Animal welfare group fights for investigation into Whanganui racetrack after spate of greyhound deaths

An animal welfare organisation is calling for one of Aotearoa's greyhound racing tracks to be closed so an investigation can be carried out into a string of dog deaths at the site. 

Source: 1 NEWS

SAFE says there have been eight greyhounds die to due to injuries sustained at racetracks since December 18 - five of which were at Whanganui's Hatrick Raceway.

Spokesperson for the agency Will Appelbe is calling for immediate closure of the track for an investigation.

"While Kiwis enjoyed their unstoppable summer, the greyhound death toll has soared over the last three weeks," he said.

On December 18, one dog was euthanised in Whanganui after suffering a significant fracture to the right hock, then on December 22, a dog which suffered a fractured hock was euthanised in Palmerston North, he said.

A hock is a dog's equivalent to a human ankle. 

In Auckland, a dog was euthanised on December 27 after dislocating its right hock, and three days later a dog was euthanised following gastric dilation and volvulus in Whanganui.

Two dogs were euthanised in Whananui on January 1 - one after suffering a ruptured stomach and the other after suffering a fractured hind tarsal bone.

Last Wednesday, in Whanganui, a dog was euthanised after suffering a fractured right hock, then on Sunday a dog was euthanised after suffering a fractured right hock in Auckland.

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A spokesperson at Greyhound Racing New Zealand (GRNZ) told 1 NEWS two of the eight euthanisations were for stomach issues unrelated to racing.

"The January 6 incident at Whanganui came in a trial before racing commenced. Following this trial the RIU [New Zealand Racing Integrity Unit] deemed that the track was not safe and the race meeting was abandoned."

The spokesperson said GRNZ had initiated the manufacture of a new track groomer for Whanganui which had arrived at the venue.

"It is capable of delivering a very consistent racing surface for every race or trial," they said.

"We are a well regulated sport. We have on-site vet checks prior to each race and any dogs found to be carrying an injury are subject to strict stand down periods.

"The GRNZ team will continue to take action to make greyhound racing as safe as possible. Everything we do is about improving and protecting the racing experience and the welfare of our greyhounds. This is our duty of care as guardians of the sport."

Last year, euthanisations were down 40 per cent and the current season, now five months in, was on track to report another reduction, the spokesperson said.

However, SAFE's Appelbe said, "the five dogs killed at the Whanganui racetrack is appalling and warrants an immediate investigation.

"The buck stops with MPI and they must intervene," he said, calling the site a "death track".

An MPI spokesperson told 1 NEWS it did not have power to close the track, adding it was up to operators and the New Zealand Racing Integrity Unit.

When contacted, the Racing Integrity Unit's general manager, Mike Godber, said the group "does not have any further comment to make" in addition to Greyhound Racing New Zealand's statement to 1 NEWS.

Meanwhile, the MPI said it would "talk to Greyhound Racing New Zealand and the operators of the track to see whether there are any specific issues affecting animal welfare. Where there are breaches of animal welfare rules MPI investigates".

The latest deaths come after a total of 214 greyhounds were euthanised last season, according to Greyhound Racing New Zealand's 2020 annual report. 

"Greyhounds are the only dogs New Zealand doesn’t seem to care about. But we care, and we expect more from the animal welfare establishment," SAFE's Appelbe said.

"Greyhound racing is dangerous, and these dogs belong on someone’s couch, not the racetrack. A ban on greyhound racing is long overdue."