Sunday 24 September 2017

Remember that there's life in the old dogs yet

Rain is falling these late May days. Cats claim to be curious, however I've yet to see one stick around to investigate. Scooby-Doo may cringe, but he doesn't hide indoors at the first drops.

Some mutts bear the brunt of worse things than bad weather. Everywhere I look these days, images of dog-racing are plastered across billboards. This town is no exception, with placards advertising "a family day out at the dogs". They bring two greyhound-related incidences to mind.

The first is a pleasure to recall. I was having a drink in Prague some years ago, when the late president Vaclav Havel arrived in with his wife and entourage. They sat down at a table, where they proceeded to feed two greyhounds ice-cream from long spoons.

The other experience I can't forget quickly enough. It happened in Kilkenny last week. Two men led a greyhound up the river. It was obvious they had come from the nearby racing track. What struck me was the animal's timidity. It cringed, keeping its distance from the men.

They grabbed the dog, and hurled him into the river. The dog scrambled up the bank, cowering before the men. When they noticed me staring they walked further up river, where they repeated the manoeuvre.

Flinging a dog into a river is a cheap way to clean him. And owners like to keep their costs down. Because there's big money involved in the Irish greyhound industry; about €500m a year. Thousands of dogs are bred annually, as greyhounds generally stop racing by age four. But the breed lives for 10 to 12 years.

Most owners and breeders refuse responsibility for this dilemma, even though the Irish Greyhound Board is no skinny whippet. It's more like a fat cat guzzling cream. Set to receive over €11m in State funding this year, it spends only about €200,000 on rehoming retired greyhounds. Nor do they keep records of how many dogs retire.

Nearly 900 greyhounds ended up in State pounds in 2010, where two-thirds were killed. Even euthanasia is too big a price to pay for some dogs that have run the living daylights out of themselves. The bodies of six greyhounds shot and dumped in a quarry earlier this year caused a sensation. Sadly, it's the norm.

The surreal incident in Prague made sense when I discovered that hundreds of Irish greyhounds are rescued by the Czech Republic every year. We may have stopped exporting unwanted pregnancies, but clearly we have retained the mentality.

That greyhound last week had some mileage left in him. But will dark clouds rain down when he runs out of juice? I pray he's one of the lucky few who escapes the guillotine and gets to eat cake.

Sunday Independent

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