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Campaigners call for racing ban as greyhounds found drugged with cocaine

Campaigners want greyhound racing banned in Scotland (Nick Potts/PA)
Campaigners want greyhound racing banned in Scotland (Nick Potts/PA)

Greyhound racing in Scotland is “beyond reform” as some dogs are drugged with illegal substances such as cocaine, MSPs were told.

Campaigners from Scotland Against Greyhound Exploitation (Sage) asked the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment Committee to call for a complete ban on the sport.

Scotland has just one regulated race track, the Shawfield Stadium in Rutherglen near Glasgow. There is also one unregulated track at Thornton in Kirkcaldy, Fife.

The Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) reported an estimated 18,345 dogs are injured from racing in the UK, with more than 3,000 deaths from 2017 to 2020, though it said a number of these deaths are due to causes unrelated to racing, including long-term illness or natural causes.

At Shawfield, 197 dogs were injured and 15 deaths were recorded in the same timeframe.

However, the group estimates the real death toll is significantly higher as Thornton is not required to record casualty rates.

Gill Docherty, speaking on behalf of Sage, hit out at the lack of regulation to protect the animals from injury, death and doping.

She said: “The lack of regulation [at Thornton] means there is no vet present at any of the races and that would mean there’s no administration of first aid or pain relief to dogs that are injured.

“There is no vet present to euthanise a dog should it suffer a catastrophic injury such as a broken spine or neck.”

Drug testing does occur at Shawfield – but in just under 2% of races, she said.

Those tests revealed 13 dogs tested positive for doping in the period from 2018 to 2019 – with Class A drug cocaine found in five of the dogs.

Regulation does not work, Ms Docherty said, as when doping does occur it is often not revealed by the GBGB for several months and it goes unreported to police and the Scottish SPCA.

She added: “Fundamentally, we cannot ignore the inherent risks of greyhound racing itself. These risks are present whether the track is regulated or unregulated.

“They cannot be mitigated against with welfare measures or cleverly named initiatives. It is a fact that making six dogs race at speed in excess of 40mph counter clockwise round an oval track results in a high rate of collisions and injuries, with the first end being notorious for causing the most injuries.”

The animals often suffer “deep psychological trauma”, according to Jacqueline Brown, secretary at Sage.

Scottish Greens MSP, Mark Ruskell, backed the petition, which received 13,159 signatures.

Scottish Parliament
Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell backed the campaign (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

The Animal Welfare Act 2006, which places a duty of care on animal owners to protect them from suffering, does not go far enough to prevent the harm caused to greyhounds, he said.

“I genuinely think this is an industry that is really beyond reform,” he said.

“We’re talking about dogs going around a track at 40mph, the inherent risks in terms of collision between dogs, between the dogs and the track infrastructure.

“It raises not just serious welfare questions about how we treat and deal with the injuries that arise from greyhound racing but also major ethical considerations about why we put dogs in that situation in the first place, knowing full well they’re going to have a major risk of injury or death.”

The Scottish SPCA recently came out in favour of a ban on greyhound racing.

In a letter to the committee, Mark Flynn, the body’s chief superintendent, said Scotland needs to “lead the way” in imposing a ban.

The committee will now write to relevant stakeholders, including the Animal Welfare Commission, and to the Scottish Government to seek clarity on regulation enforcement before taking the petition forward.

Mark Bird, chief executive of GBGB, said welfare was “paramount” in licensed greyhound racing.

He added: “What is often overlooked by those who would like to see racing banned is that the protection racing greyhound receives goes far beyond what is afforded to domestic dogs in the UK.

“As regulator, we closely monitor the welfare of all GBGB registered greyhounds and have a zero-tolerance approach to any mistreatment of greyhounds within our sport.

“Each greyhound racing at one of our tracks is seen by a vet both before and after racing and their trainers’ kennels are regularly inspected by vets, our stipendiary stewards and independent auditors to ensure they comply with out high welfare standards.”

The GBGB also have strict anti-doping policies and say all instances are reported to the appropriate authorities and could also result in a lifetime ban for trainers.