A few weeks ago, the latest addition to our family, Freddie, joined me down at Parliament House to sniff the breeze of Tasmanian democracy.
Freddie, I should explain, is a much loved rescue greyhound adopted by my family last year from the Brightside Farm Animal Sanctuary. Since then he’s invested much of his time chewing through the shoes at the bottom of my wardrobe. But he’s such a comical, adorable, affectionate goof ball, I can’t be cross with him.
He is getting better as he puts more distance between his life now and his previous life as a racing greyhound. Although Freddie is two years old he never had a chance to do normal puppy stuff when he was in the racing “industry”, consequently the toddler phase has arrived late.
Freddie is one of the fortunate greyhounds. That’s because desperate steps are underway at Tasracing to solve the embarrassing problem of a big surplus of unwanted, castoff greyhounds needing homes. Remember this is the same industry that funds glossy ads insisting participants “love” their animals and treat them “like family”.
On cue, a half-page open letter appeared just a few days ago in the Tasmanian daily newspapers, in which the chairs of the three Tasmanian greyhound racing clubs ran the “our dogs are our family” line again. I’ll come back to that letter in a moment.
In Parliament the Minister for Racing, Madeleine Ogilvie has come under fire, because of leaked documents showing that the Tasracing bosses want to overhaul the Greyhound Adoption Program to improve “throughput”, a chilling euphemism for getting more discarded dogs off their hands, out the door and off their books.
On death row are traumatised and abused dogs that would, if put through the adoption program, likely take more time and patience to be retrained for life as a family pet. The industry wants these dogs out of the picture without getting a chance at rehoming.
The industry is focused on the wrong end of the problem: they’re targeting the shortfall of adoption placements, instead of facing the real issue – reckless, greedy over-breeding to maximize the chance of finding a successful racer.
The Minister’s frantic spin cannot disguise the mathematical mismatch between the number of dogs produced by owners and trainers, and the capacity in Tasmania to rehome the castoffs.
Down on the Parliament lawns, Freddie was joined by 24 immaculately behaved, shiny eyed rescue greyhound milling around with their owners.
In the chamber, Minister Ogilvie was parroting her familiar, scripted lines. She reiterated her Government’s unshakeable support for racing at the same time, she said, as meeting “community expectations” on animal welfare.
But the greyhound industry is fast losing any credibility it may have held on animal welfare. Sadly many greyhounds are not kindly treated.
Which brings me back to the greyhound industry’s letter in the daily newspapers.
To give the authors credit, they recognise that there is no place for animal cruelty in greyhound racing and say there is “no room in our industry for bad apples”. They were responding to information I had received from people wanting me to speak out on their behalf because they are too frightened to do so themselves or, when they have tried, their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.
The claims that have been bought to me include horrific stories of live guinea pigs, rabbits and mutilated possums used for live-baiting or “blooding” as many greyhound followers call it, a practice where greyhounds maul live animals supposedly to make them keener chasers at the race track.
My informant is adamant that live-baiting is practiced and has raised concerns about its use at a Colebrook property.
Another industry participant has confidentially and independently corroborated concerns about the Colebrook property but is also too petrified to speak out because of retribution fears.
If there are good people in the greyhound racing industry – and perhaps those that put their names to the open letter do treat their animals well – these people have a responsibility to root out the “bad apples” and expose them. The letter writers are at the coal face, they are closer to the bad apples than I. It’s no good shooting the messenger, get out there and clean up your own industry if you want it to survive.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to do my job, which is to represent my constituents by raising their concerns in Parliament and the media.
Greyhound racing has to face its demons. The allegations of live baiting would make anyone sick to the stomach. Then there’s the traumatised greyhounds that can’t even be approached because they are so terrified. Some dogs are so bored they’ve destroyed their teeth chewing the wire on their miserable cages, cement boxes in which they can spend over 20 hours in a day.
Under Tasracing’s proposed new regime, these dogs risk being cynically written off as temperamentally unsuitable, too much trouble to rehabilitate, and dispatched without a backward glance.
My Freddie is a lucky dog, and I’m a lucky person to have his love and affection. Surely all greyhounds should have that chance at life?