Argumentative essay written for class. Information up to date as of fall 2011.
|The greyhound has a rich and noble history. Bred for their ability to track prey by sight, and once kept by royalty and nobility as pets, greyhounds are now more commonly seen running around an oval track while gamblers place bets on the winner. Though the long history of racing is what keeps it going, poor treatment of the dogs and questionable business ethics are alienating the public. Greyhound racing should be banned worldwide because of frequent and extreme violations of animal welfare regulations.
The greyhound breed has a rich history. Greyhounds have long been a popular breed and are known to have served as pets even to ancient Egyptian pharaohs. Both drawings depicting greyhounds and remains of greyhounds can be found in the tombs of Tutankhamen and Cleopatra VII among others (McKeon “The Most Exciting Dogs in the World” 2). Another historical greyhound owner is Odysseus whose greyhound was the only family member to recognize him upon his return home. An interesting bit of trivia is that greyhounds are the only breed mentioned in the Bible. The sport of racing, or coursing, has been similarly documented in hieroglyphics. It is commonly accepted that the Romans are responsible for introducing the breed and racing to Britain where they are still appreciated today.
Previously limited to a one-dog exhibit in which spectators could watch a single dog chase down a live lure, coursing became competitive in the 16th century allowing for gambling. However, according to the Greyhound Racing Association of America (GRA-America), “the first official coursing meet was held in 1776 at Swaffham, Norfolk, England” (McKeon “The Most Exciting Dogs in the World” 3) and pitted two dogs head-to-head in a chase after a live hare. An artificial lure running on a mechanical track was introduced in 1876 replacing a live hare, but its use was not popular until its introduction in the United States in 1919 after more than a decade of research and development by American inventor, Owen Patrick Smith. This came after 50 years of the breed’s popularity serving in cavalry units “because they could both catch game and help scouts by detecting movement at a distance” (2). GRA-America says, “Among the greyhound fanciers was George Armstrong Custer, who coursed his pack of greyhounds in the night before the fateful Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876” (3).
The greyhound’s natural athletic ability lends itself well to racing. “He has the most efficient and highly developed cardio-pulmonary system in the canine world… and is over 10-times faster than a Thoroughbred racehorse” (McKeon “Media Kit” 1). Coursing events showcasing this ability became popular weekend diversions and county fair exhibits in the farming towns of the Midwest. The sport’s growth was similar in Britain. The Economist cites several 1920 coal-mining towns, where “working men kept and racing whippets [a cousin to the greyhound breed], which were small enough to live in the house and could also catch rabbits,” as racing’s “popular roots” in that region (“Scarcely a cloth cap in sight” 1). As in the U.S. “its real growth [in Britain] was linked to gambling” and its attendance rates were second only to soccer matches. The 1919 introduction of an improved mechanical lure was an attempt by its inventor, Smith, to make these events more humane and family friendly.
The popularity of American greyhound racing did not rise significantly, however, until gambling was allowed and night races were established (McKeon “The Most Exciting Dogs in the World” 4). A number of tracks quickly sprang up in Florida and across the country, including some in Kentucky, Missouri, Wisconsin and Montana, yet the sport’s reputation was jeopardized in the 1930s by association with mob finance which was resolved when “pari-mutuel betting [a pooled betting system] was legalized in Florida in 1932, primarily as a way to bring more revenue to the state during the Great Depression” (McKeon “The Most Exciting Dogs in the World” 5). With this development, an industry was born.
The popularity of greyhound racing as a gambling arena led to its growth as a business venture. According to the Humane Society of the United States, “lawmakers initially perceived racing as a way to raise needed revenue,” and sanctioned it, though now the viability of these laws is debatable: “State revenue generated by dog tracks amounts, on average, to far less than one percent of a state’s annual income, and has been declining markedly in recent years” (“The Facts about Greyhound Racing” 3). By the end of the decade, seven states allowed betting and there were 46 tracks spread among 15 states (McKeon “The Most Exciting Dogs in the World” 5). This was not only true in the United States, but also in England where “in the 1920s and 1930s dog-racing offered one of the few chances for poor people to place bets legally [because] greyhound tracks were cheaper to get into than [horse] racetracks” (“Scarcely a cloth cap in sight” 1). To this day, greyhound racing, here and overseas, remains a popular form of entertainment for the lower classes.
