Dr Jed Goodfellow teaches animal law in the Macquarie Law School and is a Senior Policy Officer for RSPCA Australia. Here he shares his experience working with greyhounds and his views on the recent ban on greyhound racing in New South Wales.
Note: this content may be distressing to some readers.
A decade ago I investigated a greyhound trainer for potential breaches of Queensland’s animal welfare law while working as an inspector for the RSPCA. I vividly recall walking down row after row of damp, dark concrete kennels with dozens of forlorn looking dogs confined to individual pens. Few of them had bedding material and several had deep ulcerations where their protruding hip bones had been rubbing against the concrete floor as they lay.
I gave the trainer a notice directing him to provide appropriate bedding and to seek veterinary attention for their wounds. I returned a few days later to find the trainer had complied with my directions. I inspected the dogs again and departed. I still remember the rows of brown eyes staring back at me as I turned to shut the door to their kennel, knowing I had no cause to return.
To this day I feel a sense of guilt that I could not have done more, but the law did not permit me to do so. Under Australian law, dogs, as with all animals, are classified as property. Animal welfare laws impose minimum standards of care upon owners but these standards do little to protect an animal’s psychological wellbeing, nor do they extend to protecting an animal’s life. Legally, an animal owner may choose to end the life of their animal property at any time and for any reason. They simply have to ensure the death inflicted is “humane”.
This legal classification has served the greyhound racing industry well for many years. Greyhounds could be bred and trained in their thousands at minimal expense and discarded at will if they did not turn out to be viable “wagering products”. According to some, there is nothing wrong with this business model, “the dogs love to race and there is nothing cruel about killing dogs provided the method is humane” they say. But the Special Commission of Inquiry, led by former High Court Justice Michael McHugh, disagreed. It held that the question of whether the industry should be permitted to continue involved a “value judgement” and within that evaluation “animal welfare must be given the greatest weight”.
The Commission found that “because of an increased social focus on animal welfare” the legitimacy of the industry’s business model and its social licence to operate “had been declining for several decades”.
While the McHugh report was scathing about the widespread nature of live baiting, the deliberate under reporting of on-track injuries and deaths, and the poor conditions in which greyhounds were commonly housed, it was the 50 to 70 percent “wastage” rate that sealed the industry’s fate – a staggering 48,891 to 68,448 deaths.
The Commission’s extensive modelling found that even if the number of race meets was reduced to the minimum required to keep the industry financially viable, 2000 to 4000 dogs would still be killed annually. In reality, the Baird Government was given little choice. Opting for further regulatory reform would have been tacit approval for the ongoing killing of scores of dogs for the purposes of sport, gambling, and human entertainment. This is a reality other state governments now have to grapple with. There is nothing to suggest the statistical modelling presented by the NSW Commission would be any different in other jurisdictions where greyhound racing is permitted to continue. The new and compelling evidence should be a cause for those governments to reflect.
Ignorance is no longer an excuse.
Those opposing the end of the greyhound racing industry are fundamentally at odds with evolving societal expectations about how we should treat “man’s best friend”.
So a decade on from my firsthand exposure to the greyhound industry, I feel a deep sense of relief. Finally a government has had the moral fortitude to stand up for what’s right and many thousands of dogs will be spared the horrible conditions I witnessed all those years ago.
The Baird Government has recognised that a greyhound is not a betting commodity, but a dog, no different to those who share the households of millions of Australians around the country. Fundamentally, the decision goes beyond the limitations of our animal welfare laws to recognise that not only is a dog’s welfare important, but so too is her life.