Dr Jed Goodfellow: Greyhound racing ban recognises the value of man’s best friend

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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.

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  1. There are reports today that Mike Baird has announced he will move to reverse the greyhound racing ban and introduce new legislation that would include a controlled breeding program and total life cycle management.

    This is a good outcome and is exactly what I suggested before the ban went through parliament.

  2. Please explain to me how it is now legal in your eyes for the practise of documented cruelty to domestic pets and the dumping of domestic pets necessitating the RSPCA to slaughter many thousands of healthy animals annually, to continue. Not to mention the many unreported cases of animal cruelty in domestic pets that go unreported.
    What possible justification can you put forward to defend domestic pet owners.

  3. Hi
    Fantastic comments unfortunately a very sad state of affairs and shame on the whole Greyhound Industry.
    Please can someone get this to Alan Jones and Ray Hadley. They are for the battler and are 100% against the Baird government.

    1. Do you know that there is documented cases of cruelty to domestic pets by their owners. Do you know that kittens are dumped in their thousands when they are not so cute anymore necessitating the RSPCA to slaughter them in their thousands. Perhaps the domestic pet owners should be banned from owning animals because of the actions of a few.

  4. So glad to see the beginnings of a new society that gives animals the respect they deserve. And it will continue to change as the community at large is exposed to the inappropriate practices of those who only continue because they are behind closed doors. Looking forward to investigations on the meat and dairy industry, live exports, and vivisection in Australia! Congratulations on the ban! 🙂

    1. Don’t forget investigations into the practises of the domestic pet owners. That should be easy to investigate as the RSPCA documents the number of animals that it has to destroy because of cruel domestic pet owners

  5. So glad to see the beginnings of a new society that give animals the respect they deserve. And it will continue to change as the community at large is exposed to the inappropriate practices of those who only continue because they are behind closed doors. Looking forward to investigations on the meat and dairy industry, live exports, and vivisection in Australia! Congratulations on the ban! 🙂

  6. I’m so relieved, glad, happy, grateful and the list goes on that there are human beings out there caring for our precious animals. I’m ready and willing to help – just ask Robyn. I suppose there are some who think me strange as I believe animals should have the same rights as humans. Having said that people might change their minds if they, like me have had the absolute pleasure and joy to be loved unconditionally. But we need to look further afield to those animals abandoned, ill treated, used for sport, live shipments to places who will not care for our animals. Anyone who has ever lived with and loved an animal knows they feel happiness, fear, sorrow, compassion and pain.

  7. So happy to see this banning under the circumstances; however it would have been much nicer to have seen the Greyhound racing Industry self regulate and be proactive in both the care and raising / training of greyhounds so that there was no requirement of government involvement. Like horseracing and trotting/pacing I enjoy watching the many races and have a belief the animals enjoy it too; perhaps the future could have greyhound racing return – I’m sure there are others with similar beliefs….good luck!

  8. We all feel so powerless to stop animal abuse which is systemic in all cultures which exploits animals for profit. I agree that Mike Baird has done the right thing and I hope that this legislation will endure. I am abhorrent at murmurings of the Labor Party’s opposition to this move – they are merely opposing for the sake of it – shame on them. If animals were not being breed indiscriminately across the country because humans deem it as a way of making a profit, then there would be few or no shelters required as any animal without a home due to a legitimate reason could immediately be found one with compassionate people. Why is it so hard for local governments to introduce harsh penalties for non-desexing? There will be thousands of greyhounds in shelters for a period of time, but hopefully this will diminish in time. Animals are not ‘ours’ to exploit at will. And yes, I do not eat or wear them.

    1. Do you know the very reasons used to ban greyhound racing – slaughtering animals and cruelty to animals – can be used to prohibit the ownership of domestic pets. Just ask the RSPCA how widespread the abuse is, as they document it

  9. I worked at the RSPCA on voleenteer. I stopped going as their kennels sounds like the ones you describe in your column.
    The RSPCA puts down more animals than any one else . Maybe look in your own back yard!

  10. Great article. I think there is a general shift in the public with regards to how we treat animals. I note the comment below me highlights the treatment of horses, chooks etc with the implication of ‘If everyone else can get away with it, why can’t we?’. The fact of the matter is the greyhound industry has had decades to get its house in order.

