Editor: I know this is a controversial topic, and I know heated debate is raging on both sides. I came across this very passionate but considered post on social media from a young man, Bradley Eberand, who is actively involved in the greyhound racing industry in NSW and asked for his permission to share it here.
I am someone who is heavily involved in the Greyhound Industry. I hold a participants license, and am actively involved in racing, breeding, and training greyhounds. It is with a very heavy heart and in a completely deflated state I am writing this piece.
Now, I understand this piece is quite long and most people may not have the time to read it all. But before you go ahead and support posts about Greyhound Racing in NSW being banned, I would challenge you to actually be informed on the issue, rather than just reading a brief, shared news article on social media. This is my point of view, and I wanted to share it with you.
Recently the Liberal Government of NSW has announced their intention to end greyhound racing in the state. I’m sure many of you think this is a ‘win’ for animal welfare. So what are the ramifications of what I believe to be a ridiculous decision?
Yes I am involved in the sport. I have see first hand the workings of the industry and know the reality and gravity of the situation. I am well educated in the issue, having closely followed movements by the NSW Government, GA (Greyhounds Australasia) GRNSW (Greyhound Racing NSW), GBOTA (Greyhound Breeder’s, Owner’s and Trainer’s Association) and even GAG (Greyhound Action Group) over the past few years, as well as paying attention to mainstream media and social media to get as much information as I can, and have spent considerable time reading through each body’s reports and outcomes.
The NSW Government has decided, after the Special Inquiry into Greyhound Racing’s recommendations to shut the industry down. This decision is in spite of the fact that the industry has been successfully implementing complete reform, in order to bring the industry to the expectations of society.
The greyhound industry has let the public down. I acknowledge that. The industry and representatives of the industry acknowledge that. The shocking footage and evidence that was put forward by the Four Corners investigation into the industry was disgusting.
That type of cruelty is unacceptable, and today’s society will not and should not tolerate it.
Furthermore, it came out in the investigation that GRNSW (NSW greyhound regulatory board) had known that this illegal activity was occurring in the sport, and had no intention or plan to stamp it out. This is when the industry got a wake up call, and it did respond.
The immediate replacement of the GRNSW board was the first step, with a new independent CEO put in place. The new board identified many problems across the industry and put in place steps and actions to remedy the issues, so that the industry could begin to rebuild the trust of the wider community.
The following are changes which have occurred in the industry since February 2015, which I’ve sourced from the GRNSW’s ‘Embracing Change’ campaign:
– New compliance unit put in place to increase supervision of industry participants and improve integrity.
– Review of drug testing procedures and implementation of new programs.
– Developing an Industry Supervision Strategy.
– Limiting the frequency of which greyhounds could have litters to reduce unnecessary breeding.
– Breeding restrictions on greyhounds to ensure only performing greyhounds are bred, to again, reduce breeding of poorly performed greyhounds.
– Breeders required to obtain a license and have their facilities inspected on regular basis.
– More involvement of the Chief Veterinary Officer in the industry, to look at methods of reducing injury in racing.
– Increased investment in veterinary staff.
– Introducing evidence based policy, such as new lure systems, to stimulate the ‘chase’ mechanism in greyhounds, and to improve track safety.
– Establishing Investigation and Intelligence Unit to investigate allegations of wrong doing in the sport.
– Establishing Integrity Hotline, so members of the public with concerns about the industry could call and report allegations of wrong doing.
– Tripled investment in the Greyhounds as Pets (GAP) rehoming program.
– Introducing of Rehoming Rebate, so that independent rehoming programs would have increased resources.
– Increased licensing restrictions, with rearers, educators, breeders and whelpers requiring licenses, so that in all points of their lives, greyhounds would be with a licensed individual.
– Developing licensing systems to ensure all licensees would comply with core competencies, to ensure increased welfare of the greyhounds.
– A comprehensive Strategic Plan developed, to lead the industry through crisis and set the new direction for the industry.
– Development of the ‘Embracing Change’ campaign, to inform both industry participants, and the general public, of changes which would be made to ensure the industry meets, and exceeds, public expectation.
– Establishing developmental and education programs to assist participants in adopting best practice methods.
