For greyhounds' sake ... no new greyhound track in Northern Ireland!

  • by: Mel Fraser
  • recipient: Ashley Boreland, Chief Executive, Ards Borough Council
We aim to dissuade, on animal welfare grounds, Ards Borough Council from granting a lease to Ards Football Club allowing for the construction and operation of a greyhound-racing track in Newtownards, Co. Down, Northern Ireland.
Under the proposed terms of a lease to Ards Football Club, Ards Borough Council envisages allowing a portion of its land at Newtownards (Co. Down, Northern Ireland) to be used for the construction of a football stadium which would also house a greyhound-racing track.

Such a development would have enormous implications for animal welfare, in this particular case the welfare of racing greyhounds.

Year in and year out, the greyhound racing industry presides over what can only be described as a canine holocaust – an animal welfare disaster of massive proportions, a shameful scandal kept concealed from public view.

The figures are staggering. Well over 20,000 greyhounds are bred in Ireland each year. In the search for a winner, these dogs are then systematically culled, in a cycle which begins at puppyhood and goes on until retirement. At that point, destruction is virtually inevitable. The result is that very few greyhounds ever get a chance of life beyond the age of about 4 years. The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) estimates that about 14,000 greyhounds are “disposed of” in Ireland each year. In Great Britain (GB), it is calculated that up to 10,000 greyhounds become “surplus to requirements” annually. The vast majority of these unwanted dogs are destroyed, humanely or otherwise. Many are simply abandoned. In this case, voluntary agencies such as animal sanctuaries or greyhound rescue organisations, or publicly funded local authority dog pounds, are left to deal with the aftermath.

About three times more greyhounds disappear from circulation every year in Ireland than the total number of stray dogs of all types that are put down in dog pounds in Northern Ireland in the same period. And even while still alive, these gentle, sensitive creatures, which adore human company and can be wonderful family pets – the least aggressive of all dogs – are all too often the victims of harsh treatment, neglect or cruelty.

All this suffering and premature death is a direct by-product of the greyhound racing industry, which has consistently failed to take seriously the welfare, both before and after retirement, of the animals it profits from. And the profits are not to be sneezed at. It comes as no surprise to discover that a consortium is willing to bankroll a small local football club in exchange for the financial benefits to be derived from greyhound racing. It is a small price to pay for the likely returns.

Although there is minimal regulation of greyhound racing in the Republic of Ireland (RoI) and GB, neither of the two greyhound tracks currently in operation in Northern Ireland (Ballyskeagh and Brandywell) appears to be regulated in any way at all. The influence of the governing body or regulatory authority is nowhere to be seen. For example, no minimum design, construction or maintenance standards are imposed on these tracks. Consequently, there are no minimum safety standards to protect the dogs as they race. There is no requirement for a vet to be in attendance at races or trials. There are no anti-doping measures in place to prevent race-fixing, which is said to be rife – dog and punter both lose out. Although they are apparently “official”, these venues would be referred to in GB as “flapping tracks”.

In the absence of such controls, what likelihood is there that a new Northern Ireland track, nomatter how state-of-the-art its facilities for the public might be, would conform to higher standards?

Recent efforts in the RoI and GB to modernise the image of greyhound racing and upgrade the amenities on offer to racegoers have had no effect on the standards of welfare afforded to the dogs. Members of the public who attend greyhound races or who gamble on their results, greyhound owners who enter their dogs in races, and public bodies which support or promote the racing industry should all be aware of the unnecessary suffering and the senseless over-breeding and killing they are helping to perpetuate. Bigger and more regular attendances at the tracks and larger amounts gambled on the outcome of races merely mean that even more dogs are required to enter the cycle, to keep pace with the racegoers’ and punters’ desire for entertainment and the bookmakers’ demand for profits.

In view of all the above, the signatories of this petition call on Ards Borough Council to refuse permission for a greyhound track to be built and operated on its land.

Animal Welfare Federation Northern Ireland
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