Pippa has always been simply a big friendly greyhound girl. She has no expectations from life, she isn’t bothered about her place in the family hierarchy and she thrives on a simple routine. Officially named Dacent Alma, Pippa was owned by a syndicate and ran sixty-eight races at (the soon to be demolished) Belle Vue race track. At the age of 3 ¾, Pippa was discarded into rescue by her award-winning trainer, complete with bald patches, scars from pressure sores, bad teeth and ticks.
Pippa’s story initially seemed very typical of your average greyhound leaving the racing industry, but the closer we looked into her past, the greater the implications became.
Pippa was born in Ireland October 2009, presumably at the Dacent Kennels, one of a litter of five. However, her grandfather was a very famous Australian Greyhound named Bombastic Shiraz who was prolifically bred from (often via straws) once his racing days were over, but was later lucky enough to live out the remainder of his natural life as a companion dog with his trainer‘s family.
His son, Pippa’s father, Bit Chili, was also a well-known and profusely bred greyhound but we were informed that, sadly, he was sent to China for breeding where he eventually died. On further investigation, we discovered that Pippa has half siblings across the globe, including the late Lucy of Busselton Greyhound Awareness in Australia and a number of Greyhounds rescued from the Macau Canidrome. Thus is the nature of greyhound mass breeding.
We adopted a greyhound girl who had not been raced, Rio, along with Pippa. Rio had been cruelly treated in her former life yet she found her niche and adapted to home life far quicker than Pippa who seemed bound by habit and puzzled by spontaneous interaction and more subtle behaviours, which we attributed to her having been kennelled 23/7 with little human contact or enrichment. We didn’t want to confuse Pippa so we just allowed her to be the big friendly greyhound girl that she has always been, no pressure.
Very gradually, over the years, Pippa’s ego has developed and now she’ll throw her fluffy octopus around, scrounge for treats, perform zoomies in the garden and make hefty leaps of satisfaction onto the settee…for whatever reason. We regard this as a major triumph as we weren’t sure whether Pippa would ever really grasp the concept of ‘being more dog.’ Pippa absolutely loves water and will happily wade through any and every puddle, pond and river.
Pippa no longer has any teeth. Her front teeth were completely worn down when she came to live with us and our vet said it was consistent with chewing at bars through boredom. She had half of her teeth removed in 2017 and the rest extracted in 2019 but she manages fine. Pippa will be twelve this year and she appears to be generally healthy and fit…with a good strong heartbeat, the vet told us. She’s certainly happy and we hope she’ll be able to enjoy many more years of contented bliss.
Prof. Andrew Knight, Professor of Animal Welfare and Ethics and Founding Director of the Centre for Animal Welfare at the University of Winchester, on injuries in racing greyhounds:
“Many thousands of greyhounds continue to be seriously injured whilst racing, and many of these are killed. Injuries and deaths are partly due to the speeds at which greyhounds race. They are the fastest breed of dog, able to maintain average running speeds of around 40 mph (65 km/h). However, many factors relate to the design of the tracks and races themselves, and are preventable. My report ‘Injuries in Racing Greyhounds’ at https://AndrewKnight.info > reports, describes the main causes of injuries and deaths, and the ways in which these risks could be minimised.”
Greyhounds are a truly ancient breed, whose origins can be traced back to antiquity – the first records of them appeared in ancient Egypt around 8,000 years ago, and they are the only dog breed to be named in the Bible – whereas the racing industry itself first began in 1919 in the US, and in 1926 in the UK : a blink of an eye when seen in the context of the longevity of the greyhound breed type. So it would be wrong to assume that racing was ever the ‘original function’ of greyhounds in the same way that, say, sheep herding was for shepherding breeds or guarding for guard dog breeds: greyhounds were instead primarily used as hunting and coursing dogs.
Greyhound owners in England began initially entering their dogs into coursing competitions in the 18th century – but racing on circular tracks only developed after the invention in the US of the mechanical lure in around 1912 by Owen Patrick Smith, who opened the first circular greyhound track in 1919 in Emeryville, California and later opened 25 more tracks around the US, from where the idea caught on in England with the opening of the first British track, Bellevue, in 1926.
Prior to the 1920s, greyhounds kept for hunting and coursing were also present inside or close to households, as illustrated through the centuries by numerous depictions of greyhounds in both hunting scenes and domestic settings showing that they were clearly highly valued not only for their hunting and coursing prowess but also as companion animals and often even status symbols, frequently depicted at the heels of members of the nobility alongside their favourite purebred horses. Earlier, the Forestry Laws of 1014 England even made it illegal for anyone outside of the nobility and Royalty to own one.