Though four American tracks closed between 2000 and 2005, “greyhound racing is holding up well in poor states like West Virginia” (“Gone to the dogs”). However, though never very popular among the higher income classes, it is becoming even less so now:
“Booming Arizona always used to be one of the industry’s brighter spots. But on a Thursday night at the Phoenix Greyhound Park, only 200 people show up. Attendances are 29% below the level five years ago… Over the same period, Phoenix’s population has grown by nearly a tenth.”
New means of gambling are partly to blame. Simulcast racing and internet betting means that people no longer have to visit a racetrack to make money off the races (“Gone to the dogs”). The industry is facing similar difficulties in Britain: “Since betting laws were relaxed in 1963, gambling has moved off tracks and into local betting shops: attendance at dog tracks fell to 3.3 million in 2006” (“Scarcely a cloth cap in sight”). While creative means to again raise attendance (such as advertising and sponsorships similar to those which were successful in making soccer more popular among the upper class) seems to be working in the U.K., while the industry faces bigger hurdles on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Economist cites animal cruelty as “a nagging problem for the industry” (“Gone to the dogs”). According to the Greyhound Protection League, “the ‘sport’ has conservatively claimed the lives of more than 1,000,000 greyhounds in its 75-year U.S. history” (“Answers to Commonly Asked Questions”). Thus, though some parks have been able to garner revenue in a tough economy, the sport’s popularity is in decline. In fact, as of 2003, less than 1% of the gambling market is staked in greyhound racing (Asay).
According to the Greyhound Protection League (GPL), “a revolving baseline of 1,000 dogs is needed to sustain a racetrack operation.” In order to support this need, the industry continually breeds the dogs. Between 1989 and 2000 “a minimum total of 507,596 greyhounds” were born (“Answers to Commonly Asked Questions” 5), an average of 42,300 dogs per year. Interestingly, in 1997 the Greyhound Racing Association of America (GRA-America) stated that “[this year] we expect to breed fewer than 30,000 dogs” (McKeon “Media Kit: Greyhound Racing F.A.Q” 2). The Humane Society of the United States blames this excess on “the desire to produce ‘winning’ dogs” (“The Facts About Greyhound Racing” 2). It has been determined that the number of pups bred between 1989 and 2000, and the numbers of racing, breeding and adopted dogs, that 325,000 of the 507,596 born in that twelve-year period died (“Answers” 5). While it is logical to blame a number of those deaths on natural causes (age, genetic illness, etc.) 325,000 seems excessive. So what happened?
The GPL discovered that while 26,500 greyhounds were retired from the racing system in 2000, only 13,000 were adopted. What is more disturbing is that 19,000 were killed; “This number includes 7,600 farm culls [pups killed before reaching 18 months of age] and 11,400 ‘retirees’ who were not rescued” (“Answers to Commonly Asked Questions” 5). Though adoption of retired racers is growing in popularity, “estimates [of the number of greyhounds adopted into loving homes each year] vary from 14,800 to 18,000 [each year]” (“Fact Sheet: Greyhound Racing in the United States”). The Humane Society blames selective breeding: “Thousands of greyhounds at each track are disposed of yearly to bring in a ‘fresh’ group of dogs… The industry kills greyhounds at various stages in the dogs’ lives because they appear to lack racing potential or are injured” (“The Facts About Greyhound Racing” 2). Some have gone so far as to compare the industry to Hitler because of this breeding method: “’We’ve seen this before,’ Mr. Whetstone [an Alabama attorney] said. ‘A madman called Hitler was doing it, trying to create a superrace. Well, they’re overbreeding, because they’re trying to get superdogs’” (Halbfinger 3). The tragedy begins with the dogs’ daily lives.
