Gerard Dollard: 'Anybody who has owned a dog will have been horrified'
Greyhound racing is part of Irish society and much more than just a sport, writes Gerard Dollard
Greyhound racing, as a sport in Ireland, has been enjoyed by the Irish public for over 90 years. It is part of the fabric of Irish society and our social and cultural heritage. Embedded in rural Ireland and with a strong urban support base, it is much more than a sport, it is an industry. A report commissioned by the Irish Greyhound Board (IGB)/Bord na gCon from Jim Power, economic consultant and published in 2017 indicates that 12,371 people derive economic benefit from the industry. Overall annual economic impact is estimated at €302m.
Many readers will be aware of the recent RTE programme on the greyhound industry. Anybody who has ever owned any breed of dog will have been horrified by what was broadcast. There is absolutely no place for such behaviour in the Irish greyhound industry, or in any activity involving animals.
It is right that RTE would highlight illegal animal welfare behaviour, as the matter is clearly of public interest. However, the narrative generated - and indeed quoted in public forums - that such behaviour reflects a majority of greyhound owners simply isn't true. The actions displayed on the programme were from an irresponsible minority who showed blatant disregard for the proper care of animals. Those actions cannot, and will not, be tolerated.
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Let me be clear: the Irish Greyhound Board is committed to "maintaining animal welfare at the centre of our industry" as set out in our Strategic Plan published in 2018. We strongly believe that the Greyhound Racing Act 2019 - signed into law by the president just weeks before the RTE programme aired - gives us the tools to bring our statutory framework to a new level.
The introduction of a traceability system as provided for in the Act, and as sought for some time by the IGB, will allow the whereabouts of a greyhound to be monitored throughout its life stages - birth, registration, its racing career, all changes of ownership and location, and death.
Since the airing of the programme, we have introduced a number of additional care and welfare measures and proposed a radical rearrangement of responsibility for racing greyhounds. A number of these recommendations, including an increased financial incentive for domestic greyhound rehomings and an extension to our foster care scheme, have already been implemented.
We also intend to place a levy on attendance income and prize money and assign a portion of all sponsorship to a new 'Care Fund' for greyhounds. We are in conversations with our sponsors regarding their involvement in these new proposals.
The report cited in the RTE programme assumed almost 6,000 'unaccounted for' dogs and, furthermore, that these dogs were culled. The analysis studied greyhounds from the 2009 'racing pool' and was based on estimates, guesstimates and assumptions and lacked any empirical evidence base. The IGB did not accept the analysis as an accurate reflection of the greyhound industry.
The greyhound racing industry of 2019 is a different place to the industry of 2009, due to the extent of reforms that have been made within the sector. Greyhound breeding has reduced by 25pc since 2009. The traceability system now being introduced will allow us to comprehensively track the movement of racing greyhounds.
The programme outlined some appalling practices involving the treatment of greyhounds and other animals, allegedly in China. The footage, which first appeared on the internet in 2015, is abhorrent. However, the IGB, or any Irish regulator, cannot be responsible for the disgraceful attitude to wider animal welfare that is evident in other countries. The IGB's clear position has consistently been that any export of greyhounds should only be to countries that have a strong animal welfare code.
The movement of all dogs, including greyhounds, between EU member states is set on a European level. Any Irish dog whose final destination is China may have been exported to several different destinations before reaching that country.
The World Trade Organisation does not presently envisage trade restrictions based on animal welfare concerns.
Reference was made to EPO in the programme and such substance being prevalent in the industry. The last recorded instance of this drug by IGB was in July 2005. The IGB has conducted over 70,000 tests since and operates state-of-the-art laboratory facilities at the National Greyhound Laboratory in Limerick. Some 5,288 test samples were analysed in 2018, almost five times the number tested across 28 different sports, according to Sport Ireland's annual anti-doping review last year. In 2018, the IGB also successfully defended three High Court challenges to our regulatory regime.
The primary responsibility for the care and welfare of any animal, including greyhounds, ultimately rests with its owner. The obligations of owners must be reinforced, so that an owner who mistreats any animal in the horrific manner as seen on the RTE programme will face the full force of the law. We will continue to work with any and all agencies to eradicate poor animal welfare practices.
The good practice and behaviour of the vast majority within the greyhound community who are passionate about their greyhounds and provide excellent standards of care needs to be acknowledged and recognised. These are the greyhound industry.
Finally, if any reader is aware of any mistreatment of a greyhound, we would welcome contact on our confidential number (061) 448 100 or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org
Gerard Dollard is CEO of the Irish Greyhound Board/ Bord na gCon