How Efforts to Rehome Greyhounds led to a Backlash from the Racing Industry
I wanted to help unwanted dogs with a newspaper article
I have always been interested in animal welfare causes and will do all I can to help an animal in need.
This was my intention when, working as a young reporter on a local newspaper, I was contacted by a charity which rehomed former racing greyhounds to ask if I could write a feature on their work.
My editor was also an animal-lover and had 12 dogs himself, most of them rescue dogs. So he too was keen to assist and gave the go-ahead for the article.
I reported how one of the UK's largest greyhound rescue charities had expanded into Lancashire, England.
And I publicised how organisers of Greyhound Rescue West of England wished to find new homes for the friendly dogs in its care in my area.
One of our photographers went to the shelter and took some beautiful photographs of the dogs seeking homes and my newspaper put together an informative, two-page spread, detailing all the greyhounds' age, gender, personality and needs.
I was told tales of horrific greyhound abuse
During the conversations I had with the lady running the greyhound rehoming centre, I learned some terrible stories of animal abuse, which made me feel ill.
I was younger and naïve in those days and had no idea this kind of thing went on.
I checked up the details afterwards and found one of the most horrific cruelty cases had been well documented on the BBC News website. It related to a greyhound thrown out of a car window on to a busy motorway.
The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had revealed how the dog was discarded on the M74, on the outskirts of Glasgow. They feared its owner had wanted to get rid of the dog ahead of the imminent closure of Wishaw Greyhound Stadium.
The SSPCA reported how, when other greyhound tracks had closed, dogs had been found with their ears cut off to disguise their identification numbers and said a number of the animals had been brutally killed.
Greyhound was shot and its ears cut off
In another horrific case, reported to me by the greyhound rescue, I learned how a greyhound had been shot in the head and had its ears cut off before being dumped alive on a south Wales mountain.
Again, I checked this out and read, on the BBC News website, that the dog's ears had probably been tattooed and had been cut off to stop identification.
The RSPCA had condemned the abuse after the greyhound was euthanized. He had been found by a person walking their dog, near Fochriw in the Rhymney Valley.
A post-mortem examination had revealed how the dog had suffered severe brain damage and his jaw had been shattered.
The RSPCA stated, at the time, that they believed the culprit had chosen the location very carefully, "hoping the greyhound would never be found".
They believed the animal had previously been a racing dog and had "simply out-served his purpose".
I mentioned the cruelty cases in my feature on greyhound rescue
I was shocked and upset after reading the horrific greyhound cruelty reports and I incorporated some of the details into my article for the newspaper.
It was a massive, positive publicity piece for the Greyhound Rescue West of England and they reported an increase in inquiries about dog adoptions as a result.
The report also had a very positive response from readers and we received a number of letters and calls in support of the greyhound rescue, which led to some of the dogs being found loving new homes.
I was also responsible for the maintenance of our newspaper's website, so I included the story on there too, so that it would reach a wider audience.
However, one thing for which I wasn't prepared was the backlash from the greyhound racing industry. About a week after the story was published, I received a very long and strongly-worded letter of complaint from a representative of the British Greyhound Racing Board.
I was told my article was "offensive"
While I had set out with the good intention of rehoming unwanted dogs, I had inadvertently started a controversy which was to rumble on for weeks.
The British Greyhound Racing Board demanded a right to reply to the article, claiming my report was "misleading" and "offensive" and insisting the majority of greyhounds went to loving homes for the rest of their days after they had retired from racing.
I felt as if they were trying to discredit my report by implying it was untrue, whereas I had researched the article very thoroughly before publishing.
My editor agreed to publish the letter from the BGRB in its entirety, as being a newspaper, we are duty-bound to present fair and accurate reports and give any "injured party" a right of reply.
The letter stated almost 4,500 former racing greyhounds were rehomed annually by the Retired Greyhound Trust. It also claimed approximately a further 3,500 retired greyhounds found homes either with their owners, their trainer or through other re-homing charities. The BGRB stated some of the other dogs continued running on independent tracks or returned to their native Ireland.
Although I understood not all greyhound owners were unscrupulous and that some did genuinely care about their dogs, I have to say I was uncomfortable about publishing the letter, as it seemed to refute everything I had said in my original article.
Amazed at the response from readers
Publishing the letter from the BGRB had an amazing effect - a flurry of letters and phone calls from readers, including those in other parts of the country who had seen the story online - who supported my report and had their own stories to tell of abuse towards retired greyhounds.
We published some of their letters too and I was surprised at the strength of feeling and the anger which my report had provoked from both animal lovers who were against greyhound racing and those who supported the racing industry.
The debate rumbled on for many weeks and prompted many different viewpoints.
This had a positive response for the greyhounds I had aimed to rehome by writing the article, I am pleased to say. The ongoing publicity led to increasing interest in the work of the Greyhound Rescue West of England and we were able to publish a positive follow-up to our original report.
Elderly dogs found loving new homes
The rescue charity said our newspaper team should give ourselves "a massive pat on the back" as some of the older dogs were found loving new homes, including one ten-year-old dog who had been desperately unhappy and pining in kennels. We were able to publish follow-up reports of the dogs' new lives.
So despite the controversy which my original, innocent article provoked, it was worth it, as the end result was a number of greyhounds being able to live out their old age with families who adored them.
Anti-racing group claims greyhound abuse still occurs to this day
I would like to say that the story had a totally happy ending and that greyhound abuse had stopped. However, unfortunately, similar cases still hit the headlines to this day.
In June 2013, the BBC reported how a male greyhound had been abandoned with his ears cut off in Newtownabbey. The Mid Antrim Animal Sanctuary said the greyhound had his ears hacked off to remove identification tattoos which would have identified the owner. The sanctuary arranged for an operation to save the dog's life and his badly damaged ears were stitched.
To the best of my knowledge, however, the owner was never found. But thank God someone saw the dog and saved his life.
The pressure group, Greyt Exploitations, a non-profit group which campaigns against greyhound racing, claims healthy puppies who don't make the grade in racing are euthanized. It also claims dogs that suffer treatable, but career-ending, injuries are euthanized rather than giving them surgery.
It also claims healthy greyhounds deemed "no longer suitable as a betting product" because they are "too old or slow" are also euthanized if no retirement home can be found.
Greyt Exploitations claims figures show that in 2011, the the racing industry failed to account for more than 10,000 greyhounds bred for British racing.