Greyhounds: The race is on to end dog racing in Scotland and Wales - why do animal charities want it banned?
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The dwindling dog racing industry is coming under increasing scrutiny lately, with multiple UK governments now reconsidering its future.
This week, Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell launched a consultation on his planned member’s Bill to outlaw greyhound racing in Scotland, with people able to share their views on the future of the sport until May - when he is expected to present it to Parliament. The Welsh Government is also currently consulting on greyhound racing, with the RSPCA driving a campaign to encourage members of the public to write in and "convince them to take action" before it closes, on 1 March.
"There’s not much time left. We must be quick if we’re going to let politicians know how we feel about this outdated ‘sport’," the animal welfare charity says. Dog racing has been taking place in Britain since the 1800s, but has continually declined over the years with just 21 tracks remaining, down from more than 250 in its heyday.
But why exactly is greyhound racing so controversial, and why the sudden push to ban it in Wales and Scotland? Here's everything you need to know:
What concerns do animal welfare groups have about greyhound racing?
The RSPCA believes that greyhound racing, which sees dogs chase a mechanical rabbit around a track at intense speeds - often with punters betting on the outcome - puts dogs at unnecessary risk of painful injuries, and even death.
Data from GBGB - the Greyhound Board of Great Britain - showed that over 2,200 greyhounds died and over 22,000 racing injuries were recorded between 2018 and 2022. Around 6,000 dogs were retired or left the industry each year, and many needed to find new homes. The RSPCA says these dogs are often poorly socialised and trained, and this left charities and rescue organisations to "pick up the pieces".
However, GBGB said using the figures on injuries and deaths in this way was misleading, as using one figure to cover a number of years did not show the "significant" progress over time on improving welfare and reducing deaths. They also included greyhounds which had died of natural causes - without comparing it with the general dog population.
Dog racing in Wales was of particular concern to the charity, as well as fellow Cymru-based rehoming charity Hope Rescue. Its figures show that Wales was often the final stop for unwanted, injured and poorly performing racing greyhounds from England and Ireland. Hope helped rehome more than 200 greyhounds between 2018 and 2021, and 40 of them had endured serious, career-ending injuries. These included severe fractures needing significant vet care, amputation or orthopaedic surgery.
The RSPCA said the true number of injuries in Wales was difficult to know, as in the past there was no vet at the track - and no requirement to publish the number of injuries or deaths. However, the countries' last remaining dog track has recently become licenced by GBGB, which means a vet will need to be present for races.
However, the animal charity said licensing doesn't solve the issue and doesn't protect dogs, and there is still no greyhound-specific legislation in Wales. Scotland also has just one operating dog track, which is not currently regulated by the GBGB - and as a result, its dog racing industry attracts many of the same concerns as the Welsh one did.
MSP Ruskell, who has adopted his own dog off the track, added that the experience had shown him the industry's problems first-hand. “The injuries that come as a result of racing that these animals then have to deal with for the rest of their lives."
While Ruskell said he had met greyhound racing trainers who genuinely loved and cared for their dogs over the years, the industry was still mostly about gambling. "There’s nothing to stop them continuing to take care of them and to treat them as pets if this Bill is passed at Holyrood," he added.
What does the dog racing industry say?
In relation to the Scottish proposal, GBGB suggested a ban north of the border would simply mean races would take place illegally and without regulation, PA reports, effectively driving racing underground. However, MSP Ruskell said he was not concerned about this.
“Quite frankly that’s impossible because greyhound racing tracks are very large," he told PA. “You could see them from space, so I don’t know where they would go underground, it simply couldn’t happen.”
A spokesperson for the GBGB told NationalWorld: “The Scottish government has already run a full consultation on this subject in recent months, as part of its wider review of the licensing of animal activities. While we await the Scottish government’s report on this, it is unclear what the rationale or justification would be for duplicating the extensive work already undertaken – particularly when there are so many other pressing priorities.
“As regulator for the licensed sector of our sport in Great Britain, we have been clear that greater regulation is the only way to safeguard greyhound welfare. A ban would only jeopardise welfare," they continued. "We continue to work with the Scottish government and others in Holyrood to show how a licensed sport can safeguard the welfare of racing greyhounds and ensure they receive far more protection than domestic pets.”
When RSPCA first called for a total ban on greyhound racing in 2022, GBGB defended the sport. CEO Mark Bird told SBC News that the GBGB’s Greyhound Commitment had reduced track deaths from 0.06% to 0.03% between 2018 and 2021, and welfare standards had improved dramatically in recent years. He also accused charities of "trying to make political capital" rather than follow a data and fact-led approach to welfare.
“As the sport’s regulator we know there is no room for complacency around welfare, which is why we have built on this through our long-term strategy 'A Good Life for Every Greyhound'," he said. “This has been developed with the input of leading academics and veterinarians and has been welcomed across the political spectrum as a detailed plan for driving forward welfare standards further still.”
The owner of Scotland's last major track, Paul Brignal, has previously told the Daily Record the dogs that race there were well looked after, and love their sport. "Yet the Scottish Government is being told that we are the epicentre of cruelty against dogs in Scotland and must be shut down. It’s utterly ludicrous.” He said it was only a "tiny hobby sport" in Scotland, with his track only seeing two injuries in 2022, "but accidents can happen in every sport".
This story was amended to include more context from the Greyhound Board of Great Britain on its figures, and to clarify its position on the proposed Scottish Bill.