British people can be strangely schizophrenic when it comes to animal welfare issues. The other day I was listening to a friend arguing about the evils of the Spanish bullfighting industry. While I do share her concerns, I cannot fully support her passionate stand against a foreign issue while her own country perpetuates its own method of animal cruelty.
I'm talking about Greyhound racing, or the 'sport' of racing Greyhounds. Any Greyhound owner can attest that they make beloved pets as they are non-aggressive animals, known for having a gentle nature and high intelligence. They naturally aspire to live in packs so they readily accept commands from their owners, and due to their intelligence they are easy to train to run on racetracks, which are all traits that make them ideal dogs for racing. Many people favour winning dogs and lay bets on their outcomes, without realising that when they do so they lay wagers on their lives.
There is growing awareness of the welfare issues surrounding Greyhounds that are bred for racing, but when this is mentioned in conversation, another grey animal enters the room - an elephant. British people would much rather talk about bulls and bullfighting; that terrible, barbaric practice abroad. After all, we are a nation of dog lovers, so Greyhound racing can't be all that bad - can it?
Greyhounds are bred to chase small animals on racetracks, and only those that make the grade get to enter the racing business. Even those that do have short lifespans; racing Greyhounds can only compete up to the ages of between two and six years, and only the fastest racers are kept for breeding purposes. Greyhounds can naturally live for ten to thirteen years, so what happens to racing dogs after they have reached their peaks? Some are adopted, the National Greyhound Association assures us, thanks to the work of various dog re-homing charities. But what happens to the others? Most of them simply disappear, and their whereabouts are unaccounted for by the dog racing industry.
According to the League Against Cruel Sports, the Greyhound racing industry produces a 'surplus' of at least 13,500 dogs every year. According to one report a British man destroyed 10,000 healthy Greyhounds with a captive bolt gun, because they were 'surplus'. Some Greyhounds are sold to research labs, while others are sent to foreign racetracks. Reported cases of cruelty include dogs being dropped into quarries tied to bricks or other heavy items. Those that are not destroyed are abandoned with missing ears, as the racing tattoos on their ears would otherwise link them back to their owners.
The Greyhounds that do get to compete aren't treated well either. The hounds that are bred for racing lack the social contact that all dogs require. Their bodies are pushed to their physical limits when they are raced, and they often suffer from repetitive stress injuries from running on racetracks. Other health issues amongst Greyhounds that animal charities report are tooth problems, kennel cough, and tick-borne diseases and parasites due to the lack of proper veterinary care. On some racetracks in the UK, Greyhounds are housed in crates for over 20 hours a day, which leads to boredom and depression for these sensitive animals. Doping is also a common problem in Greyhound racing, which as of yet has an unknown effect on the well being of the dogs.
The League Against Cruel Sports is calling for laws to protect Greyhounds that are bred for racing in the UK, but I would argue that this does not go far enough, particularly since only 25% of racing dogs are bred in the UK, which raises welfare concerns relating to Greyhounds that are bred abroad in unknown conditions. Dog racing is part of our culture, some people will argue - but so were bear baiting and cock fighting once, and so was fox hunting until recently. We are, at our core, a nation of dog lovers, and if more people were aware of how Greyhounds are kept and killed in order to sustain the dog racing industry, they might change their minds about propping up this 'tradition' which leaves little to be proud of. Greyhound racing is a big industry that turns a huge profit, but at what cost? If you prick a racing Greyhound, does it not bleed? I imagine it does profusely, particularly when it is dispatched with a bullet in the brain, a brick around the neck, or- as they say in the industry- 'a bop on the head'. That's why we need to stop pointing at animal welfare issues in other nations and look at what is happening on our doorstep, and look at our own dogs as we consider whether anyone can really justify what goes on in the dog racing industry. I for one cannot.
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