– Groundbreaking research into track design and injury reduction, and chase motivation; as a start of GRNSW’s investment into research.
– Commission of the Working Greyhounds Alliance; a report which was worked together upon by several groups, including industry officials, industry participants, veterinary scientists, third party groups, and many more, to find best methods for the rearing, socialisation, education and training of greyhound to lead the industry into the future.
The industry was trying to reform. I, we, the participants- we wanted reform. The overwhelming majority of the industry does the right thing. They treat their animals with the utmost respect and pride. Unfortunately, as is the case with wider society, and not just an issue in the greyhound industry alone, there are a few minority who cannot follow the law and do the wrong thing.
The points I have put above are only those undertaken by GRNSW. There are other groups such as the GBOTA who were conducting their own reformation and investing into best practice, to improve the industry and ensure it’s ability to operate into a steady, positive future.
Now I know there are those who will say the industry has already had its chance; it simply has not. It has only been around a year since the board was replaced with competent leadership in the form of Mr Paul Newson and the rest of the board members, and in this short time, the above listed reforms have occurred, with many more planned and being implemented as the announcement came.
Mike Baird issued an announcement on 7th July, 2016, followed by a FaceBook post. I would like to personally challenge the points Mr Baird puts forward in the post.
He starts with “The systemic deception of the public concerning the numbers of deaths and injuries of greyhounds. It is estimated that 180 greyhounds per year sustain catastrophic injuries during races such as skull fractures or broken backs that result in their immediate death. But the commission found that “Greyhound Racing NSW had adopted a policy of deliberately misreporting the extent of injuries suffered by greyhounds at racetracks.””
The injury levels of greyhounds, is unacceptable. This is the reason why the industry had been investing into track design and safe practice, with the intention to reduce injury rates and improve overall safety for the greyhounds. The industry was actively engaging in research and discussion on how to fix this problem, which would have paved the way for increased greyhound safety in not only NSW, but tracks all around the world. With the industry’s abrupt closure, it is hard to see it would now be viable for this first of it’s kind research, to continue. To provide a concrete example of this, one only has to look at the study commissioned by GRNSW into safer track design, being undertaken by University of Technology Sydney, and which would have provided revolutionary data and methods when it was expected to be completed within twelve months time.
I have seen trainers and owners break down in tears in the middle of a public area after their greyhound injured itself and tragically had to be euthanised. It’s heartless to believe that the trainers and owners the people working every day with their dogs, didn’t want change that would mean less events like this.
Baird talks about “The widespread practice of “live baiting”. This is where live animals, like rabbits, are used as bait to be chased by greyhounds in training sessions. The report found that, even though this is already illegal and carries heavy penalties, “a trainer, who admitted to engaging in live baiting, testified that about 10-20% of trainers engaged in live baiting.””
This point is one which enrages me the most. The allegations and resulting charges laid in relation to live baiting were the one that sparked the inquiry in the first place. The footage aired by ABC showed criminal and barbaric activity occurring in the industry. Consequently, the new GRNSW board, led by competent leaders put in place by the NSW Government, pursued an investigation into live baiting, and charged those found to be involved. Fact: there were eight individuals suspended for live baiting in NSW. Three of which were convicted. This from an industry with over 6000 registered owners, which directly employs over 1000 people. The suggestion of the issue being widespread is one without concrete evidence.
Live baiting is unacceptable. It is important to remember that only three individuals in NSW were convicted, of thousands of participants. That does not make it a ‘widespread’ practice, nor is it sufficient to suggest a complete ban of an entire industry.
The figure cited as the number killed by the industry does not account for the thousands of greyhounds who are moved interstate or kept by their owners as pets after they retire. This is not to play down the impact of the cruelty of the small minority of criminals on the sport, rather suggest that there has been some misconception, and that further regulation is needed, a recommendation put forward by the Special Inquiry itself.
“The industry is not capable, in the short or medium term, of reforming. The report found that “it appears unlikely that the issue of the large scale killing of healthy greyhounds by the industry can be addressed successfully in the future.” In fact, the report found that, “such is the culture of the industry and some of its leaders that it is no longer, if it ever was, entitled to the trust of the community.””
