PAT PILCHER is no fan of greyhound racing and loves his pet greyhounds but laments the one-sided media coverage of the sport in NZ.
Over the last few weeks, the media has been awash with stories screaming for an end to greyhound racing in New Zealand. This comes after post-race drug testing recently revealed a greyhound had been fed methamphetamine before winning its race.
The reaction of the media was as swift as it was predictable. Anti-racing lobbyists clamoured to be heard in their calls for an end to greyhound racing. The volume only grew when Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick added her voice to the din.
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As both a journalist and greyhound owner, I find the current media coverage and public outrage both fascinating and horrifying. The one-sided nature of media coverage around the greyhound issue is particularly dismaying. While Swarbrick and others were given a high-profile platform to talk up the evils of greyhound racing to a largely ignorant public, greyhound trainers, industry insiders, and owners got next to no coverage.
Good journalism should cover as many sides of an issue as possible. This is so a balanced report is presented to readers, allowing them to be informed of all the facts and to make up their own minds. This is not happening.
While shitty journalism is the wallpaper of our daily existence, this situation is particularly saddening. It appears that the anti-racing lobby has gained the media’s ear on the issue. That only a partial and distorted set of the “facts” is being communicated is simply too bad as far as newspaper editors are concerned.
What I find really worrying are the questions not being asked by the media. For instance, what happens to the greyhounds if racing were to be banned?
This is not a small question. There are massive animal welfare implications. Should racing be banned, the outlook for the thousands of dogs owned by trainers is dire. This is particularly ironic given that most of the concerns voiced by the anti-racing lobby to the media have been chiefly welfare related.
So, what would happen if greyhound racing were suddenly ended? For a start, trainers would be left holding the can. Many trainers have large numbers of greyhounds, all of which must be fed, desexed, given medical/dental care, and exercised. It’s fair to say that if trainers have no money coming in from greyhound racing, they’ll be forced to euthanise their hounds.
Putting some numbers around this issue reveals the sheer scale of the problem. Around 800 greyhounds are bred per year. A further 220 are imported from Australia (most of these are owned by Australians and are eventually returned to Australia when they retire). One trainer I spoke to on condition of anonymity estimates that there are at least five thousand greyhounds that would need to be adopted if racing were to end. Considering that just 717 greyhounds were adopted last year, at least double that adoption number would be required yearly just to deal with the sheer volume of greyhounds that would need a home.
The simple reality is that the various greyhound rehoming agencies throughout New Zealand don’t have anywhere near that capacity. Even if you were to add in the SPCA, they are running at close to their capacity, and they are a no-kill rehoming agency. If they were to take on a share of the massive numbers of greyhounds needing homes, other equally needy dogs would be left out in the cold. Because of this, it is fair to assume that a colossal cull that would dwarf the present-day welfare issues anti-racing proponents are so concerned with would be inevitable.
The situation is placing greyhound trainers under immense pressure. One trainer lamented, “Who will adopt our dogs? We want to see our dogs in good homes, not just handed out to anyone who puts up their hand. The ban has been poorly thought through. No trainer can hold dogs indefinitely with no income. However a number would go bankrupt trying, and then there is the mental health cost, something no one has considered.”
Despite their willingness to talk up the evils of greyhound racing, anti-racing lobbyists don’t have an answer to this conundrum. They say that greyhounds will continue to be pets. That’s not the case, says a trainer (who, given the often-feral nature of anti-racing advocates, asked to remain unnamed). They say that any greyhounds must be desexed before being adopted and that this effectively means the breed would cease to exist in New Zealand. Either way, they say, thousands of greyhounds will die.
This would be a real tragedy as I can attest that greyhounds make lovely pets. They’re gentle, quiet, affectionate, and intelligent animals. Recently, greyhounds were referred to as an ideal apartment dog by the prestigious American Kennel Club.
So, what needs to be done? Perhaps most telling of the many problems facing greyhound racing in New Zealand is the low levels of public awareness around the breed and the industry. When walking Blaze (my 8-year-old greyhound), we are frequently stopped and asked by people, “Is he rescued?”.
This is often asked in a tone that suggests that poor Blaze was whipped daily and regularly abused by his trainer before we adopted him. He wasn’t. His trainers loved him and paid big money to place him in an adoption programme so he could live out his retirement years being pampered by us.
The poor levels of public awareness of the greyhound issue are not helped by increasingly one-sided media coverage. Greyhound trainers are not allowed to deal directly with the media and must go through GRNZ. The upshot of this is that there is a lack of an authentic trainers’ voice in the media. Greater levels of education are also needed from within the industry to combat the high levels of misinformation that are already in the public arena.
So, are greyhounds as badly abused and mistreated as the media would suggest? While events such as drugging and other welfare issues do indeed happen, the reality is that they’re an exceedingly rare occurrence. Greyhound racing is a tightly regulated industry that has invested hugely in animal welfare. While on-track injuries and deaths do occur, it isn’t as common as the anti-racing crowd would have the media and the public believe.
While some greyhounds have died from injuries sustained on the track, the numbers have been steadily falling. According to the statistics quoted in the GRNZ annual report, the numbers of greyhounds euthanised from race day injuries declined from the 54 recorded in 2018/19 to just 34 in 2020, a significant decrease that contrasts markedly with the rhetoric of the anti-racing crowd.
So, what about the greyhound doping scandal that kicked all of this off? According to the 2019 GRNZ annual report, “There were 3650 drug tests, performed on our greyhounds throughout the season, with only seven positive results”. I’d argue that while seven positives are seven too many, the media has failed to communicate that doping is checked for and that it is an infinitesimally small issue.
I can quote these numbers with confidence because Greyhound Racing New Zealand must publish comprehensive statistics to the government every year. These are available to anyone who wants to check them.
Sadly, the media seems to have missed this, even though this information should be used to fact check an increasingly vocal (but not always accurate) anti-racing lobby. But hey, why let something like the facts get in the way of a good story and click-through revenues?
Personally, as a greyhound owner, I cannot say I am a fan of greyhound racing. Still, the reality is that without it, I would not have discovered and owned greyhounds, and I’d be so much the poorer for it.