Animal activists demand greyhound racing shut down after three deaths in a week

Animal charity SAFE is calling for an immediate ban on greyhound racing after the deaths of three dogs in a week and the temporary closure of a track.

Racing was suspended for five weeks at Manukau Stadium on Thursday by Greyhound Racing New Zealand (GRNZ) because of a “concerning increase in injuries” that required “immediate intervention and further investigation”.

Races were relocated to Cambridge while international experts assessed the South Auckland stadium, the body said.

However, SAFE head of investigations Will Appelbe said the temporary closure only shifted the risk of injuries and deaths to other racetracks.

“The injuries witnessed at this particular track are appalling, yet sadly, they are not uncommon within the confines of this industry,” Appelbe said.

“Injuries and deaths keep piling up, no matter the track. The government must recognise the urgency of this issue and intervene decisively.”

He said the deaths of three racing dogs between 11 and 18 March underscored the urgency of the issue.

They included Big Time Punga, who died suddenly after a race at Manawatu Raceway, Palmerston North; Thrilling Spiral, euthanised after sustaining a compound fracture in the right leg at Manukau Stadium; and Uhlan Bale, who died due to blood clots following a spinal fracture at Addington Racetrack in Christchurch.

Appelbe said there had been 2371 injuries, including 250 fractures and 22 deaths since September 2021, when the industry was put on notice over repeated failures in improving animal welfare.

He claimed the industry’s self-regulation was failing, and called on Prime Minister Christopher Luxon to ban greyhound racing to protect the health and welfare of the animals.

Asked about the deaths at the post-Cabinet media briefing on Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said the ban would be “something for the Racing Minister [Winston Peters] to consider”.

The government had not yet had any discussions or made any decisions on the matter, but Luxon said he was personally “aligned with where the previous government was heading”.

“I’ve got a lot of sympathy about actually where the future of greyhound racing goes, as per the previous government. They’d undertaken a review, there was a discussion about should it go ahead or not.

“I’m supportive of the previous government’s position, which was actually there are serious concerns around the future of that industry.

“[But] until we have a Cabinet conversation about it fully – which we haven’t, it hasn’t been a priority in our first 100 days – we’ll get there and we’ll have that conversation there.”

But GRNZ said while it was saddened and disappointed by the euthanasia of Thrilling Spiral, it did not agree with a ban and the rate of raceday euthanasia had reduced significantly in recent years.

In the 2018/19 racing season, there were 67 raceday euthanasias, a spokesperson said. In the past two seasons, there were seven in each year.

“This is due to the animal welfare measures that GRNZ has put in place and continues to put in place.”

GRNZ said it did not know where SAFE’s figures came from, assuming they were based on stand-downs after races, many of which were precautionary.

The spokesperson said every serious injury on its racetracks was reviewed by a GRNZ serious injury review committee, and its serious injury figures were reported to the minister of racing and subject to independent review by the Racing Integrity Board.

GRNZ also said it was the only racing code in New Zealand to rehome animals with career-ending injuries, and during the past 18 months it had implemented an injury reduction strategy.

Last May, GRNZ introduced a revised set of welfare standards setting out the minimum standards for the care and welfare of greyhounds.

“GRNZ will continue to put animal welfare at the heart of everything we do, and we firmly believe that our sport deserves to maintain its social licence to operate.

“We will continue to make ongoing positive improvements across the industry with our standards of animal welfare to ensure that greyhound racing has a long and sustainable future in New Zealand.”

Luxon and Labour leader Chris Hipkins both agree Greyhound racing should be banned during last year’s election campaign.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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