Why NSW Banned Greyhound Racing

Just as President John F. Kennedy famously implored Americans to ask what they might do for their country rather than vice versa, the New South Wales government’s decision to ban greyhound racing from July next year suggests an approach that asks not what animals can do for us, but what we can do for them.

Image: iStock

Nor is NSW the only place looking at dog racing in this way. In the 55 years since JFK’s speech, 40 US states have banned greyhound racing, leaving only 19 dog tracks in six states still operating.

The principal reason for the NSW government’s decision is the high “wastage rate”. According to the special inquiry into the NSW industry, 50-70% of all greyhounds raised for racing are killed simply because they are too slow, meaning that at least half of the almost 98,000 dogs bred for racing over the past 12 years have been killed.

Reforming the industry was considered possible, but difficult, in relation to the live baiting scandal that engulfed Victorian racing in 2015. But the wastage of dogs that are too slow has become an integral part of the business model, rather than a rogue practice, and as such is much harder to tackle.

Similar problems exist in the racehorse industry, where the wastage rate is close to 40%. But the financial and political implications of a similar ban on horseracing are far more profound. There have already been suggestions of a class factor at play here, with the sport of kings protected while the “battlers' sport” is banned.

Protecting ‘useless’ animals

Protection for animals that have outlived their useful purpose for humans is relatively rare in Western societies, but in Eastern religions it often features prominently. In India, cows that are too old to give milk are retired to shelters, where the public donate food and money to keep them in good health until they die. This principle is firmly embedded in the Hindu religion.

In contrast, the Christian and Muslim traditions hold that animals have been put on Earth solely for our benefit. For most scientists and philosophers this is a convenient interpretation of the scriptures but biologically absurd, especially when we consider the question of the killing of those that don’t suit our purpose or match up to arbitrarily defined standards.

Some will argue that (humanely) killing an animal does not affect its welfare, but most acknowledge that we have a moral imperative to provide animals with a life that is valued and sufficiently long to be worth living.

Western society is beginning to wake up to the massive wastage in its dairy industry, with male (bobby) calves routinely slaughtered at just a few days of age, and cows that rarely last more than two or three lactations in the herd being killed at about 5 years of age, when their natural lifespan is 25.

There are the rudiments of protection systems in Western society, for some animals at least. Regarded by the industry as “spent hens”, chickens are routinely condemned to an early death after just one season’s laying because they will be less productive in their second year. But charities are beginning to offer opportunities for members of the public to give homes to these hens. Similarly, the Donkey Sanctuary in the UK offers retirement to weary donkeys.

For many the recognition in Western society that animals are not just a commodity is too little, too late. The animal industries are intensifying at a rate never experienced before in response to growing demand, particularly in Asia. The financial pressure on greyhound trainers to increase their dogs’ speed to win more prize money is so great that they often don’t consider the ethics of what they are doing. Illegalising a cruel business is the only answer.

And how will the greyhounds be affected by this decision? There are concerns that the ban will lead to more deaths as trainers dump their obsolete dogs. Is rehoming an alternative to wastage? The extensive selection of the greyhound for speed makes them less than ideal as pets, and it seems unlikely that new homes can be found for all of NSW’s greyhounds.

Advocates will argue that the dogs love the sport. Admittedly there is something in dogs that makes them chase objects that run in front of them, and many dogs will do it until they are exhausted. It’s in their genetic makeup, as over the millennia of evolution those that could do this would have had an advantage. But it is the associated treatment of the dogs as commodities that makes this sport unacceptable in today’s society.

Beyond reform?

The other reason for the NSW government’s decision is that the industry was deemed to be inherently corrupt and beyond reform, as detailed by Justice Michael McHugh’s report on the industry. This is a sad reflection of how the government/industry partnership model of managing our animal industries has failed to inspire confidence.

The ACT has also announced a ban, although other states seem unlikely to follow suit, citing the profit generated by the industry or the high costs of compensating those involved.

The Victorian government believes it can reform its industry in the wake of the live baiting scandal, but the Australian federal government has repeatedly claimed to be able to do this with livestock export and still the exposés of cruelty keep coming.

Asking what we can do for the greyhounds that have been exploited in this way is just the first step in repairing a damaged sense of trust that man’s best friend so faithfully placed in us.

Clive Phillips, Professor of Animal Welfare, Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation.


    couple days old, but im sure if they looked into the sheep, cattle and horse industry they would see very very similar things. the only difference is a slow race horse still makes good dog meat

    I would disagree that "The extensive selection of the greyhound for speed makes them less than ideal as pets". Our household is blessed with two very pet-worthy ex-racing greyhounds for whom a 20-minute walk is enough to induce about 22 hours of sleep and keep them quite contented.

    However, I do agree that finding homes for in excess of seven thousand greys would seem to be a huge challenge. Perhaps you, dear reader, could assist with financial support, or even consider an addition to your family?

    This is something I just don't get. Obviously, greyhound racing as currently practiced is cruel, but almost all of the arguments for banning it equally apply to horse racing and to the dairy industry. It seems an awful lot like it was singled out as an easy target.

      How do you live bait a cow?

        The live baiting issue isn't really a case to ban the sport. It's not an inherent requirement - its a regulatory failure like doping.

        But I was referring specifically to the fact that fifty-percent of dairy cows are culled immediately after birth, and the rest are culled once their productivity decreases.

          I use to raise those dairy calves, and you are right they are killed at 2 years of age to feed humans. Don't tell me that hypocrisy is not well and truely alive.

          Live bait was an animal cruelty issue so it's state government not sporting regulator.
          Investigations found upto 20% of trainers used it. The grey hound industry is propped up several million dollars a year by the NSW government. Seen as tax payers pay to run the sport and to police it. I don't see an issue with the nsw government shutting it down.