The majority of greyhound track kennels provide substandard care that is “agricultural in spirit, routine and ‘traditional’ throughout the industry” (“Answers to Commonly Asked Questions” 3). The GPL cites the following characteristics as typical: Greyhounds are kept muzzled in cages for 18-22 hours per day and let out into small pens a few times a day; the crates are wooden and the bedding thin; the kennels are infested with fleas and ticks causing illness in the majority of the dogs; and they “are routinely fed ‘4-D Meat,’ the meat of dead, diseased, dying or downed animals deemed unfit for human consumption” (“Answers to Commonly Asked Questions” 3). While the GRA-America states that “greyhounds live in climate-controlled kennels, usually on or near the tracks where they race” (“Media Kit: Greyhound Racing F.A.Q.” 2), the Humane Society argues that “many enclosures are not climate-controlled, causing the dogs distress during inclement weather” (“The Facts About Greyhound Racing” 2). And this is only the beginning; more dangers await greyhounds on the track.
The racetrack itself presents a number of hazards to the dogs. In fact, “greyhounds competing on the 30 official British greyhound tracks sustain a minimum of 7560 injuries every year” (“Track Carnage Cover-Up”). Many of these injuries are the result of the close completion facing the dogs going into tight turns at high speed. Clive Ellis describes two sickening examples which occurred in the first month of the 2010 race season:
“For Loughmore Boy race eight at Peterborough on 2 January was to be his last. The beautiful black male collided with Kangaroo Brice on the back straight putting Loughmore Boy into the fence and shattering his left foreleg. Trainer Bryn Ford said the dog was in ‘such distress, frothing at the mouth… it looked like he was dying of shock.’ The track vet quickly ended the animal’s suffering out of sight of spectators watching from the restaurant and bars…
“Malbay Kate survived the first corner but sadly not the second when running at Doncaster on 22 January. The steward’s comment read as follows: Blk 1, Ck 2 (baulked 1, checked 2). In reality the blue female was brought down and her right hind leg was ‘ripped-off’ from above the hock, according to trainer Keith Davis, who further added: ‘Every dog went into the corner together and she was the meat in the sandwich.’” (Ellis)
Other injuries, and even deaths, are caused by the mechanical lure running around the inside of the track. The cable can easily entangle a dog who has fallen under the rail, which itself can cause electrocution (Asay).
Trainers frequently “justify [such deaths] by saying greyhounds are for racing and the dog was doing what he enjoyed” (Ellis). This is said often of athletes who die while participating in their sport, like a skier in an avalanche or a kayaker in large rapids. There is, however, one fundamental difference between the human athlete and the racing dog: While a race car driver understands and accepts the inherent risks posed by high-speed turns in traffic and the effects of the forces on the body, it is doubtful that a greyhound can conceive of the consequences of the track dynamics. Said Ellis, “[The tracks are essentially comprised of] long straights leading into tight bends. Put six greyhounds into the mix and it’s a recipe for disaster with numerous incidents occurring as the dogs hurtle into turn one.” While Malbay Kate’s trainer said, “Once the dogs leave the trap unfortunately they are on their own and you have to take what comes,” it would be reasonable to assume that the trainers would take responsibility for their dogs’ safety. You cannot put a dog on the track and then deny all fault if it is injured. As if this denial is not disgusting enough, track officials are just as bad, if not worse.
Many of the dogs who are seriously injured are immediately put-to-sleep, or “PTS”, usually for economic reasons (“Track Carnage Cover-Up”). “It is thought as many as 1,000 greyhounds are put-to-sleep annually following injuries sustained in races and trials on British tracks… more than 10 percent of new registrations in 2009” (Ellis). Though it is public knowledge that a number of dogs are PTS only to avoid the costs of rehabilitation, the official number of dogs injured and PTS is concealed by industry officials. “The reason is, of course, obvious: with research indicating perhaps a 5 figure number for injuries incurred and hundreds of greyhounds PTS solely on economic grounds the information would prove highly damaging for the BUSINESS of greyhound racing” (“Track Carnage Cover-Up”). This seems especially cruel considering that Australia banned jump racing after 20 horses died in two years (Ellis). But this business revolves around gambling. Ironically the spectators are the root of one of the greatest dangers in the greyhound racing industry today.
