Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dog Track Group Tries to Muzzle Adopted Greyhounds

In Australia, adopted greyhounds must be muzzled at all times in public because of antiquated laws. This government mandate is nonsensical, and makes it more difficult to find homes for greyhounds leaving the racing industry. With an estimated 18,000 racing dogs dying each year across the country, repealing these muzzling laws must be a priority.

Thankfully, a coalition of humane groups led by the Greyhound Equality Society is fighting for the end of greyhound muzzling in the state of Victoria. Their campaign has made tangible progress and has a good chance of success.

Enter Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV), a group that both regulates and promotes commercial dog racing. Although GRV acknowledges the need to reform other parts of the racing industry, it has doubled down on the failed policy of muzzling adopted greyhounds. In a submission to the Victoria government, GRV claims that it is necessary to muzzle adopted greyhounds because they are inherently dangerous:

"Greyhounds are large, strong, extremely fast and can kill ... Unfortunately, instinctive behaviour is very resistant to the influences of training and behaviour modification."
The submission also rhetorically asks whether "all greyhounds are suited to being family pets" and states:
"The short answer is NO."
To justify these ridiculous positions, GRV refers to a behavior assessment program created in America by Dr. Amy Marder, who it refers to as "one of the leaders in the field of Shelter Medicine." However, Dr. Marder has submitted her own testimony to the government which refutes many of the claims made by GRV. Her submission points out that the behavior assessment program she created does not apply to predatory behavior at all:
"The evaluation part does NOT include a test for predatory behavior ... I have seen predatory behavior in a number of dogs, but never in a greyhound."
Finally, Dr. Marder weighs in on the government mandate that adopted greyhounds be muzzled in Australia:
"I do not support compulsory greyhound muzzling both because I do not think it is necessary to protect the public, but also because it may be preventing the rehoming of very nice animals."
On this point, Dr. Marder is in good company. Every major animal protection group is opposed to this flawed policy, including RSPCA Australia. Its position is clear, concise, and on point:
"There is no evidence to show that greyhounds as a breed pose any greater risk to the public compared to other dog breeds or mix of breeds ... [T]he misconception that greyhounds need to be muzzled has major ramifications for greyhound rehoming, preventing many greyhounds that are discarded by the racing industry from finding a new home. Removing muzzling laws would significantly help improve the image of greyhounds and thus increase rehoming rates."
GRV is trying to start a new chapter when it comes to commercial greyhound racing in Victoria. Its position that the government should mandate the muzzling of adopted greyhounds is a serious misstep, and one the group should reconsider.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Epic Failure for New Iowa Dog Track

Harley raced at Dubuque Greyhound Park
Last year, the Iowa legislature passed a law to phase out dog racing at one track and permanently end millions of dollars in annual subsidies for greyhound breeders. Unfortunately the Iowa Greyhound Association (IGA), which represents the dog racing industry, was able to win major concessions in the law.

In the coming years, greyhound breeders will receive an outrageous golden parachute worth a total of $72 million. Half of these golden parachute funds can be used to operate a dog track in Dubuque. The law gives the IGA the exclusive right to operate this track, under a sweetheart deal that grants them a five-year property lease for only a single dollar per year. In addition to this waste, the IGA was given yet another $2.4 million state handout in March.

After receiving one special favor after another, the new dog track in Dubuque is still a failure. We now have data for the first three months at the newly minted "Iowa Greyhound Park," and dog race gambling is down across the board when compared to a year ago.

Gambling on live races at Iowa Greyhound Park is down a staggering 25%, as the Des Moines Register reported yesterday in a front page story. If we take a deeper dive into the numbers, the picture becomes even more bleak for the IGA. Remote gambling on the races held in Dubuque is down by 32.1%, and total dog race betting for the track has decreased by 26.2%.

Of course, the IGA is trying to put the best possible face on this epic failure. In the Register, IGA lawyer Jerry Crawford acknowledged the the track is losing money, but still claimed that things are just wonderful:
"What we are trying to do is make racing special, not make it a 24/7 activity because that model doesn't work. Our approach is succeeding."
Meanwhile, the IGA has refused to make a single meaningful reform to improve greyhound welfare. In November I laid out four key changes the IGA could make to help greyhounds: a new system of housing, halting the use of anabolic steroids in female dogs, ending the use of "4-D" meat, and providing funding to ensure that every injured greyhound receives veterinary care.

None of these changes have occurred. Instead of proving to the world that it is capable of reform, the dog racing industry has again put its personal profits ahead of animal welfare. Sadly, this new Iowa track can probably limp along for a while because the vast subsidy dollars the IGA will receive. Let history show that its Dubuque experiment was an economic failure on day one, and amounted to nothing more than another facility where dogs suffer and die.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Dogs Die While Greyhound Trainers Threaten Lawsuits

In our meetings last month, leaders of the Australian greyhound racing industry repeatedly emphasized the need to reduce greyhound breeding and increase adoption. Today, according to an estimate by Animals Australia, as many as 18,000 healthy greyhounds are killed by the racing industry each year.

