Greyhounds should not be exported to China
I've written before how greyhounds can make excellent house pets.
They are gentle, peace-loving, creatures, fitting in well to many Irish homes. They only need a short walk every day, despite their reputations as fast athletes. They're sprinters, not long-distance runners, so compared to energy-filled dogs like Dalmatians and Spaniels, they are couch potatoes. They love people, and some of them can even get on well with cats.
I've known many greyhounds as patients, and I've learned to like them a lot as individual characters. They are sensitive, trusting animals. That's why so I find it particularly upsetting to hear about the latest incident in the saga of Irish greyhounds being exported overseas. The animal welfare charity, Dogs Trust, reported last week that a further 24 greyhounds were on the way to China. The dogs were not going to some unknown Chinese destination which might have the potential to be some short of utopian Shangri-La for dogs. Instead they were going to a place that was more like a form of canine hell.
The plan was for them to go to China's only legal Greyhound track, the Yat Yuen Canidrome in the former Portuguese colony of Macau. This track has a deplorable animal welfare record, with rumours that one dog a day is killed because it does not perform adequately. A 2011 investigation by the South China Morning Post revealed the Canidrome killed 383 under-performing dogs in 2010, instead of making efforts to rehome them. After pressure from animal welfare activists at the time, the government forced the Canidrome to set up an adoption programme instead of euthanasing animals, but locals are sceptical about its effectiveness, seeing at as lip service to rules rather than a genuine effort to help the unwanted greyhounds.
The future did not look good for the greyhounds that were heading out to China this month, but there is hope that the Canidrome may not stay in action for much longer. It's struggling to survive financially and almost closed at the end of its lease last October.
The venue opened in 1931, at a time when greyhound racing was a popular part of a vibrant social scene. Right up until the 1980's, the Canidrome had a buzz about it, with excitement and a touch of glamour. Locals now say that times have changed, attendance at races is scanty, and there's more of a gloomy silence than anything else, with hundreds of empty seats and just a scattering of gamblers.
Reports say that it's struggling to make money in a part of China where gambling is almost guaranteed to be a successful enterprise. To put this into context, the money turned over by the Canidrome in the whole of 2014 could have been made by a neighbouring casino in just four hours. The financial challenge for the enterprise is made worse by the fact that animal activists globally continue to campaign against what they view as serious animal welfare abuses. It's difficult to see how the Canidrome will be able to stay open for much longer.
Which takes us to the Irish greyhounds. Ireland produces too many greyhounds for our local industry to use, so if reasonable sums of money are offered from overseas for racing animals, it's tempting for greyhound breeders to export them. This is why leadership is needed from government and industry bodies here in Ireland. We need to have standards for animal welfare, not just for animals located here, but also for animals that start from here and head off somewhere else. We should accept an enduring responsibility for their care, avoiding putting them into situations where we know that it's likely that they'll suffer. It isn't good enough to take the money and run.
If we care about animal welfare enough that we agree to look after them on our own shores, where is the logic that suggests that once we leave this country, it doesn't matter what happens to them?
Three of the major animal welfare groups in Ireland, Dogs Trust, the Irish SPCA and The Irish Blue Cross, have been pushing for improved regulation of the greyhound industry here in Ireland, with better welfare provision for all dogs, before they get to the track, when they are racing and when they are retired. Whatever about in this country, it will be impossible to take achieve anything similar for dogs that go to China. That's why calls are being made to government, asking that steps are taken to prevent the export of these animals.
Back in 2011, Bord na gCon (the Irish Greyhound Board) decided to exclude the export of Irish greyhounds to China from their racing industry development proposal following discussions with the government of the day. Furthermore, a statement was released at the time that any proposal involving Bord na gCon and the racing industry in China would have to give due consideration to animal welfare matters. Five years later, what has changed?
The good news is that the protests by animal welfare groups about the greyhounds headed for China had the desired impact. Their journey was interrupted in transit, and after reaching the UK, they turned back to Ireland. These greyhounds will now be fine, and hopefully, the lesson has now been learned. Enough is enough. Let's send no more greyhounds to China.