The profits of gambling are fueling today’s greatest threats to racing greyhounds. Even ‘superdogs’ need a boost from time to time and their owners and trainers can give it to them – and their benefactors – by doping dogs and fixing races. An undercover investigation found evidence of this in Britain. BBC reporter Paul Kenyon infiltrated one such crime ring by posing as a trainer. With the help a former trainer who admitted to taking part in fixing races, Kenyon made contact with a popular corrupt trainer, Allan Nielson. “Big Al,” as he was known, made his name fixing races. Once Kenyon’s borrowed dogs had won a few races, making him appear to be a viable trainer, Kenyon befriended Big Al and worked his way into his confidences, gaining undercover video evidence of the strategies used by trainers to make big money from the races. These strategies include drugging the dogs.
Among the drugs stocked in Nielson’s medicine cabinet were B-12, adrenaline, cocaine and Euthatal. The last was of particular concern to the veterinarian interviewed by Kenyon. Used by veterinarians for euthanasia, one of the bottles found in Nielson’s supply cabinet could kill six greyhounds or, in the wrong hands, two humans. According to Kenyon, “there’s a large black market for drugs that kill greyhounds. A greyhound’s racing life is short; they’re past their best at four years old. There’s still a decade of life left in them, but food and kennel fees are expensive for a dog no longer bringing in the money” (Kenyon Part Two).
Kenyon said, “People think Big Al’s a friend. In fact, he’s been conning them out of their honest bets for years. We’ll never know how much he’s made at their expense” (Kenyon Part Two). When Kenyon broke cover to confront Nielson, he denied the illegality of the drugs he sold and denied fixing races, but also said that fixing races was no crime: “Illegal to who? There’s a million fixed races; you’ve seen them in the paper… I don’t perpetrate anything.” Ashley Hart, a former kennel hand and Kenyon’s informant, also led him to a trainer suspected of killing dozens of dogs and burying them on his property.
Steve Davis raced dogs at the track in Oxford. “Disposing of racing dogs [was] rumored to be one of his specialties” (Kenyon Part Two). Behind Davis’ kennel was a mound of dirt suspected to be a burial pit. Hart told Kenyon of one particular incident that stuck out clearly in his mind:
“The dog was waggling his tail, looking up at Mr. Davis. He had it on a slip-lead with a gun pointed at the top of his head. He then shot the dog which fell to the ground. I felt sick, disgusted, and it’s something that will always sit in the back of my mind. I would imagine [I saw] 10 to 15 dogs [killed like that and I was only there] a very short time so how many had he done before that? It must be a graveyard.” (Kenyon Part Two)
Kenyon and his crew dug through the pit while Davis was away at the track. Though they were only able to find the complete remains of one dog – and individual bones from a number of others – an autopsy showed that that dog died quite young, between three and five years old (Part Three). That dog was certainly not alone.
A number of disturbing cases involving the neglect and ‘disposal’ of greyhounds have been reported in both the U.S. and the U.K. Most neglect cases involve inadequate shelter or oversight. The wooden crates found in many kennels, just large enough for the dogs to stand in, are lined – often poorly – with newspaper or carpet. The closely packed, and often stacked, crates “can lead to an increased fire hazard” (Asay). A Massachusetts track lost more than ninety dogs to four fires in thirteen years “because the track had never installed fire sprinklers.” Similar oversights include faulty air conditioning units – or none at all – as was the case involving twenty deaths at the Jacksonville Kennel Club in Florida. Another horrible case of neglect occurred in Summerfield, Florida, in 1991. “An anonymous tip led police to a farm… where they found one hundred and ninety-four starving greyhounds forced to lie in and eat their own waste” (Asay). Greyhounds have also fallen victim to bizarre illnesses: “In one month in 2005, 19 dogs at Wonderland Greyhound Park died from a mysterious illness that was later proven to be a form of horse flu that had never before jumped species” (“Fact Sheet: Greyhound Racing in the United States”).