To address this issue, industry group Greyhound Racing New South Wales (GRNSW) has implemented new breeding restrictions that took effect on July 1. Key aspects include:

  • Female greyhounds can only be bred three times, unless GRNSW provides specific approval for additional litters.

Although these guidelines are far from perfect, they are common sense measures that will improve the lives of greyhounds used for breeding. According to GRNSW:
"These Rules are aimed at improving the health and welfare of our breeding females, and to minimise the number of greyhounds bred that may not be suitable for racing."
Unfortunately, it appears that Australian greyhound breeders would prefer to ignore the problem, and continue the status quo. According to recent meeting minutes from the Greyhound Racing Industry Consultation Group, an organization that represents greyhound trainers and breeders, it is "concerned" about the new breeding restrictions. The minutes also state that trainers believe breeding is "at a low" and are worried that the industry "may face issues providing sufficient numbers" of greyhound puppies in the years to come. This assessment is wrong and incredibly callous.

In a follow up letter to GRNSW, the Richmond Race Club went even further. After complaining that the new policy will harm "passive breeders," it suggested there may be litigation over the new breeding restrictions:
"Members of the Greyhound Industry have received advice that the new policy is actually a ‘restriction of trade.’ Has GRNSW received legal advice on the possible impacts of this policy and does it meet with legal requirements?"
This sad episode is a great example of why the Australian dog racing industry is doomed. While thousands of dogs die, greyhound trainers complain about their financial bottom line and threaten lawsuits. The next time they wonder why the public has turned against them, they should take a long look in the mirror.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Industry Report Suggests Dog Racing is "Blood Sport"

In Australia, even the racing industry itself has recognized that fundamental change is necessary to improve greyhound welfare. This point was made repeatedly in our direct meetings with industry leaders, who surprisingly acknowledged the fact that dog racing is out of touch with mainstream values.

This disconnect was highlighted again last week, in a report released by the Working Dog Alliance Australia and funded by industry body Greyhound Racing New South Wales. Several of the report's findings have already made headlines, including the acknowledgement that an estimated 40% of greyhound puppies bred for racing never make it to a track.

The most notable finding, however, is the suggestion that greyhound racing may be rightly classified as a blood sport. The report defines these as "activities where the death of an animal is a likely, if not guaranteed, outcome of the entertainment," such as "bull-fighting, dog-fighting, cockfighting, coursing and a number of other sports that are still 'played' in the world today, despite vocal protest against them." The report then points out that although dog races in themselves do not always cause death, "violence and abuse can manifest in different contexts across the lifecycle of the greyhound, including breeding, rearing, training/racing, housing and racing career end-point." Finally, it concludes:
"As such, the physical abuse, risk of injury and culling mean that greyhound racing has a likely, if not guaranteed, risk of death for the participating dog, which means some would classify it as a blood sport."
In the coming years there will be a major push to increase adoption in Australia and end the unnecessary killing of unprofitable greyhounds. We must all support this effort. At the same time, it's unclear whether such a transformation is attainable. Australia has a population that is equal to only 7% of the U.S. population, but a racing industry that is similar in size to its American counterpart. As a result, the number of available homes for rescued greyhounds is far more limited.

Sadly, while industry leaders fight for change, the response from other participants has been abysmal. Just a few days ago, NSW regulators were allegedly shot at and assaulted during a routine inspection. Afterward, former trainer Tony Vass told ABC News that there is widespread anger among greyhound trainers who believe they are being "bullied." These trainers are nothing short of delusional. They are whistling while walking past the graveyard, convincing themselves that somehow they are in the right, while the broader community rejects their cruel blood sport.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

In Macau, an Historic Moment for the Greyhounds

First International Roundtable on Greyhounds, photo by Heather Neil
After meeting with greyhound advocates in New Zealand and Australia, GREY2K USA Worldwide President Christine Dorchak and I ended our marathon campaign trip in Macau. All over the world dog racing is the subject of controversy, and the center of this debate is the Canidrome greyhound track, where every racing dog is eventually killed.

Christine and I inspected the track, a sad facility that reeks of death. Greyhounds with visible bandages and severed tails race before an empty grandstand. Seeing the worst dog track in the world strengthened my resolve to end this animal cruelty.

The Canidrome sits on government land, and has a lease that expires at the end of this year. Nearly 300,000 citizens from across the globe have already signed a petition to Macau Chief Executive Chui Sai On, asking him to let the track close. While in Macau, we were given a high level meeting with the Macau government, and left encouraged that a victory for the dogs is possible.

