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Electronic Telegraph Features
ISSUE 1702 Saturday 22 January 2000


Out of the race

External Links
> National Canine Defence League (NCDL)
> Greyhound Rescue Groups (UK)

 Each year thousands of greyhounds are abandoned after a life of racing or coursing. Tony Jackson reports on the campaign to look after these animals

THE horror stories are endless. Two-year-old Andy, a gentle black-and-white greyhound, was discovered locked in an abandoned car in woodland. He'd been there for five days. Four greyhounds were found on a Yorkshire moor, muzzled and left to starve to death. Rosie, dumped on the M1, was eventually rescued by the police, having somehow avoided being killed. She was in a state of extreme terror.

Out of the traps: Annette Crosbie with three of her rescued greyhounds
Each year thousands of greyhounds, the majority of them young, healthy dogs, are put down by vets or abandoned under the most appalling circumstances, many by owners who are not prepared to pay training fees for racing no-hopers. A lucky few - and it's only a tiny percentage - end up in rescue centres and are re-homed as family pets.

"The basic problem is simple," says the actress Annette Crosbie, who is probably best known for her portrayal of the long-suffering wife in One Foot in the Grave. "Hundreds of greyhounds are bred in the hope of getting a winner. The remainder are surplus to requirements and have no future. It is, bluntly, a state of affairs which reflects little glory on Britain as a nation of so-called animal lovers."

About 18 months ago Crosbie, with fellow actress Charlotte Cornwell, formed Greyhounds UK to act as a ginger group. "The idea," she says, "is to try and achieve publicity, because until the public realises what is going on, politicians won't do anything. We've asked a home affairs committee to look at evidence. It did look at greyhound racing in 1991 and made some recommendations about welfare, all of which have been ignored by the industry. There's no statutory control and they do what they like."

Crosbie admits that she is now far more interested in the welfare of greyhounds than in acting. "It's a battle to be fought and, for me, greyhounds come first. Sometimes I'm offered work but I know I'll be away from my desk for too long."

Having always owned dogs, when Crosbie read how difficult it was to find homes for retired greyhounds, she thought she'd give it a go. "I got one from the Retired Greyhound Trust as a companion for my mongrel, but I was very disappointed with the after-care. Today, they do provide information for new owners, but at that time there was no follow-up. When the mongrel died, someone mentioned the Celia Cross Greyhound Trust, so I visited its kennels near Guildford. I saw all these beautiful, sad greyhounds looking for homes. Instead of one I came away with two, so now I've got three. The great thing with Celia Cross is that you get wonderful after-care."

According to Crosbie, the dogs are easy to look after at home. "They're a very laid-back breed and don't need constant stimulation as terriers do. They don't want to be the centre of attention, but prefer to be in the same room as you, when they'll curl up and go to sleep."

Official figures record that 9,000 greyhounds are retired every year in this country. Of these, the Retired Greyhound Trust says that 2,000 are found homes, many will be kept by their owners, while others end up in rescue centres. But these figures are based only on the 33 registered tracks that race under the rules of the sport's governing and self-regulatory body, the National Greyhound Racing Club; there are a further 27 independent "flapping" tracks, which are unsupervised.

Geoffrey Thomas, the chief executive of the British Greyhound Racing Board, is frank. "We still haven't got the number of homes we would like for retired racing greyhounds and 500 to 1,000 have to be put down each year. However, we try to ensure owners find a home for their dogs and we make it clear in our promotional material that potential owners should not buy a dog if they are not prepared to see it re-homed."

Judie Brookes: manager of the Celia Cross Greyhound Trust, with some of the animals at the Sun Valley Kennels
Michael Spencer, the treasurer and trustee of Greyhound Rescue West of England, believes that the number of greyhounds that come out of racing and coursing plus those abandoned by travellers and private owners could be as high as 25,000 each year. Van-loads of greyhounds, he alleges, come in from Ireland to be dumped in Britain, and cruelty is rife. Dogs are left on railway lines, thrown off bridges, drowned or let loose on motorways.

Greyhound racing is all about gambling. If dogs survive racing injuries, most are finished by the age of four, because they are worn out. A greyhound can live up to 14 years, but most of those that come into rescue centres are under three. These are dogs that simply will not race or cannot make the grade. Older dogs taken in are racing rejects or, increasingly, dogs dumped when marriages break up.

The National Canine Defence League is also at the forefront of greyhound rescue. It has 15 rescue centres throughout the country and in 1994, staff reported that one-third of the dogs being taken in were greyhounds, with few people wanting to re-home them. That situation, as Clarissa Baldwin, the league's managing director, explains, has definitely improved. "It's becoming easier to re-home greyhounds and more people are taking them on. One of the problems is discovering the statistics of abandoned greyhounds. We need an independent authority to control greyhound racing and to take into account aspects of welfare."

An independent statutory authority would be one way forward and it is, believes Crosbie, urgently needed if the greyhound racing world is to present an acceptable face to the public.

How you can care for a greyhound

by Tara Womersley

  • Organisations such as the National Canine Defence League and Retired Greyhound Trust will vet potential owners to make sure that their homes are suitable for the dogs.
    • While many greyhounds will not chase other animals, it is advisable, says Judie Brookes of the Celia Cross Greyhound Trust, to muzzle the dog initially.

    • Greyhounds are unused to being let loose off a track and can run into trees and walls. They should be be kept on a lead in confined spaces to start with.

    • Two or three short walks a day (even if on a lead) should be sufficient. Greyhounds also eat the same amount and type of food as any other dogs their size.

    • A duvet will provide an ideal bed for a greyhound as they like to make nests.

    • A greyhound's nails should be kept trimmed - otherwise they can cause injury.

    • Many greyhounds are house-trained from the start. If this is not the case, it should only take a short time to house-train them providing that owners are firm but gentle.

    • Greyhounds UK: 020 8542 4497. Retired Greyhound Trust: 020 8335 3016. National Canine Defence League: 020 7837 0006

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