Paws and effect: Victorian greyhound racing in the wake of the live baiting scandal

The GAP cafe offers new hope for greyhounds. Picture: Bluestream Pics

By HARRISON MURTOUGH

The lean and agile Lady Avenger sprung out of the box at Sandown, and ran 515m in 29.85 seconds to win the event. 

It was a welcome win for her owners, who had nursed the greyhound through injury after first buying her just as a companion for another dog.

A scene like this is the happy face of an industry that has gone through several dark years. 

In 2015, ABC’s Four Corners revealed that greyhound trainers and breeders in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria had been using live “bait” to train their dogs. In these exercises, greyhounds would chase a live animal tied to a lure and kill it.

In Victoria, a live baiting ring was found to be operating at a training facility in Tooradin. Greyhound Racing Victoria’s former integrity and racing operations manager Bob Smith was among those involved.

As a result of the report, the sport was banned in NSW until late 2017. Decisive action in Victoria to eliminate the problem helped keep the sport afloat and avoid a ban.

Recommendations for change

In response to the Four Corners revelations, Racing Integrity Commissioner Sal Perna summoned those involved to answer questions about how widespread live baiting was in Victoria.

His independent inquiry was inconclusive about whether  the issue of live baiting was systemic in the industry or not, but it did result in a number of recommendations to Greyhound Racing Victoria. 

Separately, another inquiry was launched by Victoria’s Chief Veterinary Officer, focusing on the animal welfare aspect of greyhound racing.

“There were 68 recommendations in total that were given to greyhound racing to say, ‘you guys need to put this into place to make sure that you can either prevent or detect any further potential live baiting incident’,” Mr Perna said. 

Action was taken on doping – such as the use of cocaine on dogs as a stimulant. The number of welfare inspectors and their level of training were also increased. 

Victoria’s Racing Integrity Commissioner Sal Perna’s inquiry led to a number of recommendations about greyhound racing. Picture: ABC

 

“If you’ve got an untrained person going to visit a property they’re not going to be looking for a dead rabbit carcass or a bit of blood or something like that to give them an idea that something’s going on here,” Mr Perna said.

Another development has been the use of drones to detect live baiting. Mr Perna said drones could be used to survey a training facility before it was able to cover up any illegal activities.

Greyhound Racing Victoria, the governing body for the sport in Victoria, has put many of the recommendations into action. 

GRV general manager of integrity Shane Gillard said the practices of the past were “completely unacceptable”. 

“We have significantly expanded our focus and the resources to better the tech to stop and prosecute for severe penalties for any such behaviour,” he said. 

“At this point in time it would be silly for me to say that live baiting isn’t going on any longer, although I’m pretty proud to say that if it is we’ll detect – and we have detected it – pretty quickly,” Mr Gillard said.

While criticism still circulates about live baiting and greyhound welfare in Victoria, it has been largely accepted that Victoria leads the nation in its adjustments post-2015.

This has been done through working closely with the RSPCA and governing animal welfare bodies to ensure regulations and ethical practices aren’t breached.

Greyhound Racing in NSW however, found itself mired in controversy as recently as March where a prominent greyhound breeder was charged with illegally exporting greyhounds to China and Macau.

Both China and Macau currently have live-export bans on them for animal welfare reasons. At this point no cases of illegal live exportation have been detected in Victoria.

Many greyhounds are still required to wear muzzles in public in Victoria.

Greyhound welfare and adoption

GRV public affairs manager Luke Holmesby said big changes had been made to the way the organisation handled rehoming and adoption of greyhounds that had finished their racing careers.

“We’ve set new records in each financial year since [the Four Corners report] – 1300 [dogs] was the record set in 2016-17 financial year,” he said. 

The Greyhound Adoption Program handles most of the greyhounds that need rehoming in Victoria. Other groups that work closely with GRV such as Gippsland Greyhounds and the RSPCA handle the rest.

It was revealed 1314 greyhound were rehomed by GAP in 2016/17, with 1379 rehomed by the various volunteer groups, totalling a combined 2693 dogs.

This was a tremendous increase from 2015/16 where only 798 greyhounds were registered to homes through GAP.

The GAP Café was also opened in March 2018 in central Melbourne.

The café is designed to make it easier for people in the city to get involved in adopting greyhounds, opening a new avenue to the program.

Greyhounds at the Gap Cafe. Picture: poochesatplay.com

Groups such as the Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds have criticised GAP’s adoption process.

Coalition founder Dr Eleonora Gullone said the temperament test given to the dogs was dubious. 

“A temperament test was developed a very long time ago and it is quite strict in terms of the criteria that they used and the volunteer groups … are finding that a lot of the rejected dogs … are rejected on basically really shaky grounds,” she said.  

Dr Gullone also predicted that the number of greyhounds being adopted would drop due to lack of demand from the public, making it an unsustainable program in the long term.

Mr Holmesby disagreed, saying he believed the increase in public education on the animals as well as spreading the appeal of greyhounds through the GAP Café would keep adoption levels steady.

“I don’t think there’s a limit to the people … I think if anything expanding that potential with people who would want to take them … you can actually match up as much as possible,” Mr Holmesby said.

Recent legislation will allow all non-racing greyhounds to be in public without a muzzle from 2019. At the moment they must be muzzled unless they have passed GAP’s temperament test. 

“Greyhounds are not bloodhounds,” Mr Perna said. It was not a greyhound’s nature to be violent and instead they are naturally driven to chase for fun, he said.

Greyhounds in the family 

Noam Mileikowski’s family adopted their greyhound Willow through GAP. He believes this will help change people’s perception that greyhounds are vicious dogs.

“I think if anyone thought of them as just racing dogs it would be ignorant to say the least,”  Mr Mileikowski said.

“They are dogs before anything else and should be treated like any other.”

@MurtoughHarry