Greyhound racing has always been a controversial sport and although things have improved in recent times, animal welfare is still a major concern today.
Only five months ago the champion of one of Ireland’s top races tested positive for cocaine with his trainer claiming the dog must have accidentally ingested the drug.
Clonbrien Hero won July’s Irish Laurels and was found to have traces of benzoylecgonine, the main compound of cocaine, in its urine samples on three separate occasions.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one…
Many countries have banned the sport and in the handful of ones who haven’t, they don’t have the best track record when it comes to animal welfare and doping.
Despite stricter testing and tougher guidelines, last year in Ireland, four dogs who took part in the country’s biggest races all tested positive for cocaine, while several others were found to have steroids or amphetamines in their systems.
Meanwhile, in Britain, although 99 per cent of tests done on greyhounds are negative, between 2012 and 2016 261 dogs were found to have banned substances in their systems showing how doping is still a major issue.
It’s apparent dogs are still being drugged and this is something which needs to stop.
Simon Banks, a spokesman for the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB), told UNILAD things are changing for the better saying:
We are testing more after races and less at trial sessions, but the number of tests are more or less the same over recent years – what has changed is the science employed by the labs which can find more minute levels of substances.
We also now have the ability to test hair samples, which give lifetime results – cocaine is a stimulant and therefore could be performance enhancing.
However, the cases we have come across are probably down to contamination from people’s hands etc. as the levels are so low.
The levels we have been detecting, measure in thousands of a nanogram would probably have no effect at all.
However, the damage to the image of the sport is very significant. That’s why a lot of positives lead to a charge of bringing the sport into disrepute.
If someone is caught doping a dog, the punishment ranges from a fine to a lifetime ban.
Furthermore, under the 2005 Gambling Act, if the incident is an offence of cheating at gambling, then a prison sentence could be the result.
However, many animal rights charities believe not enough is being done to tackle the problem, despite the stricter testing and harsher punishments.
The Campaign Against Greyhound Exploitation And Death (CAGED) are one group who believe the sport should be abolished in the UK.
Founder and director Rita James spoke to UNILAD about what impact doping has on the dogs:
Administration of cocaine to greyhounds used for racing is not only a despicable form of abuse to the dog, it’s an abuse of trust and it’s indicative of the manipulative mind-set of the many perpetrators within the greyhound racing industry.
It’s important to recognise greyhounds have a unique physiology and can be particularly hypersensitive to chemicals.
There are numerous other drugs known to be administered to greyhounds (for purposes of race fixing and/or masking pain from injuries so that the dogs will still perform), that are extremely harmful and can lead to fatalities in greyhounds.
Cocaine in particular can cause serious side effects such as heart attacks, seizures, strokes and even death.
CAGED also state despite testing becoming more rigorous, those giving the greyhounds drugs are still getting away with it, with James adding:
We understand the decision to sample greyhounds at each track is normally down to an individual steward.
It’s also well documented poppy seeds can deliver a ‘false’ positive result for opiates and this is frequently used as an excuse by greyhound trainers.
The feeding of ABP1 and ABP2 meat, which is high risk for contaminants, is also regularly blamed for positive drug test results and has resulted in disciplinary advice being given against its use.
Perpetrators will sometimes blame any wrongdoing on an un-named third party or ‘rival’, who they’ll accuse of deliberately trying to contaminate their greyhound’s sample.
For example, Clonbrien Hero’s trainer Graham Holland claimed his greyhound must have had the cocaine passed to him after the race as people patted the dog on the head while the drug was on their hands.
If someone is caught and found guilty of doping, CAGED claim, despite GBGB outlining harsh punishments in their guidelines, these are rarely enforced.
James listed numerous examples from recent hearings where breaches of rules, concerning the drugging of greyhounds, received only a £250 fine or no penalty at all.
Therefore, the punishments issued don’t seem to be a suitable deterrent for perpetrators.
Many animal welfare activists now say the only option available, which will protect the greyhounds, is to completely ban the sport.
James told UNILAD:
We firmly believe UK Greyhound racing should be abolished with a phase out, over a period of a few years, with sufficient time to ensure all the dogs are found suitable homes.
Given all of the evidence, we believe the self-governing body of the greyhound racing industry in the UK (the GBGB) fails to enforce its own regulations, as insufficient as they are.
The greyhound racing industry has been established for over 91 years in the UK and in that time, it’s failed to prove it takes the welfare of the dogs, from cradle to grave, seriously as well as eradicate any problems.
Greyhounds continue to be drugged, hurt and/or killed at the tracks for treatable injuries. There continues to be no accountability regarding what happens to the dogs from the moment they’re born to the moment they die.
UK and Irish Greyhound racing has been in a steady decline over the last decade.
We believe this is due to two things. Firstly, changes in culture and lifestyles and secondly, the sharp increase in public awareness regarding the inherent cruelty involved in dog racing.
As James notes above, the doping of greyhounds isn’t the only animal welfare problem the sport regularly faces.
According to CAGED there are numerous unregulated tracks, greyhounds being killed because they do not make the grade, poor construction of tracks – which lead to injuries – and inadequate vet checks.
Although it may only be a few perpetrators who are doing wrong, there’s seemingly an endless list of issues which still need to be addressed.
The sport clearly has a lot of work to do if it wants to make it safe for all greyhounds as well as earn itself a good reputation for the future.
Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.