    Here are just some of the problems it has:

    -Live Baiting – lack of evidence is not evidence its not occurring. Remember it ‘wasn’t occurring’ when the footage was obtained.

    Wastage – You simply cannot dispose of thousands of dog and shrug your shoulders.

    The racing itself. Its an issue not brought up often, but the design of the track encourages injuries, a lot of which could be solved by a straight track.
    Too many dogs. In the UK its 6 dogs per race, in Australia 8. This increases the risk of injury and usually when something goes wrong it goes catastrophically wrong.

    Incorrect reporting of deaths. The stewards will report the dog as having died on the tracks, but the database shows them as ‘retired’. This is clear deception on the part of the industry.

    1. Exactly. The old adage of ‘other animals are treated cruelly too’ doesn’t hold up because that implies that we can’t fix anything and may as well turn a blind eye to everything. One area at a time I say. Compulsory bird identification tests in Victoria wouldn’t have come about at all, for those people who like to shoot ducks in their thousands, if people hadn’t complained about cruelty. Mind you, and I’ve seen them, this encourages the morons of the duck shooting world to cross the border into NSW where there is no such test.

    2. How many decades has the RSPCA been cleaning up the mess left by cruel domestic pet owners.

  11. A somewhat self righteous article with a narrow perspective.

    I think it’s inconsistent to ban one form of animal cruelty. The dog industry is an easy target because most of the participants are from the bottom end of town. If the government had real “moral fortitude” as you claim, then they would go after horse racing and every other industry that engages in animal cruelty.

    The problem is humans engage in animal cruelty at every level every day because we eat animals. Animals stand for hours and days in packed pens with little water, waiting to get a bolt through their head. Fish and crabs are chained in small tanks waiting for someone to buy them. Those not sold get thrown out. Chooks exist in tiny pens for their entire life. Circus animals?? They all probably suffered a lot more than the average greyhound who couldn’t run fast enough then got a bullet in the head. I would prefer to be a greyhound than a chook.

    I wouldn’t count your chickens before they hatch too because there’s no guarantee this ban will go through parliament. The government would lose a huge amount of revenue that would simply transfer to adjacent states. A NSW ban you see, is about as effective as a Wollongong ban.

    Yes yes, you have to start somewhere but there is no end game here. They will never ban horse racing they will only regulate it and the same should apply to greyhound racing.

  12. Great article which clearly highlights the disgusting business practices being allowed under the guise of providing “entertainment”.
    I’d love to know if you are involved in the “Oscar’s Law” movement to have puppy farms made illegal. It’s an amazing cause and is trying to shut down another aspect of profiteering on the misery of our best friends.

    1. Why stop at banning puppy farms they are only part of the problem, owners of domestic pets should also be banned. Their record is disgusting

  13. It is a disgusting industry. In other countries a greyhound can be strung up by its neck to strangle to death as punishment for not winning a race. The level of cruelty inherent in the industry in Australia is no less abhorrent. In the few circumstances where these greyhounds are surrendered and rehabilitated into private homes – these abused dogs mostly revert back to their amazingly gentle nature and are a beautiful (and lazy!) creature. Now, if only the wastage in the horse racing industry can be addressed also. I have first hand experience with what goes on there.

    1. What about the domestic pet owner that chained a dog to the back of the car and dragged it for many kilometres. What about the domestic pet owners that allowed their dogs to have a tug of war using a cat. What about the domestic pet owners that allow their dogs to chase a thoroughbred racehorse through three fences – no wonder it can’t race. What about the domestic pet owners that allow their dogs to tear sheep to literally shreds. What happens to domestic pets behind closed doors. One shudders to think

  14. So great to see this spelled out from first hand experience and indeed “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”.

    1. Hopefully the government will have the fortitude to ban all animal ownership including domestic pet ownership. The reasons used to ban greyhound racing apply to the concept of domestic pet ownership as well. How would you like to be banned from owning a domestic pet because of the documented cruelty of some domestic pets owners. Do you think that that is fair. Well the precedence has now been set and I hope that the government has the fortitude to ban all forms of animal ownership as in my eyes the law should be equal and not only target certain groups. All animal pursuits can be accused of the same cruelty to animals, as the greyhound industry, and they should all be banned because wherever their are humans and animals their is also cruelty

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