Reporter Craig Richard pens an excellent article in the Wimbledon Guardian on the cruelty of greyhound racing and fears of what will happen to the dogs when the track closes are allayed by the local rescue – Wimbledon Greyhound Welfare – who said “It is a concern that we could have to find places for a lot of dogs, but whatever dog needed to come in, we would find the room for it.”
The co-ordinator of an organisation that raises awareness of greyhound racing welfare argues the sport is “only sustainable due to cruelty”, despite the sport’s governing body spending 90 per cent of its annual budget on safeguarding policies.
The sport is governed by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) which oversees welfare policies at courses including the Wimbledon Stadium, which is due to close this year to make way for AFC Wimbledon’s new football stadium.
Trudy Baker founded national pressure group Greyt Exploitations in 2008 to campaign for stronger protection laws and outlawing gambling on dog racing.
She believes that despite heavy welfare spending, the sport is characterised by aggressive breeding programmes, insufficient rehoming provision and inevitable casualties.
90 per cent of the annual budget of the GBGB is spent on the welfare of greyhounds. In 2014/15, this figure would have been £6,606,279 of the Board’s annual budget of £7,340,310.
The board also works closely with charities such as the RSPCA, Blue Cross and the Dog’s Trust to shape policy.
Ms Baker said: “It doesn’t occur to people that dogs who do not finish or finish lame will be taken to the vet or euthanised.”
Ms Baker believes greyhounds are at risk before and after their career – from over-breeding as a result of pressure to create a winning dog, and then from the difficulties in finding a retired greyhound a home once they no longer benefit their owner financially.
She explained: “They are treated like livestock, and those that aren’t good enough are destroyed.
“Greyhound racing is not sustainable without this cruelty.”
About 7,500 greyhounds retire from British tracks each year, of which about 4,000 are rehomed by the Retired Greyhound Trust.
Many others are rehomed by independent charities, greyhound trainers or families as pets, according to the GBGB.
Simon Banks, media and communications officer for the GBGB, said: “The welfare and integrity for both the racing and ex-racing greyhound underpins the ethos of GBGB.”
Vets attend every race and trial meeting and examine each greyhound on arrival and after each race.
Mr Banks added: “On the rare occasion a dog is injured while racing, the vet will make an assessment of the injury before treatment is given.”
Drugs tests are also administered all year round in an effort to clamp down on trainers abusing animals to fix races.
In December 2015 Chris Mosdall, a trainer who described himself as the “biggest crook in Wimbledon”, was jailed after admitting to fixing races at Wimbledon Stadium in Plough Lane by administering drugs to greyhounds.
According to GBGB figures, of more than 8,000 random urine samples collected at racecourses annually, less than 0.5 per cent return positive for prohibited substances.
Mr Banks explained: “All cases involving positive samples are heard by an independent Disciplinary Committee, which has the power to heavily fine and/or disqualify those found to be in breach of the rules.”
But Ms Baker believes there are fundamental risks inherent in the race itself, which cannot be overlooked.
She explained: “The tracks they race on are dangerously configured.
“They all jockey for poll position and chase to the first bend. This is when most accidents happen.”
Last year, 87 dogs sustained injuries during races at Wimbledon, of whom 34 never raced again.
Ms Baker notes that while these numbers might not appear shocking, Wimbledon only ran two race nights a week last year, compared with more commercially successful tracks which ran five or six nights.
The Wimbledon Stadium, in Plough Lane, was set to officially close on Saturday, June 18, but may have been given a reprieve after Mayor of London Boris Johnson announced he would renew the consultation process on Tuesday, March 22.
While Ms Baker believes the Wimbledon track’s closure – the last track with a London post code – would be “good news”, she worries it could trigger a re-homing crisis for local dogs.
She said: “There will be dogs that other owners are not interested in because they are closer to the end of their careers.
“The industry is in such a decline at the moment that there is a shortage of owners and shortage of dogs.”
The kennel manager at independent charity Wimbledon Greyhound Welfare echoed Ms Baker’s concerns.
Denise Dubarbier said: “We’re not sure what the impact of (the Wimbledon tracks’ closure) will be. The aim is to take in all of the ones who need us.
“We’re going to be under pressure to rehome these dogs. It’s about how we care for them and how we find the funds.
“It is a concern that we could have to find places for a lot of dogs, but whatever dog needed to come in, we would find the room for it.”
Simon Banks said: “As in all cases when a greyhound track closes the GBGB and the promoter of that stadium will provide the necessary funding to ensure that no greyhound’s future welfare is compromised.
“Some people believe that animals should not be involved in sport in any way and while the GBGB respects that opinion, the British public can rest assured that greyhound welfare remains paramount to the governing body’s responsibilities.”