I’m still absorbing the news reports coming in from Australia about that country’s dog-racing industry. According to an internal report — originally meant for members of the industry only — the Australian dog-racing industry kills 13,000 to 17,000 dogs per year. Those aren’t numbers cobbled up by activists looking to make a splash in the media; that comes from people with a vested interest in seeing dog racing flourish.
The internal report surfaced during an investigation into trainers who use small animals like piglets and rabbits as live bait. Although the practice is illegal, it’s apparently common for trainers to strap a small animal to the mechanical lure and let the dog devour it alive. Sometimes trainers will also drag the animal in front of the dog or just toss it to them.
The state of New South Wales created a special commission of inquiry into the dog racing industry after current affairs program Four Corners broadcast a special report on widespread live baiting and cheating. Almost immediately, however, the commission found information about the fates of the dogs themselves. “As little as four in every 100 Greyhounds born each year will make it beyond about 42 months of age,” special counsel Stephen Rushton said. Almost none are brought to rescue agencies and rehomed; the RSPCA reports that it’s received a mere 410 Greyhounds in six years.
I know, as do most people, that dog racing has a reputation for brutality. But even so, reading the numbers and the quotes makes my brain squirm in a way that general knowledge doesn’t. Part of it is the sheer volume in a country like Australia. While the country is geographically large, its population density is much lower than the United States. Seventeen thousand deaths per year feels much more overwhelming in a place like that than it would here.
Australian media is saying that the revelations may spell the end of dog racing in the country, and if so, good riddance. I doubt it, however. According to the Four Corners report, there are 30,000 races per year with 40,000 dogs; Australians spend $4 billion on wagers alone. Money on that scale doesn’t go away quietly, as our experience in the U.S. shows.
Dog racing here is much less prevalent than it once was. According to Grey2k, an anti-racing nonprofit, 39 states have outlawed it completely. Of the 11 that continue to allow it, only seven actually have active dog racing tracks or events.
These are numbers that are both heartening and yet a little disheartening. On the one hand, it was once a ubiquitous pastime, and through a combination of legal and social pressure, it’s dwindled into near-nonexistence. It seems like a relic of the past now, the sort of thing that you’d use to establish setting in a film noir where the hoodlums meet up to run a con.
On the other hand, it’s reluctant to disappear entirely, and the consequences remain for those dogs who are still racing. In one of their fact sheets, Grey2k reports about a single track in Texas: “At Gulf Greyhound Park in Texas, 2,390 Greyhound injuries were reported between January 2008 and April 2015. During the same period, 115 Greyhounds died or were euthanized.”
Each year, thousands of these dogs are seriously injured during races. Injuries include severed toes, broken legs, spinal cord paralysis, broken necks, and cardiac arrest. And because so many dogs are kept in close quarters, contagious respiratory diseases can sweep through kennels, affecting both racing schedules and adoption efforts when a kennel is quarantined.
The news from Australia is horrible and shocking, but the thing to remember is that it’s not just about Australia. We can look at Australia ourselves and use it as an example of why those last eleven states should end dog racing, too.
Read more commentary by Chris Hall: