"Why in this day and age - when we’re saying we're a nation that cares about animal welfare - we're saying it's acceptable to have dogs run round a track knowing that they're going to get injured". Scottish SPCA.

This week at the Scottish Parliament, Dogs Trust, Scottish SPCA and RSPCA assembled to give evidence to the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee (RAI) to show strong support for phasing out greyhound racing in Scotland. This is following the recent session in opposition of a phase out that featured representation from Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) and the owner of the unlicensed Thornton track in Fife.

In support of petition PE1758: End greyhound racing in Scotland, brought by our friends at Scotland Against Greyhound Exploitation (SAGE), Claire Calder of Dogs Trust; Sam Gaines at RSPCA and Gilly Mendes-Ferreira from Scottish SPCA, presented their numerous welfare concerns for greyhounds in the industry and why the Scottish Government should begin to phase out dog racing.

Rally against greyhound racing

All three organisations held the position that there was no other conclusion that would ensure the welfare of greyhounds. The Scottish SPCA has been observing the industry for over 20 years, Dogs Trust continue to care for and rehome rescued greyhounds and, though previously having tried to work with the industry to improve conditions, both Dogs Trust and the RSPCA now believe that changes are not being reached to protect the dogs.

At OneKind, we stand alongside these organisations in the campaign to see an end to greyhound racing in Scotland.

Animal welfare comes first

Throughout the session, the thread of welfare issues for the greyhounds involved in the cruel racing industry was woven into the evidence presented to the Committee. The Scottish SPCA surmised greyhound racing as “inherently dangerous”.

Greyhounds racing

The organisations raised concern for greyhounds at every life stage. From being forced to run at 40 miles per hour around dangerous oval tracks, potentially given drugs to boost performance, often being kennelled and the inherent risk of painful injuries; the panel raised the question of quality of life for greyhounds. Dogs Trust also highlighted that around 10% of greyhound puppies are unaccounted for after the first year.

Moreover, Dogs Trusts were particularly – and rightfully – critical of the recommended ‘improvements’ in the welfare strategy put forward by GBGB, which centred on adapting the ‘resilience’ of greyhounds rather than the conditions they are kept in. As Claire stated; “Within animal welfare, we would tend to look at how we can change the environment to protect the animals involved rather than making the animals more resilient.”

All three organisations held the position that any proposed regulations would not be sufficient in safeguarding the dogs.

Post-racing life in the greyhound industry

Greyhound resting

Life off the track can be fraught with challenges for the greyhounds rescued from racing. They may face a long road to recovery and adoption.

One of the key points to come from the session was that the Blue Cross, Dogs Trust and Scottish SPCA have all been removed from the GBGB retirement scheme, following the announcement of their support for a phase out to greyhound racing.

This retirement scheme includes a grant of £400, which Dogs Trust stated did “not go near anywhere the amount” to care for, rehabilitate and rehome a greyhound from the industry. Using the example of when they took in 14 injured GBGB dogs from the independent Valley track between November 2018 – April 2021 in Wales, they pointed out that external veterinary treatment cost between £690 - £4,800 alone.

Further, the SSCPA highlighted the challenges organisations face when rehoming greyhounds from the industry as GBGB dogs spend 95% of their time in kennels and thus may have to learn how to adapt to home environment. Although most dogs at Thornton reside at a home address, they may still be kennelled.

Again, using the example of GBGB tracks in England and Wales, between 6,000-7,000 dogs leave the greyhound racing industry each year and rehoming charities are responsible for rehoming over 5,000 of them. It is not known how many dogs raced at Thornton are rehomed.

Thornton: Scotland’s last remaining track

The Scottish SPCA highlighted that data that shows the number of dogs being raced, the injury rate or average life span at Thornton is not available as being an unlicensed track, they are not required to keep records.

The Scottish SCPA have investigated 21 reports for the same address of an individual who races their dogs at this track. While it was concluded that the owner met the minimum requirements of food, water and shelter, it couldn’t be said that the dog had the opportunity for positive experiences.

The Scottish Animal Welfare Commissions (SAWC) report exhibited images requested from those who race their dogs at Thornton, showing no enrichment and inadequate bedding in kennels.

Further, races have been cancelled at this track when the bookmaker is unable to attend, suggesting that it is more than a ‘hobby track’ - as stated in the previous session.

An industry nearing the finish line

It is clear that the greyhound racing industry is in decline. The number of tracks has reduced over recent years and the majority of Scots want to see the Scottish Government take action to phase out greyhound racing in Scotland (survey from Panelbase on behalf of GREY2K USA Worldwide). Indeed, more than 90% of respondents who responded to the RAI Committee’s call to views on the petition expressed their support for an end to greyhound racing in Scotland.

A greyhound dog

When Dogs Trust considered the number of dogs in the industry, they concluded that in partnership with other rehoming charities, they are confident they can rehome all dogs involved in the industry within 5 years of there being a phase out. Dogs Trust stated they are committed to the welfare of greyhounds and will continue to care for and rehome them.

We commend and support the representatives of the animal organisations for the comprehensive evidence presented in Parliament in support of a phase out of greyhound racing in Scotland.