Animal welfare advocates say the greyhound racing industry doesn’t deserve any more chances after a third review in 10 years found persistent issues with welfare and transparency.
In 2013 a report into the industry by consulting firm WHK found a lack of transparency on euthanasia and what happens to greyhounds at the end of their careers. It said the practice of recording and monitoring injuries in New Zealand was inadequate and that “a culture of non-enforcement and non-compliance of welfare rules was evident”.
Four years later another independent review into the industry was carried out by Rodney Hansen QC.
His 2017 report found that while improvements had been made, Greyhound Racing New Zealand’s database was “seriously deficient”. He also said the number of greyhounds entering the industry had not reduced significantly and that injuries remained high.
In a Government-commissioned review released this week, reviewer Sir Bruce Robertson found continuing issues with transparency, saying “it is difficult to access accurate information regarding injuries, euthanasia, rehoming numbers, population projection, whelped puppies, and health statistics”.
Robertson said Greyhound Racing New Zealand unnecessarily obfuscates information, and that there are still concerns around animal welfare, citing the lack of justification for 462 greyhounds which were euthanised in the last four years.
The Government’s given the industry until the end of 2022 to improve data recording, transparency and animal welfare or risk closure but University of Otago animal law expert Marcelo Ferrere says the industry has had enough chances.
“There may be good actors within the greyhound industry, but it is the fundamentals of the system that are the problem. Almost by definition, animal welfare will always yield to the interests of the industry and its participants,” he said.
“The industry has been given many chances to try and prioritise animal welfare, and has failed to do so. New Zealand is out of step with the rest of the world in permitting greyhound racing in the first place, and it’s time to prepare for its phasing out here, too.”
The SPCA’s Dr Arnja Dale says there are still “systemic animal welfare issues across the industry”.
“GRNZ has not been forthcoming with information to Sir Bruce Robertson or the GRNZ Health and Welfare Committee… We did not see a vast improvement with this after the two previous independent reports, so we will have to wait and see if this latest report actually results in significant change within this industry.”
Greyhound Racing New Zealand’s pushing back on the 2021 reviews’ findings about transparency. Chair Sean Hannan says he’s confident GRNZ has “all the data”.
“The criticism levelled at us historically was that the data wasn't available, so we've captured the data, we have the data, it's just not in the public domain in every form that people would like to see it.”
GRNZ’s manager Racing Operations & Welfare Manager Michael Dore says he’s “not sure of the context” of the findings around poor transparency, and says he’s not aware of any issues with data sharing at any point.
“Any data we've had we've shared it with anyone who's asked,” he said.
“The industry is tracking in the right direction. I look forward to presenting to the minister that everything’s on the up.”
Dale says the comments from GRNZ don't reflect commitment to change.
"It is clear that GRNZ are not transparent and their unwillingness to accept this part of the recommendation in the report, when it is clearly true, damages their failing social licence even further. If they do not accept their lack of transparency, then the larger question of ‘will GRNZ accept the recommendations about improving animal welfare’ needs to be seriously questioned" she says.
Veteran greyhound trainer Robin Wales says he doesn’t believe threats to shut the industry down will lead to a racing ban in New Zealand.
“Everyone’s made threats over the years… Accusations are made all the time,” he said.
He says the industry’s made significant improvements on the number of dogs being euthanised. The Robertson review found the number of dogs being killed is down from 348 in 2017 to 103 in 2021 to date.
“At the end of the day I get annoyed that people don’t seem to realise what’s been done in the last couple of years.”
“It’s a witch-hunt - you’ll never shut the antis down, you’ll get the antis forever in a day. I don’t understand why people look for the bad in everything.”
Racing Minister Grant Robertson says the industry must improve.
“I don’t think I could have made myself clearer. If they do not improve transparency, collection of data and animal welfare they are at risk of closure of the industry,” he said.
“It is very much in their interests to get alongside the Racing Integrity Board and ensure they do provide the information we need, that we can understand whether or not they’re meeting their animal welfare requirements. I’ve got confidence in Sir Bruce Robertson to follow up on that.”