Our trip to Macau also made history. For the first time, top level animal protection leaders from all over the world joined together, in person, to address the cruelty of greyhound racing. We were incredibly honored to be joined at this meeting by Lyn White from Animals Australia, Paul Littlefair from the British RSPCA, Heather Neil from RSPCA Australia, Nancy Lai from the Taiwan SPCA, Teresa Lee and Chris Cui from the SPCA Hong Kong, Karina O'Carrol and Irene Feng from Animals Asia, Qin Xiaona from the Capital Animal Welfare Association, Kirsten Mitchell from Kirsten's Zoo and others. This all-star panel of animal protection advocates planned a strategy to close the Canidrome, and discussed other greyhound welfare issues.

This historic event was hosted by non-profit group Anima Macau and its dynamic President, Albano Martins. Albano is a true champion for all dogs, and it's a good sign that he is leading the fight to help the Canidrome greyhounds.

Christine and I are now back in the GREY2K USA Worldwide office, catching up on domestic campaigns in Florida, West Virginia and other states. Although the United States will always be our top priority, I see how intertwined the many fights now underway to help greyhounds truly are. This is a global problem, and deserves a global solution.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Greyhound Advocates Confront Cruelty in Australia

Hayley showed us the Noble farm, seen from another property
The final days of our Australian campaign trip were a flurry of activity.

In Sydney, we strategized with three compassionate lawmakers: Greens Member of Parliament John Kaye, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, and Animal Justice Party Member of Parliament Mark Pearson. We also learned about the good work that local animal protection groups are doing, including Animal Liberation and Sentient. Additionally, we were honored to meet Anne Lloyd-Jones from the Animals Asia Foundation in person. Anne is a strong ally who has been working with us for years in a joint effort to close the Canidrome. Finally, we met with several members of the media who are covering the evolving debate over dog racing.

I was particularly impressed with MP John Kaye. He brings a unique mixture of political experience, compassion, and strategic sophistication to the fight to end greyhound cruelty. We are lucky to have him fighting for the dogs.

In Brisbane, we spent an entire day with Hayley Cotton and the greyhound advocates who courageously exposed live baiting. We visited the heart of the industry, farms where live baiting cruelty was recently exposed. We also had dinner with a dozen notable leaders of the humane community, including representatives of Friends of the HoundAnimal Welfare QueenslandGone Are The Dogs and Animal Liberation Queensland.

It's truly incredible how many people are fighting for the greyhounds in Australia. Without a doubt, the pieces are already in place for a real, effective campaign to outlaw dog racing in the country. Although these advocates are working for greyhounds in different ways, they are joined together by their dedication, commitment, and willingness to confront cruelty.

This commitment is personified by Hayley Cotton, who has been nominated for the Pride of Australia Medal. Hayley is one of the most impressive greyhound advocates I've encountered over the past two decades. Thanks to her, John Kaye, and everyone who cares about greyhounds, I'm convinced that the complete end of dog racing in Australia is inevitable.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Change Coming to Australian Dog Racing Industry

Over the last two days, GREY2K USA Worldwide President Christine Dorchak and I held a series of key meetings in Melbourne, Australia, during the second leg of our campaign trek through Australasia and China.
We Meet With the Excellent Animals Australia Team

First, we held a comprehensive strategy meeting with powerhouse humane organization Animals Australia. In many ways Animals Australia reminds me of our key British ally, the League Against Cruel Sports. It is clever, committed, and not afraid to take on a tough fight. The work Animals Australia is doing for greyhounds is one of the most significant new developments in the global fight to end dog racing.

We then met with several top officials from RSPCA Australia, a national non-profit organization that is widely respected and speaks with a powerful voice in advocating for Australian greyhounds.


These visits were followed by a series of meetings with top representatives from the Australian greyhound racing industry, including Greyhounds Australasia CEO Scott Parker. We had a very open conversation, a stark contrast to the bunker mentality we experienced in New Zealand, and have witnessed for years in America. During nearly four hours of talks, it became clear that industry executives in Australia are fully aware that commercial dog racing is out of step with mainstream values on animal welfare, and fundamental changes are necessary.

After these industry talks, we received an informative briefing on the Australian political system from leaders of the Animals Justice Party. The Party recently won its first parliamentary seat, and will no doubt lead the passage of major humane victories in the years to come.

Carey Theil and Scott Parker After Hours of Industry Talks
Finally, we had dinner with the Greyhound Equality Society and Amazing Greys Greyhound Rescue and Adoption. The Greyhound Equality Society is doggedly fighting to repeal a wrongheaded requirement that all adopted greyhounds be muzzled in public, a victory that seems inevitable. Meanwhile, Amazing Greys is doing incredible work helping to find homes for rescued greyhounds, with an all-volunteer effort. This meeting provided us with invaluable insights about greyhound adoption in Victoria, and was a wonderful end to our time in Melbourne.

Even though we have only been in the country for a few days, it is breathtaking to see how many different people are working to improve the lives of greyhounds. Mainstream animal protection groups, adoption advocates, political parties and even the industry itself all recognize that the status quo cannot continue, and greyhounds deserve better. Based on these meetings, I am more confident than ever that fundamental changes are on the way Down Under.