The disturbing discovery of mass graves like the one found on Steve Davis’ property is not unique to Britain. Examples of “the lethal underbelly of the waning greyhound racing and pari-mutuel industry in the United States” was found buried in a pit in Lillian, Alabama, in 2002 (Halbfinger). Robert L. Rhodes ran what District Attorney David Whetstone called a “Dachau for dogs.” Rhodes was believed to have killed as many as 3,000 dogs from the Pensacola Greyhound Track for $10 a head. “Neither Alabama nor Florida state law prevents the owner of an animal or pet from killing it for any reason at all, provided the killing is done by lethal injection.” Though Rhodes claimed to have killed the dogs painlessly with a bullet to the head, “Whetstone said three of the four dogs his investigators dug up had been shot in the mouth or neck” (Halbfinger). In fact, “autopsies found that most of the greyhounds were not shot cleanly through the head, and therefore, they had suffered before dying” (Asay). Halbfinger cites a similarly disturbing case in Spain which alleged that “thousands of greyhounds were being put to death, often by hanging, at the end of the racing season.” What possible excuse could be made for such cruelty? Money.
“The hard reality is that kennels do not and cannot put money into dogs that are no longer moneymakers. It is simply cheaper to bring in new stock,” cited Asay. Why is this simple excuse acceptable in greyhound racing when the deaths of twenty horses over two years spelled the end of an equestrian discipline in Australia? Stricter laws may be in order.
Currently only seven U.S. states have operational greyhound racetracks: Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, Iowa, West Virginia, Alabama and Florida (“Take Action: State by State”). It is still most popular in Florida; thus, the state is the focus of Asay’s study on the legality of the sport. The only law aimed directly at greyhound racing appears to be the Animal Fighting Act introduced in 1986 which “’outlaws baiting or using live animals in the training of racing greyhounds’” (Asay). Its effectiveness is debatable, however, since it is thought that hundreds of animals are still brought into the state for use as bait. Florida also has an animal cruelty statute which states that “’a person who deprives (any animal) of necessary sustenance or shelter… is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree’” (Asay). It has been enacted against members of the racing industry, including the trainer responsible for the one hundred and ninety-four starved greyhounds in Summerfield, but, Asay says, “A plethora of institutionalized treatment seems to fall outside the grasp of these anti-cruelty statutes,” probably because of varying interpretations of terms within the statute, such as ‘unnecessary,’ ‘cruel’ and ‘inhumane.’
A similar act was recently enacted in Britain spurring a review of the industry in 2007. A report filed for the National Greyhound Racing Club said, “Our remit [to reports of greyhound welfare issues] has been to consider the regulation of the sport, in the context of the new ‘duty of care’ obligations of the recent Animal Welfare Act. It rapidly became clear that good welfare is derived from good regulation and good regulation is derived from having the correct governance structures in place” (Donoughue). Donoughue’s suggestions for improvement included the development of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) which would ensure continuation of self-regulation while addressing the fact that “the current structures are seriously flawed.” He further recommends that veterinarians be given more authority, a nod to the issue of the dogs’ health.
While he thankfully acknowledges the industry’s “flaws,” Donoughue seems to be doing everything he can to make it appear that the industry is rebuilding itself to better conform to the Welfare Act, but his suggestions seem absurd. One statement in particular is troublesome:
“Statistics of track injuries should be centrally maintained, and research undertaken into initiatives that make the breed sturdier, and the quality of track surfaces. Rehoming must also be given a higher priority.”
The phrases about track injury statistics and track surfaces make sense; they show a readiness to be upfront about accidents and improve race conditions. A priority for rehoming is also nice to see. However, the belief that “sturdiness” of the breed is an issue shows an unwillingness to accept responsibility for dogs’ conditions. It seems that Donoughue is trying to shift blame for injury and illness to the greyhounds’ longevity when, in reality, they are a healthy – and ‘sturdy’ – breed. This report is an obvious attempt to make the industry look good while not really trying to improve.
Asay concluded that “the fact that nonhuman animals are considered property and do not enjoy consideration under traditional moral theories makes it unlikely that any such laws will ever effectively protect nonhuman animals against such institutionalized abuse and mistreatment, except in cases of horrible violence.” It seems likely that this will be the case in the U.K. as well.
Despite numerous allegations of animal cruelty, the greyhound racing industry has been allowed to continue operating with less-than-adequate regulations and restrictions. Even industry funded reports acknowledge this inadequacy. In this sense greyhound racing is more or less illegal. Even with tighter regulations, however, the industry would still present serious ethical and moral issues. Because of the serious harm to the dogs, greyhound racing should be banned worldwide.
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