Animal Welfare Plan for Greyhounds in the NSW Racing Industry

On the 7th of July 2016, the Baird government announced their intention to ban greyhound racing in NSW by 1 July 2017.

Part of the announcement included the creation of a taskforce[1] to develop a transition plan for workers and animals in the industry. It is understood that the transition plan is currently being developed in consultation with industry and animal welfare groups, although the date of its release is unknown.

The transition is to be funded from the proceeds the government receives from greyhound wagering tax between now and July 1 next year, approximately $30 million.[2] Subsequent proceeds the government receives from betting through the NSW TAB from interstate greyhound wagering tax would be used to contribute to feeding and caring for ex-racing dogs.

The wellbeing of thousands of dogs are at stake in NSW and it is crucial that the animal welfare plan is well researched, resourced and well informed.

The Greens NSW have consulted with a range of animal protection organisations and rescue groups in the sector and would like to advocate that the following measures be considered in the transition plan for dogs currently in the industry:

1. Immediate end to the breeding of greyhounds for racing purposes in NSW

As identified by the Special Commission of Inquiry, there are currently 6,809 registered greyhounds in NSW. This figure does not take into account dogs that have been whelped but not yet registered; meaning the actual number of dogs potentially leaving the industry in the near future would be higher.

While the rate of greyhounds being whelped in NSW has fallen significantly since July 2016, failing to prohibit any further breeding of dogs would add to the potential number of dogs exiting the industry both pre and post 1 July 2017.

It would also make the process more costly and time consuming and negatively impact the chances of dogs currently in the industry being rehomed.

A prohibition on any further breeding should be implemented as soon as possible, preferably through legislation.

2. Creation of sanctuaries for greyhounds leaving the industry as soon as possible 

The Greens recognise that many shelters and rescue groups are either at or over capacity, both in terms of physical space to accommodate the dogs and finances to provide care.

To address the issue of a significant number of dogs needing rehabilitation and rehoming at a single point in time, the Greens suggest the creation of multiple sanctuaries or ‘halfway’ houses to enable dogs to be kept safe while the process of assessment then fostering/adoption can take place.

These sanctuaries will need to start operation as soon as possible to cater for the period of industry wind down from now until July 2017 and beyond.  It is envisaged that such facilities would be temporary until the current cohort of dogs surrendered have been rehomed.

It must be noted that if the government had not acted decisively to ban greyhound racing, 50 to 70% of the dogs currently in the industry would have been killed. This ban is an opportunity to break the cycle of breeding and killing and ensure dogs in the industry can be rehabilitated and rehomed.

Options and benefits of multiple greyhound sanctuaries include:

  • Convert existing tracks to kennels. This would ensure that the kennels are located in areas with existing high concentrations of racing greyhounds. It would require the government to purchase or negotiate with clubs for the use of the tracks prior to 1 July 2017 to allow for the conversion to take place.
  • Employ workers in the industry to care for the animals while they are processed with a focus on regional/rural areas and areas with high unemployment rates.

3. Need for uniform process for removing dogs from industry and rehoming

The development of a uniform process for the rehoming of greyhounds would provide certainty to industry participants and groups interested in helping to rehome unwanted animals.

It would also provide assurances to individuals and families wishing to adopt a greyhound that the dog has properly been assessed and rehabilitated as necessary – regardless of whether the animal has come from a large shelter or small rescue groups that operate through fostering networks.

Such a process needs to include:

  • drop off points/collection
  • assessment of dogs
  • rehabilitation and the engagement of dog trainers and behaviourists
  • clarification/review of ‘muzzling’ of greyhounds
  • fostering and rehoming of dogs regardless of whether this is undertaken by a small or large rescue group.
  • follow up and monitoring.

Such a process should be developed in wide consultation with animal behaviourists, rescue organisations (large and small) and foster networks.

4. Involvement of smaller rescue groups

Small rescue organisations have long been responsible for re-homing the bulk of the greyhound discarded by the racing industry in NSW, usually with very few financial resources. As a result, they have developed the following skills and expertise that necessitates their inclusion in the transition plan:

  • Strong links within local communities and with other rescue groups
  • Network of volunteers and donors willing to help rehabilitate and rehome greyhounds
  • Often a strong understanding of the greyhound breed, common treatment in the racing industry, methods of rehabilitation and what homes different dogs would be suited to.
  • Many of the smaller groups do not have physical shelters and therefore rely on foster networks. These networks are geographically diverse and can be called upon and expanded to accommodate for the expected increase in greyhounds leaving the industry.

Options: 

One of the biggest barriers for smaller rescue groups in rehoming unwanted greyhounds is having the finances available to care for the dogs.
Most small rescue groups rely on donations and personal funds and therefore funding assistance to cover the following needs could significantly increase their capacity

  • vet bills
  • staff
  • dog trainers
  • dog care (food and bedding)
  • extra kennels (if applicable)

It is also essential that strong ties are developed between sanctuaries and smaller rescue groups. The sanctuaries may be able to act as “clearing houses” for dogs leaving the industry in which they can be assessed and processed up to a point, before the smaller rescue group facilitate their rehoming or foster care.

5. Incentives for current owners to keep their dogs

The Special Commission of Inquiry estimates that it is likely that no more than 10% of greyhounds will be retained as pets by industry participants in any given year.[3]

Increasing this rate would significantly assist efforts to ensure as many dogs as possible are given a chance to be rehomed as the industry faces closure. The more dogs that are retained by their owners, the fewer animals need to be assessed, fostered and rehomed during the transition period.

One option would be to provide financial assistance to responsible owners to help them purchase adequate food, shelter and veterinary treatment for the animals under their care.

6. Prohibition on the export of dogs overseas

At the time of the announcement by the Baird government that they would be pursuing a ban on greyhound racing, it flagged that the export of dogs to overseas jurisdictions with “appropriate animal welfare standards”. This is an option that should be rejected by the taskforce. Regardless of industry or legislative animal welfare standards, once dogs are exported from NSW there exist no safeguards or accountability regarding their treatment.

There is also a risk that dogs transported to jurisdiction with ’appropriate’  animal welfare standards could then be sent to countries with no protections in place.

7. Promotion of greyhounds as a companion breed

An education program to encourage the adoption attractiveness of greyhounds as pets needs to be implemented as soon as possible.  There also needs to be a well-resourced advertising campaign.

One option to increase the rehoming rate, but not at the expense of other rescue breeds, would be to encourage existing owners of greyhound rescues to welcome another greyhound into their home. There are also options for greyhounds to become companions in high care environments.

Any education program also needs to address the myth that all greyhounds are highly active animals that need excessive amounts of exercise. This could open up new opportunities for people living in flats or small houses to consider adopting a greyhound.

The NSW Government should also consider the practicability of removing the requirement for greyhounds to have muzzles in public in favour of muzzles only for dogs with behavioural issues.

[1] http://www.greyhoundracinginquiry.justice.nsw.gov.au/Documents/q-and-a-transitioning-nsw-greyhound-racing-industry-to-closure.pdf

[2] http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/greyhound-racing-ban-mike-baird-knows-industry-is-gutted-but-wont-change-mind-20160714-gq5ydf.html

[3] SCOI Volume 2, 11.185.