The industry was reforming. The suggestion that the industry would be unable in the future to meet sustainable levels of greyhound rehoming is not true. In the USA, there are tracks with near one hundred percent adoption rates, and there is no reason to believe, that with adequate investment and commitment, that this could not have also been achieved here in NSW. In regards to the leadership of the industry, in the past, it has been proven to been lead by incompetent leaders, which is why the new board was appointed. The new board has worked closely, shown a commitment to improving the industry, and collaborated with numerous third party groups in efforts which could have created a sustainable, positive industry.
Breeding levels were already down 47% on year, and adoption levels up 132%. A bright spark of a future which has been dimmed by a government more willing to destroy an industry, rather than put the effort into reforming it and creating something great.
Back to Mr Baird- “One of the issues we have had to wrestle with is the positive impact of the greyhound racing industry. There are over 1000 direct jobs in the industry and nearly 6000 registered owners of greyhounds. Dog racing can be an important part of the social fabric of regional towns. And, of course, having a punt on the greyhounds over a few beers is good fun for many people.”
Mr Baird, in this point, I feel has completely undersold and understated the benefits of the industry, in a nearly laughable way. To suggest the greyhounds simply contribute “having a punt” ‘“over a few beers” is degrading and disrespectful to everyone in the industry.
The greyhound racing industry contributes significantly to society. One only has to read the Select Committee Inquiry by the NSW Parliament of 2014 to find the huge social and economic benefits of the industry. The Greyhound racing industry contributed over $144.2m to the economy in 2009-10.
Significantly, the industry provides many jobs and is a key aspect of many regional communities. The industry “provides a source of income for local veterinarians”, “provides opportunities for hobbyists”, and “occasions for family and friends to socialise”. These effects are just some of the social benefits which aren’t even included in the above figure. In regional communities, greyhound racing clubs provide meeting places and are part of the social fabric of the community.
To put it in the Government’s own words, “The greyhound racing industry plays an important role in many communities across NSW. The industry generates direct economic value and also generates flow-on benefits for other sectors of the economy. … The study shows that future reviews of the industry and strategic planning in this sector should acknowledge and attempt to capitalise on the substantial contribution made by the greyhound industry to the economy of NSW, particularly in regional areas.” (read the 2014 report here.)
As Mr Baird himself states, there are over one thousand people who will be directly out of a job as a result of this decision but that does not even scrape the surface of the number of people who will be impacted. One thousand is the direct number of people employed by the industry. There are thousands of other people, like my own family, who have significantly invested into the industry over the years. We have invested countless hours to raising our greyhounds, which we treat with the utmost care and respect, with the intention to race, as a hobby and our passion.
There are so many people who love their dogs and will now be unable to perform their dogs in something the dogs themselves indeed love. Have you ever actually seen a greyhound running? They love the chase, it’s a natural drive, and that’s not even up for discussion or debate (Working Dog Alliance Report).
What really angers me, however, is that in spite of recognition of the enormity of the industry and the number of people involved, the NSW Government has decided it should only give one year towards the closure.
To me, this is completely ridiculous.
And people applaud this decision and the speed of the action to be taken?
There were over 8000 greyhounds born in NSW in 2014. Many of these eight thousand would only just be beginning to race. With the industry closing in one year, what would be suggested that the trainers of these greyhounds do with them? This figure does not even include the puppies born since then, and greyhounds already in the latter parts of their racing careers.
One year. One year for every dog in the industry to find a home. That’s unrealistic. It will not be possible for every dog to be rehoused in that time period. In other countries around the world, after the announcement of intent to close the industry, years were given, so that trainers and those directly involved could adjust financially and emotionally.
From the more important perspective of animal welfare, this gave time for owners, breeders and trainers to find good homes for their greyhounds in a reality without racing. Current grerhound adoption programs are unable to deal with the supply of greyhounds for adoption as there is a low demand in the community for greyhounds as pets. There will likely be a flood of greyhounds now up for adoption, with little rise in demand for them as pets.
