SPINNER TOOK the final corner at full pelt, a nose ahead of the greyhounds on either side of her. For a moment, it looked like she was going to take this race. Then something odd happened: she slowed up, and the other animals soared past her. She was limping badly by the time she crossed the finishing line.
The following morning, Spinner was taken to the local dog pound. She was walking normally again, but her dismal performance of the previous day had been the final straw for her owner. He'd invested enough time and energy in her. She had reached the end of the road, as far as he was concerned.
Greyhounds are the “racehorses of the dog world”: at one level, they are just “dogs”, but at another level, they are performance animals, bred and reared to be finely tuned for racing. And just like horse racing, greyhound racing is a big business. It can be tough for individual animals: when a greyhound stops performing well, it's the end of their career. And while greyhound owners often keep retired individuals that they are particularly fond of, they can't keep every animal.
The 2013 dog pound statistics in areas known for greyhound breeding and training tell a sad story. In County Clare, 97% of the 183 greyhounds handed in to the pound were euthanased. In Tipperary, every single one of the 45 greyhounds surrendered were euthanased. Simlar statistics are seen in Cork, Donegal, Galway and Limerick.
The ‘disposal’ of unwanted greyhounds is a complicated issue. Ideally, good homes as pets would be found for every one. In practice, it's easier and quicker just to give the dogs “the needle”. People justify this by telling themselves that the dogs don't suffer. A quick prick as the needle goes into their leg, and it's all over.
Euthanasia is certainly better than some of the alternatives: mass graves of greyhounds, killed brutally by non-vets, have been found in the past, and abandoned greyhounds have been found straying and living in neglected, semi-starved conditions. At least euthanasia is better than a life of active misery. This is one of the reasons why some local authority dog pounds carry out euthanasia of greyhounds at a subsidised price.
Greyhounds are specifically protected, separately to other animals, under Irish legislation. The Welfare of Greyhounds Act, 2011, provides for the welfare of Greyhounds, and regulates the operation of Greyhound Breeding establishments.
The IGB (Irish Greyhound Board, also known as Bord na gCon) is the semi-state body responsible for the control and development of Greyhound racing in Ireland. There are seventeen greyhound racing stadiums in Ireland, with the biggest race being the Irish Greyhound Derby held at Shelbourne Park in September
Meanwhile the Irish Coursing Club (ICC), with 89 local affiliated clubs around Ireland, manages and regulates coursing, where a pair of muzzled greyhounds chase a hare.
The history of the greyhound industry goes back many years: as well as regulating cours- ing, the Irish Coursing Club monitors and registers breeding of all Greyhounds, not just those used for coursing. All litters of greyhound puppies are recorded by the Irish Coursing Club, who maintain the stud book and breeding records. All pups that breeders want to keep have their ears tattooed at around 8 - 10 weeks by an official Steward.
When the pups are around a year old, the more promising animals are selected to be racers. They are given formal racing names, entered on a national register, and they are then on official record and their destiny can be tracked. The strict tattoo system allows greyhounds' fate to be monitored to some extent, but on occasions, greyhound bodies are found with their ears removed, to avoid their identity from being established.
The fate of unwanted greyhounds is a concern for many people. The Irish Greyhound Board has a registered charity, the Retired Greyhound Trust which runs a “Greyhounds As Pets” programme, encouraging owners of retired racing greyhounds to include their animals in the programme.
“The 2013 dog pound statistics in areas known for greyhound breeding and training tell a sad story”
Additionally, there are over a dozen animal rescue groups involved with the rehabilitation and rehoming of greyhounds in Ireland. They have joined together to form an umbrella group, the Greyhound Rescue Association of Ireland (www.grai.ie). Greyhounds are gentle, sensitive and affectionate dogs who settle well into most homes.
Contrary to commonly believed myths, greyhounds do not need lots of exercise. Two 20 minute walks per day, like any other pet dog, is sufficient. Greyhounds are known as ‘couch potatoes’: they are far more likely to be sprawled out snoozing on the sofa than dashing excitedly around the house or garden. They tend to be meek, delicate creatures, yelping if their foot is stood on accidentally, and behaving submissively rather than aggressively.
Greyhounds can make ideal pets for a single person as well as for couples, families and retired people. They can live happily with other pets although precautions need to be taken with those who still have a high chase instinct (e.g. some greyhounds may need to be retrained that cats are not for chasing).
By the way, Spinner was one of the lucky ones. By chance, she managed to avoid “the needle” that morning, and she was spotted by a local animal rescue group. After a few weeks boarding in a sanctuary, she was spotted on their website by a young family looking for their first dog. Spinner is now living out the rest of her days as a much-loved pet in County Dublin.
April is Adopt-a-Greyhound month. Visit www.grai.ie to see animals in need of homes.
Contrary to commonly believed myths, greyhounds do not need lots of exercise