In the centuries prior to the advent of commercial racing, as shown in the vast array of depictions handed down through the centuries, greyhounds had to be tough and able bodied hunters capable of negotiating irregular and difficult terrains. In racing however their requirements developed into something quite different, and over the past century they have been increasingly bred to specialise in running at full speed in a single direction, and selected for speed without regard for endurance or agility, since track racing does not require the changes in speed and direction needed when coursing or hunting live game over varied terrain. These differences in purpose inevitably led to structural differences between greyhounds used for coursing, modern show greyhounds and those bred for the track.
Over time, as racing gradually became the main activity commonly associated with greyhounds in the 20th Century (in addition to coursing which is still practised in Ireland but is illegal in Great Britain), the breed itself however continued to have a parallel presence in show rings and to be bred outside of racing as both show and companion dogs, both in countries with a commercial racing industry and those without one. So a greyhound type not associated with racing has always existed and actually predates it – though all greyhound types of course ultimately share the same ancestors. Therefore, there would be no reason to assume that it would not continue to exist, as the continued presence of the show type at least has never depended on the existence or continuation of the racing industry anyway but, like any other breed, on the love of the breed itself and the wish to see it perpetuated.
So in that context, without entering here into the differences in type between show greyhounds and racing greyhounds, the answer to the question ‘will greyhounds disappear if racing is banned ?‘ would logically be no – or at any rate they are at no greater risk of disappearing than any other breed of enduring and long standing appeal to match that of the greyhound.
Indeed, the vast majority of dog breeds were all originally bred for a ‘purpose’ that has long ceased to exist, yet most of these dogs continue to be bred and cherished as pets: for how many Mastiffs are still used as combat dogs in gladiator rings, Dalmatians as carriage dogs, Rhodesian Ridgebacks as lion hunters, Staffordshire bull terriers as bull baiting dogs, Irish setters as hunting dogs or Pekinese as temple guards?
Even breeds still bred as ‘working dogs’ such as Welsh Border Collies, German Shepherds, working Spaniels and Labradors etc are also bred as pets. With the gradual demise of commercial racing, why should it be any different for greyhounds? In Italy, where greyhounds are not raced commercially and where the last commercial race track was closed in 2002, greyhounds are hugely popular as companion animals and are currently both adopted as discarded ex racers from Ireland and bred as pets within Italy itself.
However, if one were to ask ‘will the modern racing greyhound in the form currently bred disappear if racing is banned?‘ the answer is likely to be less clear cut, as much will depend on the individual countries involved and whether breeders currently breeding racers for the industry would be open to differentiating their source of income by continuing to breed considerably smaller numbers of dogs as pets for people who specifically love the quiet temperament and docility of the breed type, many of whom as rescued dogs have blossomed into extraordinary PAT dogs around the world, gifted at communicating with autistic children as well as the elderly thanks to their gentle temperaments, as well as making great family pets – as anyone who has ever adopted one would readily agree.
In Great Britain, much would also depend on the situation in the Republic of Ireland, where the majority of dogs racing in the UK are bred (around 83%), and where most of the dogs adopted in the UK originate from. Nonetheless, it would not be implausible to speculate that a phasing out of racing in the UK – and consequently, a diminishing of the demand for racing dogs from Ireland and hence a reduction in the overbreeding taking place there * - might eventually lead to the establishment of smaller numbers of breeders willing to differentiate by breeding for the pet market.
In conclusion, given the huge popularity of ex racer greyhounds as pets throughout the world and the growing awareness of their talents outside of their ability to chase a lure around a racetrack for the benefit of the gambling industry, their continued existence as pets rather than as racers after the eventual demise of the racing industry would logically, according to our analysis, seem no less likely than that of any other breed whose so called ‘function’ has now elapsed. The answer to the question ‘will greyhounds disappear if racing is banned?’ is therefore highly likely to be no.
What is certain is that a responsible and phased ban of greyhound racing would put an immediate stop to the unacceptable suffering and premature deaths of thousands of dogs each year, even by the statistics provided by the British racing industry.
We were recently contacted by a lady who wishes to remain anonymous and whom we shall call, for the sake of this article, Jane.
Now Jane’s personal situation is such that she is the perfect placement for the more neglected or difficult to rehome dogs (she can afford expensive vet bills, lives in the country and has no dependants). Jane is well known for taking the more ‘damaged’ greyhounds so is at the top of the list of who to contact when such a dog comes along in her local area.
Jane adopted her first greyhound in 2009 and since then has had eighteen of them with six currently in residence.
She has asked that I point out that not all have been badly treated but please just look at the list below of those that have been. It’s not pleasant reading by any means and gives a clear indication of the appalling treatment that some of these dogs have had to endure.
I think that it’s worth noting that even though some of the dogs that Jane has adopted appear not to have been neglected they were still rejected once they were no longer of any use.
Over 80% of racing greyhounds come into the UK from Ireland and are tattooed in both ears. All of the greyhounds mentioned below were Irish bred
Archie was adopted at the tender age of thirteen. He had spent his life in kennels as a stud dog and once he wasn’t useful anymore he was going to be put to sleep. Fortunately Jane was there for him once his owner had discarded him.
Casey, an elderly female and an ex Irish racer, was found emaciated and abandoned in the woods in the west of the county that Jane lives in. Quite possibly left to fend for herself and ultimately die alone.
Davie was aged nine when Jane adopted him. He’d been left to rot in a shed after his racing life was over. Davie had to have all his teeth removed as they were in such poor condition and he had to have his tail amputated as his rear was a stinking maggot infested mess. His owner really took care of him eh!
Then there was Kelly. Kelly was left with an untreated broken leg which had to be amputated.
Teal was found in woodland tied up in a barbed wire “harness” and left to die a slow and painful death.
Freddy was yet another greyhound that was left in kennels after his racing days were over and was so withdrawn and depressed that he was almost catatonic when rescued.
Well William never raced and was brought over from Ireland aged two. He has lots of scars and was totally terrified of being touched when he was rescued. Four years on he still avoids men. We’ll never know what happened to William but he still suffers with the psychological damage of those unknown traumas.
Snuff was trial raced in Sunderland and broke his back leg at that race. He was only eighteen months old at the time and was left without treatment until he was rescued fourteen weeks later! It’s beyond comprehension how anyone could leave a dog in that amount of pain for so long.
Percy received a massive head trauma whilst racing and his skull is visibly dented. This initially caused him to have frequent fits which, with time, have thankfully now diminished both in frequency and severity. Percy has a sweet nature but Jane says that he is definitely “special needs”.
Stevie is Jane’s most recent adoption and came from a rescue in July 2020. Blind Stevie, as he’s now known, was never raced. However ‘somebody’ had obviously decided that he was no longer of any use to them so had taken it upon themselves to try to kill him with a hammer. Fortunately for Stevie they failed but in the process they destroyed Stevies optic nerves leaving him blind.
Jane goes on to say that the remaining eight dogs that she has adopted came into her care as their previous owners weren’t able to care for them any longer.
I’m sure that you’ll all agree that the above makes for sickening reading. So many of these greyhounds suffered either directly or indirectly at the hands of the Racing Industry and all of these cases are from 2009 up to and including 2020 with the most recent cases clearly indicating that there is still a massive problem within the Industry contrary to their protestations of improvements in the welfare and treatment of the racing greyhound from cradle to grave.
As Jane quite rightly says
“I abhor the exploitation of dogs (indeed any animals) in any shape or form and am well aware that the betting industry’s multi million pound profits are chief drivers for horse and dog racing..and have never understood how these are allowed to be self regulating, in the face of all the evidence of animal cruelty”
We would like to thank Jane on behalf of all the greyhounds that she adopted and covered expensive veterinary bills for. Thank you for being there for them.
The greyhound racing industry have shown us time and time again that they are not to be trusted regarding their empty promises about the welfare of the dogs, and that is why we at the Alliance Against Greyhound Racing feel that seeking a total ban is the only way to protect these sentient souls from the atrocities bestowed upon them in the name of entertainment.
Racing puts dogs at risk of doping, unnecessary injury and death.
Greyhounds are raced in extreme weather: heatwaves up to 33℃ and harsh winters alike, when pet dog owners are advised to take extra precautions.
Thousands of greyhounds are redundant every year.
Thousands of puppies are bred to supply a racing pool estimated to be 16,300 dogs serving 19 greyhound tracks in the UK, which includes Shawfield, Glasgow, where the greyhounds are protected by AHWA (Scotland) Act 2006.
Not all puppies make the racing grade. There are no statistics or explanations about the fate of failed ‘saplings’.
Greyhounds can be destroyed because an injury is too expensive to treat or because a home cannot be found.
Greyhounds are companion dogs and should not be exploited for multi million pound gambling profits.
Any number or type of injuries can occur. Areas of congestion significantly increase risks of high speed, dangerous collisions.
Repeated racing on oval tracks in an anti-clockwise direction can bring about injuries in the left foreleg and right hind leg. The left foreleg is the pivot and right hind leg provides propulsion. The dog’s skeleton adapts to the increased forces by resorbing calcium in some areas and depositing in others (‘bony remodelling’). Bones on the right side are depleted of calcium and still subject to stress increasing the likelihood of fracture.
An inquiry undertaken by New Zealand’s Racing Integrity Unit concluded that 68 per cent of injuries, and 75 per cent of fatalities, occurred around the first bend, where congestion is often at a maximum.
A paper form recording retention, transfer of ownership, homing or death of a greyhound is used by the racing owner to inform the GBGB about a redundant racing dog.
The form allows healthy dogs to be killed: on “economic grounds”; if “unsuitable” for homing or no home found. The form asks if the dog was destroyed by a vet and, if not, for an explanation of the circumstances.
There are no published uniform behavioural standards supporting decisions about unsuitability for homing.
The form is too weak in welfare terms. It reveals a comfort with permitted killing of healthy dogs within a multi-million pound gambling industry.