Those animal welfare groups who seek to claim victory out of the industry’s closure need to think about what they have just done. If they were truly concerned about the welfare of the animals, rather than a political glory, they would have reduced their ego and worked with the industry to pursue a model in which they felt satisfied. GRNSW was committed to working with these groups, and rather than do so, the activists worked against the industry. There could have been an industry in which all groups would have been satisfied, and the welfare of greyhounds ensured.
The industry had planned to combat this though the investment into the industry’s official adoption program, Greyhounds as Pets. It had already began to implement these plans too- as I mentioned, GRNSW tripled it’s resources to GAP last year, and it was effective- there was a 132% increase in adoption levels in 2015.
This was an industry which had potential to become a model for all other animal industries. It had a plan for a sustainable, socially acceptable and bright future. A future which is now dead, because the Government, rather than commit resources and effort, as directly recommended by the same Government’s 2014 Inquiry into Greyhound Racing, has pulled the plug in face of public perception, which, is correctly damning on the short comings of the industry. The NSW Government has let the industry and society down by not pursuing reform.
I personally applaud the Victorian Government’s response to the announcement, that rather than cower in the fear of change and commitment, they will be providing increased support to sustainably developing their industry, and working to implement the recommendation of their own investigations, rather than shy away from them in the face of public misled perception, so that society will have a healthy industry to look to as a model that commitment.
Animal abuse is not an issue which exists in the greyhound industry in isolation. It is a wider societal issue which is not combatted or resolved by the closure of an entire industry.
Greyhound trainers love their dogs, they are their pride and most participants are not involved in the sport for money; most involved actually stand to be financially worse off as a result (2014 Inquiry) despite misconception that trainers are ‘greedy’. It does not make logical sense that any trainer would want anything more than the best for their dogs.
We are committed to our dogs and never give them anything but the best treatment they can get. Personally, I have never euthanized any dog that we train during or related to their racing career- rather they are kept as pets, rehoused, or relocated to another owner, despite the image activist groups would have you believe.
My family and I have never had a greyhound not make it to their racing career, in clear defiance of this statistic being shown, which I believe is related to good practice in rearing and education as pups. We have had numerous greyhounds as our pets over the years and currently have one of our dogs living in retirement running up and down our property doing what she wants everyday.
Anyone who knows me knows the love and affection I show towards my dogs. I can assure you this is the same attitude towards the dogs of the other thousands of owners, trainers and breeders in NSW. It is our passion and our joy.
It is undoubtedly a dark time for greyhound racing all over the world, and a disheartening and heavy day for those particularly involved in the NSW greyhound industry, including myself and my family. I hope that this letter will perhaps improve some perceptions or at least inform some people of the other side to the story. Justice was not served. The actions of a minority who were not wanted by the industry or representative of it, have been paid for by the whole.
The system has been let down by Mr Baird’s unwillingness to engage in change, instead suggesting wrongly there is no alternative. He is our elected leader. Leaders should lead through the difficult times, not back off and cower from a challenge like Mr Baird and his government have done on this matter.
Despite what has been stated in media, the Royal Commission did not find that greyhound racing should close; it’s first recommendation was that the issue should be discussed in Parliament, and if determined viable, should then adopt the next eighty listed recommendations. These recommendations in combination with the efforts of GRNSW and other groups would have led into the future for greyhound racing in NSW.
I will, with many others within the industry continue to fight for whatever we can for the future of greyhound racing in this state. The bright, sustainable future of the industry today for everyone has been ripped away but we will not stand down. We will fight for the future we have dreamed of and were so close to achieving, if it were not for the cowardly actions of Mr Mike Baird’s Liberal Government.
I would encourage anyone who is still reading this to either look into the prospect of adopting a greyhound or donating to the GAP program by sponsoring a greyhound. Despite their large size, they only require small living spaces, are quiet and very clean animals, very loving and friendly, are sociable with other animals and are very low maintenance dogs. Greyhounds truly are amazing creatures, and they make incredible companions as pets.
Bradley M.J. Eberand.
View the Four Corners report, “Making a Killing”, originally screened February, 2015.
Read a special update from the ABC on why the ban is being proposed here.
If you are interested in re-homing a greyhound in NSW, visit http://www.gapnsw.com.au/ or search for your local organisation.