Forever Hounds Trust were honoured to be invited to provide oral evidence on the welfare of racing greyhounds to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ subcommittee on 24th November 2015, at the Palace of Westminster. We were the only independent rescue organisation to be asked to give evidence, and were pleased to speak on behalf of all racing greyhounds. Emily Burns-Sweeney (Director of Homing, Kennelling & Welfare) and Jan Lake (Chair of Trustees and Trustee for Kennelling & Welfare) made the trip to London and Emily spoke for Forever Hounds Trust. The experience was challenging and rewarding, if not a little frustrating at times.
The questions focused on the depth and breadth of the current regulations and their efficacy, the transparency of data derived from the industry’s activities and financial considerations for supporting improved welfare. Much of the discussion focused on how these aspects may be improved and extended, and we did not need to be asked twice!
Key to our evidence is the urgent requirement for extended welfare measures to protect racing greyhounds across all aspects of their working lives and retirement, not just the 5% of the time they spend at a race rack. These areas include the keeping, trading, transporting, rearing, breeding, training, housing, racing, life-long health and appropriate retirement.
The questions provoked some debate amongst the panel but in the main, the majority were clear that current regulations are in no way sufficient and the name of the regulations themselves is a misnomer. They are in fact, the ‘Welfare of Racing Greyhounds (at the track) Regulations 2010’ and need to be significantly extended to truly reflect their intended purpose. We believe this point was both strongly made by the panel, and clearly understood by the committee.
Of equal concern is the need for transparency and accountability by the industry. The current UKAS accreditation cannot claim to protect welfare if the data derived from the tasks and activities it records is neither published nor analysed. The simple act of ticking a box on a form only measures that the activity has been performed. It is through analysis of the data that both areas of concern, and best practice, can be understood and used to a) drive improvements in welfare and b) service the public’s right to be fully informed, as with horse racing.
Key to securing improved welfare, is a recognition of the financial challenges faced by those within the sport. A recent report by accountancy firm Deloitte stated that racing greyhound owners and trainers support the industry to the tune of £3m per year. Why should we be interested in this, you may ask? The simple answer is that just an extension of the regulations will not improve the welfare of racing greyhounds. The bookkeepers’ voluntary contributions have steadily decreased over the last five years, which has led to a dramatic reduction in the welfare budget. This is of grave concern, as without significant financial investment in greyhound welfare any new measures would likely fail. There is little point in extending the regulations to improve kennel standards, for example, if the funds to make those changes do not exist.
In short, the Government has been very clear that a ban on greyhound racing is not being considered. It is therefore imperative that improved welfare measures are mandated and that the industry receives sufficient funds to support those measures. Of equal concern is the need for transparency and accountability by the industry, and for data derived from their activities to be analysed and used to drive a process of continuous welfare improvement.
So what did we make of our experience? Overall, we were asked questions which appeared to evidence a genuine concern for the welfare of racing greyhounds and a will to improve their lives. This is in stark contrast to the latest round of questions from DEFRA on the back of their recent review of the Welfare of Racing Greyhounds Regulations 2010. This is where we, and racing greyhounds, need your help.
In the next two weeks we will be issuing a plea to all our volunteers and supporters to input into DEFRA’s ‘Consultation on the initial findings of the Review of the Welfare of Racing Greyhounds Regulations 2010’. This is our last chance to have our say and it is imperative that as many of us as possible speak out to obtain better welfare for racing greyhounds. We will be creating a fact sheet to help you respond to the questions (should you need it) but in the meantime you can review the report and survey here.
The final date for submissions is 31st December. We cannot afford to miss the last opportunity to contribute to this debate and we would urge anyone with passion for improving the lives of racing greyhounds to speak out now.
You can watch the session at which Forever Hounds Trust gave evidence here.