Pete Wed­der­burn

Bray People - - NEWS - Pete WED­DER­BURN THE AN­I­MAL DOC­TOR

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

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