Last week a resident in the Australian town of Bundaberg, Queensland, discovered the rotting corpses of 55 greyhounddogs just outside the city. Police investigating the site determined that the dogs had likely been shot ( judging by the .22 cartridges found on site) and disposed of by individuals involved in the country's massive greyhound-racing industry.
"It appears that it may be a common-knowledge dumping ground," Detective Superintendent Mark Ainsworth told the Australian Broadcasting Company. "It could be that someone within the industry knows the remoteness of that area and knows that it's a sage place to dispose of greyhounds that are no longer performing [dogs that just weren't fast enough to race anymore]."
By the end of the week, police had arrested two suspects on charges of illegal firearm ownership and obstructing the police in connection with the find. They also issued a zero-tolerance policy on putting animals down by illegally shooting them and dumping their bodies in a pile outside of town.
"The people who have perpetrated this crime," CNN quoted Queensland Police Minister Jo-Ann Miller as saying, "to me, are oxygen thieves. They are cowards, and they are pathetic."
Racing officials have denounced the find and denied any knowledge of the killings. But that's done little to curb backlash against greyhound racing, as this discovery and a number of similar recent reports from Australia have refocused national and international attention on longstanding critiques of brutality and mass culls in the industry.
Only eight countries still host legal greyhound racing: Australia, China (in Macau), Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the USA, and Vietnam. In many places, like America, the sport is on its way out due to disinterest and animal rights concerns. (Since 2001, 28 of 49 racetracks in America have shut down. The sport is now only practiced in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Texas, and West Virginia.)
Australia's greyhound racing industry, however, is one of the largest in the world and thriving. The sport employs some 10,000 people, has up to 50,000 national participants, generates $770 million in taxable revenues, and spurs more than $3 billion in gambling exchanges every year.
In the race to produce ever-faster dogs, the industry, as it's euphemistically put, produces a lot of " wastage"—to wit, it kills a fuckload of unwanted dogs. Every year 20,000 puppies are born in the country, and 18,000 dogs are killed . About 8,000 are killed each year because they're not fast or healthy enough to make it to the racetrack, and 10,000 are killed as a form of retirement when they become too lame to compete. Added to these culls, five dogs die on the track every week from intense physical trauma like heart attacks from overexertion, and 200 are injured every week, many of which will be killed if it is deemed uneconomic to treat them. Adoption groups have tried to get more trainers to surrender unwanted dogs to families as pets, but even the largest program only has the capacity and cooperation of trainers, staff, and adopters to take in about 1,000 dogs a year . In the end, fewer than 10 percent of the dogs will live a full, natural 12-year lifespan.
Yet even in this wider context, the manner and one-shot scale of the Bundaberg culling was disturbing even to those who monitor and critique the nation's greyhound-racing industry.
"Unfortunately, we do come across all types of animals being disposed of in this sort of manner in rural areas," Daniel Young, chief inspector of the Queensland chapter of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told 3AW693, "but probably not to this degree."
In a damning coincidence, the Bundaberg find also comes just weeks after an investigative report in the nation revealed the widespread use of the illegal practice of "live baiting " (releasing possums, pigs, and rabbits as lures that the greyhounds chase down and maul to death) among independent Australian greyhound trainers. Although a panel last month determined that racing officials had no knowledge of these trainers' actions, many were shocked that such blatant instances of legal violations and animal cruelty could go unnoticed. Accordingly, the chairman of Greyhound Racing Victoria and the whole board of New South Wales Greyhound Racing resigned.
The live baiting scandal was itself only the most recent in a continual stream of scandals in the greyhound racing world. In 2013 , an investigation found 70 dogs in one circuit that definitively tested positive for the use of doping substances including amphetamines, caffeine, cocaine, and EPO (the stuff Lance Armstrong used). Numerous additional reports and investigations have revealed the poor living conditions and chronic abuse suffered by dogs off the track as well.
Similar scandals occur regularly in most racing countries. In 2002, authorities found 3,000 greyhound corpses on the property of an Alabama man. He had killed the animals with a .22-caliber rifle over the course of four decades. Then, just last year, a report issued by GREY2K USA and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals revealed thousands of injuries, hundreds of deaths, and abysmal living conditions among the 80,000 dogs active on US racetracks between 2008 and 2014. In the same time period, 27 major cases of abuse and neglect (including 16 instances of cocaine usage) were recorded in all seven states with greyhound racing industries.
In America, these poor conditions have resulted in the decline of the industry or vigorous legal repercussions for abusers. But many argue that in Australia the oversight body tasked with monitoring the sport, Greyhounds Australasia (also in charge of New Zealand's industry) is basically toothless. Others within the industry go further , accusing it of corruption, favoring wealthy players, and handing down bans and rulings in a highly inconsistent and ineffective manner—and thereby encouraging doping, abuse, and a general race to the bottom by trainers. (Greyhounds Australasia did not respond to a request for comment.)
Where Greyhounds Australasia has failed, law enforcement officials have stepped in recently. The police launched their own investigation following the February live baiting report, conducting raids, suspending trainers, and, as of now , charging 31 individuals with animal-rights offenses in three states.
"We've not even tipped the iceberg as yet," CNN quoted Ainsworth as saying. "It will only be a matter of time before we get around to knocking on everyone's door."
But this crackdown will do little to address the industry's core incentives for abuse and culls.
Some insiders believe that the industry can reform itself. By weeding out the minority of bad-egg trainers and creating an effective national-oversight committee with stronger regulations and more enforcement powers and more stringent requirements to license as a trainer, they say, the industry can become more professional, cleaner, and dramatically less cruel to the dogs involved.
But many seem to think that the sport is beyond reprieve, with national campaigns to outlaw greyhound racing gathering petitions to local Members of Parliament and major industry sponsors pulling their support as this latest series of scandals gains serious media traction.
"I sometimes wonder whether sports like this are really worth it," Young mused on 3AW693 recently, echoing questions that have grown common and urgent in the Australian public sphere.
"I know it employs some people and a lot of people enjoy going to it, but I wonder whether it's worth having dog racing. Does it get to the stage where you say, 'No, you've had enough chances and there are no more'?"
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