Race to death no longer a given

Kapi-Mana News - - FEATURE - By TROELS SOMMERVILLE

They trem­ble in their boxes, claw­ing at the door to open. The whirr of the elec­tric bunny can be heard fast ap­proach­ing. It whizzes past, the boxes burst open and ev­ery sinew of their bod­ies says ‘‘chase’’.

The grey­hounds ex­plode from the boxes, shift­ing from zero to 70kmh in just a few strides. They jos­tle for po­si­tion, but one soon streaks to the front. As she closes in, the pun­ters clasp their tick­ets tighter; they feel their score is about to come in.

Then snap. In a sec­ond it’s over. She pulls up lame and their tick­ets are worth­less. So is she.

It’s only a bro­ken toe, but some­thing so in­nocu­ous can spell the end of not only a rac­ing ca­reer, but also a life.

Un­til re­cently many dogs have been eu­thanised by their train­ers be­cause they no longer bring in money.

Some train­ers see dog rac­ing as a busi­ness and the dogs as a means to an end. If the dog is not turn­ing a profit, it isn’t a sound in­vest­ment and they eu­thanise it, Taryn Gibbs, of the SPCA, says.

Many don’t make it past the age of four – when they be­gin to slow down, they are in­stead put down. It’s an act the ca­nine at­ten­dant finds ‘‘disgusting’’.

‘‘Once they’re past their rac­ing peak, they [the train­ers] have no use for them.’’ she says.

‘‘Un­der the An­i­mal Wel­fare Act [1999], as long as you don’t hurt it [the dog] when do­ing it, you can put a gun to its head and shoot it.’’

Sec­tion 12c of the act says it is ac­cept­able to eu­thanise an an­i­mal as long as they suf­fer no ‘‘ un­rea­son­able or un­nec­es­sary pain or dis­tress’’.

Af­ter eight years at the SPCA, Ms Gibbs knows it can be dif­fi­cult to place the dogs in homes be­cause it can be al­most im­pos­si­ble to de­pro­gramme them from their train­ing, breed­ing and nat­u­ral in­stincts to chase.

‘‘They can’t go to homes with small fluffy an­i­mals.’’

This is part of the rea­son why Jac­qui Ey­ley de­cided to help train­ers find homes for their re­tired ‘‘ath­letes’’.

‘‘Some of the dogs didn’t meet a very nice end. A lot are still put down. They’ve had a long ca­reer and are too old. Some don’t want to race; they don’t want to chase the lit­tle fluffy thing.’’

So she started the char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tion Grey­hounds As Pets (GAP) which gives train­ers the op­tion of send­ing their pets to homes with­out hav­ing to go through the trou­ble them­selves.

‘‘It’s like a dat­ing agency. We match the dogs up with homes they will fit in.’’

Each of the dogs comes neutered, vac­ci­nated, reg­is­tered and will also have had a full check to en­sure it is suit­able for the house it’s go­ing to.

And al­though GAP makes a loss with ev­ery grey­hound sold, be­cause of the ef­fort it puts in to each dog, Ms Ey­ley says it’s worth it for the more than 500 dogs it has placed in just un­der five years of op­er­a­tion.

She keeps the char­ity go­ing with the help of de­voted vol­un­teers and sup­port from Grey­hound Rac­ing New Zealand (GRNZ).

Those who adopted the dogs from GAP found the dogs were such ‘‘adorable’’ an­i­mals that they pitched in to help in any way they could.

‘‘Once you’ve adopted a grey­hound, you want to help other grey­hounds find homes,’’ Ms Ey­ley says.

GRNZ train­ing and devel­op­ment man­ager Keith Cop­pins says the or­gan­i­sa­tion sup­ports all that GAP does for the dogs, but there are still many grey­hounds that go un­housed.

‘‘There are only a limited num­ber of homes but the more peo­ple that get to know about the pro­gramme and the more we pro­mote it, the more peo­ple will want them.’’

GRNZ pro­vides an­nual fund­ing to GAP and helps it get ad­ver­tis­ing space at tracks and meets.

How­ever, Mr Cop­pins said he didn’t know whether train­ers eu­thanised their dogs and, if they did, how preva­lent it was.

Now re­tired from rac­ing, De­nis and Pam Schofield were once the own­ers of one of the most highly re­garded ken­nels in the coun­try and say they know all about the in­dus­try and the way dogs are treated.

They es­tab­lished their ken­nels in 1995 and Mrs Schofield says they al­ways looked to find homes for dogs that were no longer fit to race, but many other train­ers would not be as com­pas­sion­ate.

In­stead, she says, some ken­nels put down their dogs when they could no longer profit from them.

Her hus­band says the cou­ple would find homes for the dogs and send them away to fam­i­lies they knew would care about them.

‘‘When you’re breed­ing your own, you get very close with them,’’ he says.

These days, a bro­ken toe doesn’t mean im­mi­nent death for a dog.

In­stead it can mean re­tire­ment in the sub­urbs with a chance to live out its years at a stroll, not a sprint.

This ar­ti­cle orig­i­nally ap­peared in the news­pa­per of AUT’s Post­grad­u­ate Diploma in Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Stud­ies and Bach­e­lor of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Stud­ies cour­ses, Te Waha Nui.

Po­etry in mo­tion: Boof and Wally at full stride dur­ing one of their favourite treats, a trip to the beach.

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