The NSW Government has introduced its controversial legislation banning greyhound racing. Caitlyn Hurley asks where all the racing greyhounds will go now.
Wentworth Park race track sits empty. Within the Sydney suburb of Glebe, the vivid green, meticulously manicured race track lies quiet, waiting for the thundering flash of a dozen dogs to run the 500 metres to victory every Saturday night. For the dogs who reach the finish line first, they have four to six years of running laps before becoming breeding stock; that is if they aren’t injured while racing. For the “slower” dogs, their fate is less certain. Those who make it out of the racing industry alive are often taken on by organisations like Greyhounds As Pets (GAP), which allow ex-racing dogs to find an adoptive home or foster family. These programs rely on adoption days to spread their message and to find people willing to bring an ex-racing greyhound into their lives. I was lucky enough to find one of these events in my local area on one Saturday morning and I went along, keen to learn more about these beautiful dogs.
Several colourful marquees line the opposite side of Wentworth Park’s race track. Sausages are sizzling on a barbecue nearby as one hundred or so people stroll around the park, mostly young families with kids, excited to meet their potential new fury family member. Kyle Maher, the marketing manager of GAP, is one of the many proud people involved with the event, eager to spread GAP’s message to the public.
“Today is a great example of how popular the breed is becoming,” he tells me. “The decision … by the government has definitely increased people’s interest in today’s event.”
The energy in the park is optimistic and relaxed. “To see so many people down here for an adoption day who just want to get their hands on a greyhound, they want to give a retired racing greyhound a home for life, that’s really heartwarming,” Kyle smiles.
As I wander through the crowd admiring the dogs I suddenly feel a wet nose kiss the side of my hand. A GAP volunteer laughs beside me: “I see Shady has found a new friend.”
I look down to find one of the greyhounds wanting to say hello. I giggle at her enthusiasm, her whole back half gently wiggling side to side as she grins while pressing her head into my palm, gently asking for a pat. After meeting Shady I flip hastily through the program of the 40 ex-racing dogs available to foster or adopt, eager to find more information about her. When I find her name next to her face I am left with a sickening twisted knot in my stomach. Next to her photo they have listed her birthdate, name, and status, including her ex racing name – Wasted Space. Its an undeserving name Shady needs to leave behind when she exits the park today with a family who will make a special space for her in their lives.
Shady is only one of almost 7000 greyhounds who will be left over from the racing industry between this month and July next year, when the ban on racing greyhounds in NSW will be enforced. And they have not always been easy to re-home, meaning those who are not taken on by programs like GAP are often killed, a discarded product of the $350 million racing industry. There are a variety of misconceptions about the breed, partially due to their large muscular stature and because, up until now, they have been bred almost exclusively for racing.
The GAP program aims to break any stigma facing the breed, including that they are high-energy, antisocial or dirty, all of which are false. Due to a law introduced to Australia in 1927, every greyhound has to wear a muzzle in public unless they have gone though a special six-week program called Greenhounds. Many people, including Dr Elizabeth Arnott, the chief veterinary officer of Greyhound Racing NSW, believe this process is outdated and unnecessary, as greyhounds are actually a quiet and gentle breed.
“I understand the RSPCA stance is that it breeds specific legislation so it fails to consider differences between individual dogs …. it does need reviewing because the problem it is trying to address is not necessarily specific to greyhounds,” Dr Arnott said.
She acknowledges the difficulties GAP may face in the future with a greater number of dogs needing homes, but remains optimistic: “I think the main thing up for consideration with any change to legislation going forward is demand, we are certainly considering all options for catering for that. These greyhounds will go into foster care periods to introduce them to life as a pet and get them familiar with that before we put them up for adoption.”
With the new laws due to be enforced in July 2017, there will be more dogs than previous years longing to find the love and lifelong bond with a new owner after adoption. Toni Barnes is one of dozens of foster carers who gives these dogs a temporary home and helps them adapt to a new life. There is no doubt Toni loves her animals, adopting ex-racing greyhound Lexie three months ago and adding her to a family of three other dogs, three cats, ten birds and even a pet rabbit.
Lexie is the fourth dog Toni has adopted through GAP, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I fell in love with one of the dogs there,” she passionately mentions while telling me of her experiences adopting Lexie. I can hear the smile in her warm voice.
“Within a couple of weeks she was with me at home.”
Toni, like many foster carers becomes incredibly attached to her dogs and refers to them as “part of the family.”
For the individuals and families that adopt a greyhound, it is about more than just having a new pet: it’s a new way of life. “It’s actually got me out and talking about greyhounds more and the love of a greyhound, and how different a breed they are to most,” Toni said. “I’ve had dogs all my life but greyhounds are completely different, and you get a lot of people coming up to you and asking you questions about them.”
The race track will always be there, but the dogs are moving on. Dogs like Shady, known formerly as Wasted Space, have a very different future ahead. The new Bill is due to go to the Legislative Assembly later this week. – Caitlyn Hurley.
Photo by Jessica Heckley.