The Australian greyhound racing industry is in crisis and scrambling to control illegal practices that have gone undetected for years after the ABC TV’s Four Corners showed some of the country’s top trainers using live animals, including rabbits, possums and baby piglets to train dogs.
The distressing secret footage shows dogs chasing, mauling, killing and tearing apart live animals apart as part of their training. In one instance, a possum remained alive, despite being torn nearly in half, and was still attached to the mechanical lure only by its spinal cord.
In a damning indictment on the sport, the program, titled “Making A Killing”, broadcast footage of dogs being trained using banned live baiting in three states, Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales. The incidents were captured in secret surveillance footage by animal rights group Animals Australia.
Live baiting is banned and illegal across Australia, with the penalties for animal cruelty ranging between two and five years’ jail in the various states and fines up to $30,000. It’s sometimes referred to as “blooding” the dog. Some trainers believe the dogs will perform better as a result when chasing mechanical baits during a race.
Organisations such as the RSPCA continue to campaign against live baiting and last week conducted raids on five properties in the three states after the Four Corners program passed on details of its investigations.
Lyn White from Animals Australia claimed up to 70 people were implicated in the investigation, including top trainers, a greyhound racing club president and a former steward.
One of the men caught tying a live pig to the lure has twice won greyhound trainer of the year.
The industry responded to the revelations last week by suspending 22 people for using live animal baiting – six in NSW, including a licensed trainer, 10 in Victoria and seven trainers in Queensland. A number of greyhounds have also been scratched from competition and a trial track in Box Hill, NSW, closed, and the Tooradin trial track’s registration suspended.
The also face up to 10-year bans from the sport as well as potential criminal charges.
GRV CEO Adam Wallish forewarned of the damage to the industry in an internal email obtained by the ABC.
He warned against attacking the messenger, saying “Be angry at those within the sport that are doing the wrong thing and undermining the values for which we stand.
“We should all be shocked and outraged by the allegations in the story and prepared to fight the small minority that continue to partake in such practices jeopardising the future of the sport.”
The Four Corners exposé has brought a swift response from state governments, with Victorian minister for racing, Martin Pakula, announcing immediately after the program that he told the racing industry to cancel its awards night next week.
Additionally I have instructed GRV to cancel next Friday's Greyhound Industry Award night and Chairman Peter Caillard has agreed #4corners
— Martin Pakula (@MartinPakulaMP) February 16, 2015
Pakula and agriculture minister Jaala Pulford also announced an investigation into animal cruelty in the greyhound racing industry by Victoria’s chief veterinary officer, as well as an independent investigation by Racing Integrity commissioner Sal Perna.
The Government will also give $3 million to Greyhound Racing Victoria to improve its animal welfare and integrity measures, including surveillance technology to assist with detection and prosecution; and a dedicated steward to inspect and monitor the 15 private trial tracks registered with GRV.
“Live-baiting is barbaric, abhorrent and illegal – it has absolutely no place in Victoria’s racing industry and it must be stopped,” Pakula said.
Four Corners detailed how there had been just two prosecutions for live baiting in the last 10 years. Greyhounds Australasia CEO Scott Parker claimed it was difficult to detect because live baiting occurred in remote locations.
Racing Queensland, which declined to appear on the progam, announced a $1 million taskforce to combat live baiting and cruelty claims on Sunday.
In NSW, racing minister Troy Grant said he was “shocked and appalled by the absolutely abhorrent and distressing footage shown in the Four Corners report”.
The NSW Government is currently overseeing a scheduled five-year statutory review of the Greyhound Racing Act 2009. The Minister’s response was to extend the date for submissions by two weeks to March 2, 2015.
Greyhound Racing NSW (GRNSW) announced the establishment of a taskforce headed by former High Court justice Michael McHugh to “investigate the extent of live baiting within the NSW greyhound racing industry”.
But it’s not the first time the $3 billion industry has been plagued by serious allegations. In October 2013, the ABC’s 7.30 aired claims by a former NSW industry vet of doping and cruelty. GRNSW denied the claims at the time, but former NSW auditor general David Landa, who was asked in 2011 to examine claims of misconduct, quit in 2012, saying he was obstructed from investigating by the industry body, who “simply did not want oversight”.
Landa added that he wrote to the NSW Racing Minister George Souris with advice but did not get a response.