    I own two retired greyhounds. And the new decision hascreated huge ructions amongst greyhound owners and trainers.

    What is not being talked about is the looming animal welfare crisis that the appalling way this decision was implanted.

    Reading greyhound racing Nye's annual report is horrifying. Over 30,000 greyhound pups were whelped between 2010 and 2016. 66% of these raced. An estimated 2450 were adopted and rehomed in Australia.

    That means tens of thousands of these gentle animals will die once they can no longer race next July.

    News decision is well intentioned but politically motivated. Wouldn't it have been smarter to wind down racing over a 10 year period?

    Live baiting is totally unacceptable even though in nature tearing to shreds a live perfectly healthy animal is acceptable. People are such hypocrites it's OK to kill a perfectly healthy cow, sheep, pig etc.. Its OK to re home 1000s of greyhounds thereby ensuring that more healthy cattle, sheep, pigs etc.. are killed to feed them ( feeding natural meat eaters anything but meat is also reprehensible ). I definitely think that there is a place for animal welfare groups but there is also an astounding level of hypocrisy and double speak in these organisations. Why promote the widespread adoption of dogs and cats in general when this will lead to many senseless deaths from the increased consumption of pet food. The only reason that animal welfare can't change it's practise is because they are not strong enough to make the hard decisions in banning pets, and no government has forced them to. Again as I said I am a realist, animal welfare should get their own house in order before they start on other industries. At the very least the animal racing industries supervise their animals much much better than most other industries which lose many animals through less supervision, despite the few bad apples.
    Why all this negativity about racing animals, they run for the fun of it if they don't want to run they are re homed. Some of our re homed horses I have found alive and healthy 20 years later. Some, which makes me very sad have been neglected and lost. I always think twice before I re home a horse because I am a realist and I know that few people look after animals 24/7 like I do.
    What is the difference between injuries sustained while racing or sustained while horses are in a paddock. There are very few injuries sustained in racing in comparison to injuries sustained in the paddock. As long as I will live I will not have seen all the new ways horses will injure themselves in a paddock. But more importantly many many times injuries will heal even seemingly catastrophic injuries. I am a realist if you own a horse no matter whether it is racing or not it will injure itself, this doesn't mean the end.
    I am a realist I have adopted four cats from animal shelters which are fat and healthy chasing and eating their natural food live mice and rats. ( this doesn't mean that I don't shed a tear for the mice and rats but it is the natural order of things ).
    I am a realist you cannot make one part of society feel like criminals for killing animals humanely while it is socially acceptable to kill other animals for human and pet consumption. The law is not suppose to be unjust if you are going to ban the destruction of animals then you should ban the destruction of all animals. Hypocrites !
    Please, enough with hypocrites.

      In nature it is survival of the fittest. The rabbit or possum, has the chance to get away but when it is tied to the lure and flung around the track and in the case of a possum it probably had it's teeth and claws unceremoniously ripped out it is ANIMAL CRUELTY. Live baiting is totally unacceptable and unnecessary. Greyhounds love to run and chase without the need of live baiting. And if you think that slow greyhounds are all re homed or killed humanly maybe you are not the realist you claim to be.

      All animal welfare groups that I am aware of support spaying/neutering to prevent animal overpopulation. Groups like the RSPCA also put down thousands of animals each year due to overpopulation as it's more humane than letting them starve to death.

      Some of the animal welfare groups are against racing for the wrong reasons. They are bleeding hearts that don't understand the logic of it and just want all animals to be free and humans to be dead, but not all animal welfare groups are like that, especially in this instance.

      The Greyhound ban was about issues in the industry that they've attempted to fix many times in the past but the issues just won't go away. Breeding a horse and encouraging it to run on a track is one thing, but another thing is if you breed a horse to race then kill it because it's too slow, or breed a horse to show jump then kill it when it breaks a leg. That's the problem in the industry. Not because the animals are racing, but because it saves money cutting corners and playing lucky dip with the animals lives.

    Are people actually buying the story that Baird, who has little regard for human rights (opposes same sex marriage, abortion and voluntary euthanasia) now values animal rights so much?

    Make no mistake this is a land grab.

    If he was serious about animal rights the horse racing and pet industries would be targeted as well. In the same 12yr period that the report says 48000-68000 'failed' greyhounds were destroyed RSPCA states over 85000 'failed' pet dogs were euthanised by their organisation in NSW alone (not the fault of the RSPCA but unfortunate 'wastage' of the pet industry).

    More selective exemptions for Casino Mike's friends from the top end of town (have we forgotten the lockout law bias already?).

    Think what you like about Greyhound Racing but don't allow Casino Mike to dress this decision up as something that its not.

      So because there are other animal welfare failures we shouldn't address this one? One win for animal welfare is better than none, and what does - or doesn't - happen with the real estate doesn't change that.

        Except this decision is clearly not based on animal welfare. Thats just the excuse we are being fed. And people are lapping it up.

      Greyhounds are bred for racing. The RSPCA doesn't breed dogs. The "Failed Greyhound" term applies to Greyhounds that are specifically bred for racing but are killed early as they don't live up to expectations.

      There's a huge difference between that and an organisation who attempts to help unwanted pets. The RSPCA also works against puppy factories which breed dogs for a purpose (puppy sales) similar to the Greyhound industry, and these dogs are also killed if they fail to sell while they are puppies.

    As others have said, Greyhounds actually make very good pets. They sleep around 22 hours a day and if you have a backyard (even a small one) they will generally exercise themselves. They are also very lovable pets as they are very friendly. I wouldn't suggest them to people with very small backyards, townhouses or apartments but I would suggest them for everyone else.

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