Race to death no longer a given
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 , 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.