When I was gathering material for my book The Thin Green Line part of the research took me to Ireland and Northern Ireland. Since as wildlife and environmental crime officer with Tayside Police I took an interest in any offences towards animals which the police were involved in investigating I was naturally shocked to hear of some of the cruelty to greyhounds in Ireland. I have always had antipathy towards horse and dog racing, particularly so with greyhounds, and the stories I was hearing and subsequently unearthed certainly did nothing to change my views. I felt it deserved a chapter in the part of The Thin Green Line relating to wildlife and animal-related crime in Ireland. Here it is:
Disposable Greyhounds: Ireland’s Shame
Irish folk are well known for their interest in racing, and many of the best racehorse bloodlines in the world can be traced directly back to Ireland. They are also keen on greyhound racing. With some €90 million spent in recent years upgrading Ireland’s 17 venues, in 2007 the tracks drew more than one million people, a quarter of Ireland’s population. Greyhound racing, because of the callous and ruthless nature of some of the people involved, results in unbelievable cruelty to many of the dogs, and of course work for the gardaí and the ISPCA. In some cases the dogs are bred for one purpose: racing. Once that purpose ends the dog is disposable.
In a quote from the UK-based public interest group Greyhound Action International a spokeswoman estimated that globally “tens of thousands of dogs are disposed of every year by the greyhound racing industry, either because they fail to make the grade as racers or because their racing days are over. These dogs are bred to die. Ireland has created a glut of greyhounds and other countries are being left to mop up the problem.” She added, “Ireland is a drastic place for animals.” As if to vindicate the woman’s final remark, a number of discarded live greyhounds have been found with their ears cut off, so that they cannot be identified by the tattoo inside the ears.
Are the Irish really any worse than some greyhound owners and trainers in the UK? I suspect not. In May 2004 a black and white greyhound was found by a hill walker on a Welsh mountainside. It was still alive despite having been shot in the head, probably with a nail gun, and had its ears cut off. Not surprisingly the animal was extremely distressed and had to be taken to a vet where it was put down. A post-mortem examination showed that the dog had brain damage and had a shard of metal embedded in its cheek.
In July 2006 every UK newspaper headlines covered the greyhound disposal factory in the back garden of a house in Seaham, County Durham. The main photograph in the newspapers showed two dogs that had been shot being brought in a wheelbarrow to their last resting place. Each year in the UK trainers retire around 10,000 licensed greyhounds from racing, but homes are only found for about a third of them. Probably around 6000 greyhounds are slaughtered every year because they start to lose races. Provided that the dogs are killed humanely no criminal offence is committed but is it not taking us back hundreds of years in terms of civilisation that dogs can simply be discarded at a relatively young age when their commercial purpose has been served? Mutilating them by cutting off their ears is of course barbaric and most definitely a criminal offence.
The point is this: the treatment of greyhounds is a scandal, whether it be in Ireland or the UK. It sickens the vast majority of the population, whether or not they are dog lovers, yet investigation into cruelty to greyhounds is away down at the bottom of the heap for the police in mainland Britain, though to their credit it appears to be taken more seriously by An Garda Síochána and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
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