a widely circulated YouTube clip, filmed in early April – more than two months before the report was handed down – showed NSW thoroughbred racing boss Peter V’landys telling a group of racehorse breeders: ‘I have been told by the Government it is going to shut down greyhound racing in NSW.’

Data from NSW council pounds shows 16,178 dogs are euthanased annually while the RSPCA has destroyed between 3,000 and 8,000 dogs every year since 2010-11. Statistics reveal that each year up to 620 million animals are killed in Australia, mostly for human consumption. The great irony is that Baird was once quoted as saying: ‘This ban is all about animal welfare, we want to care for greyhounds.’ And while the NSW Government originally estimated its veto on racing would mean 6,000 greyhounds would need to be re-homed, that figure has now ballooned to a ‘re-adjusted’ figure of over 19,000. So the NSW government’s concern for greyhounds will result in at least 19,000 of these beautiful, gentle animals being, to use the term Baird and Troy Grant are so fond of using when attacking the sport’s participants, ‘slaughtered’.Baird claims ‘most will be re-homed’ but with 600 retired greyhounds in NSW currently becoming post-racing household pets each year, that is truly pie in the sky thinking. It is the equivalent to Grant’s claim that only a handful of thoroughbreds are killed when they are no longer of use. ‘Most find their way into pony clubs or are used as police horses,’ he insisted. So in any given year 37,000 racehorses join the mounted police or pony clubs? Is he serious?

One reason why the NSW Government and the McHugh inquiry’s figures on greyhound euthanasia were so skewed is that until recently there have been no records maintained of the whereabouts of retired greyhounds. Craig Chappelow, a successful young trainer in suburban Sydney, has 22 greyhounds on his property. ‘Eleven are currently racing while their mates are retired pets,’ Chappelow told me. ‘I need to win a race now and then to pay the feed bill for the pensioners.’ Yet according to official records used in the McHugh inquiry, Chappelow’s 11 retirees, like thousands of others who are retained as pets by their loving owners or trainers, were deemed as being ‘dead’. Stuart Barron, a hobby trainer from western Sydney, recently proclaimed proudly to an official that he had been fortunate in having always been able to find a home for his retired racers. When challenged by the official as to this claim, Barron pointed out that the dogs listed under his name which were now classified as having been destroyed, were in fact, racing in New Zealand. ‘Oh, we don’t have any data for dogs which are currently in New Zealand,’ came the official explanation.

As a sop to greyhound owners and trainers, the NSW Government announced on September 22 it would provide financial compensation of ‘up to’ $1500 per greyhound for every participant. That is an insult considering it costs a minimum of $3,000 to raise a greyhound from birth to the average racing age of 18 months. The NSW Government’s cronies in the public service advised Baird & Co. that greyhound folk tended to be ‘of low literacy’. They must also believe they are not proficient in arithmetic.

Paul Wheeler, from Young, NSW, is acknowledged as the world’s leading breeder and owner. Strangely, Wheeler was not asked to appear before the McHugh inquiry. In fact of 69 witnesses who did, only 14 were from the industry. The rest comprised mainly animal rights activists and RSPCA representatives.

The Baird government has insisted that prior to the announcement of the 2017 ban, greyhound racing was already a ‘dying sport.’ Nothing could be further from the truth. A decade ago, betting on the NSW TAB accounted for just 13 per cent of turnover. Currently running at 22 per cent, dwarfing harness racing betting, the doggies are the fastest growing form of gambling among the three racing codes. The annual Coonamble carnival has this year attracted a record 984 nominations. That means a world record 125 races will be staged from Saturday until Monday! A dozen regional areas in NSW, from the Far West to the Illawarra to the Northern Rivers, identified 12,000 country-based greyhound participants where the sport generates $112.7 million. No wonder there is disquiet about the ban in the ranks of the Nationals.

Oh, and by the way, apart from the up to 8,000 dogs ‘put down’ by the RSPCA each year, that body also knocks off double that number of unwanted and abandoned cats. If we are going to outlaw greyhound racing, why not ban any form of pet ownership?

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