Towards the end of each calendar year, it seems that the NZ Government releases a lot of reports before staff take holidays for Christmas and the summer season. Unfortunately, this also means that the contents of these reports do not always get as much attention by the public and media that they should.
In late November 2022, the Petitions Committee issued its report on the petition of Aaron Cross from the Greyhound Protection League of New Zealand to ban commercial greyhound racing.
The findings of this report are sobering and worth highlighting:
One of our principal concerns about this petition is that the industry’s responses to problems have been slow and do not show that the welfare of dogs is the industry’s main consideration. For example, despite the Hansen recommendation in 2017 regarding straight racetracks, there are still no straight tracks.
We have heard that the industry has focused more on reducing greyhound deaths than on reducing injuries and improving the quality of care. This can result in ill or traumatised dogs that are not suitable for rehoming as pets. We are also concerned for other dogs that do not get into the rehoming programme.
We note that the industry does not have a long-term plan for dealing with the large number of dogs that need rehoming each year. Further, we are concerned at the lack of a plan to track and manage the overall population of racing greyhounds in New Zealand and at the possibility that the industry may be breeding and importing too many dogs. Population management was raised as an issue in the WHK report, the Hansen report, and the Robertson report. We think a carefully considered population plan is long overdue.
We were interested to hear about the RIB’s attention to kennel audits and we hope that they lead to improvements in dogs’ care. We urge the RIB and GRNZ to also look at changes that will reduce injuries.
We are disappointed by the lack of consistent information and we note that this issue has been identified as a focus area in the Greyhound Review. We are keen to hear whether the quality and consistency of data has improved between the time that we received submissions (autumn and winter 2022) and the RIB’s report due next month (December 2022).
The industry’s lack of good systems and data, and the absence of transparency, have been flagged many times in the past but we have seen minimal improvement. This reduces confidence in the industry’s social licence. We believe that investment in systems to provide high quality data is urgent, as one of the requirements for the industry to retain its social licence to operate.
We also urge the industry to ensure that all its people are aware of, and comply with, animal health and welfare requirements.
In our view, the removal of the SPCA from the health and welfare committee shows poor judgement of what is needed for the industry to keep its licence to operate. Shutting out an organisation that, while it opposes GRNZ’s work, is prepared to help it improve its practices, has worked against the industry.
Similarly, we consider the GRNZ comment that methamphetamine may have accidentally contaminated dogs to be disingenuous at best. It indicated a disregard for a real health and welfare problem. A more appropriate response would have been to immediately acknowledge and investigate the problem.
We note that the RIB said it was developing a new animal welfare team to support and monitor each racing code’s animal welfare policies and initiatives and to promote and ensure compliance with animal welfare standards. We would like to know what (if anything) delayed this initiative, and whether (and how) it improves the lives of greyhounds.
We have doubts about whether the greyhound racing industry still has a social licence to operate in its current form. We have serious concerns about the way the industry is operating at present. We urge the Government to be mindful of our comments when it considers the future of the greyhound racing industry following the RIB’s report in December 2022.
You can download a full copy of the Committee’s report here.
The current Government promised that the industry was ‘on notice’ for a period of one year. Racing Minister Kieran McAnulty has had another report about the industry from the Racing Integrity Board since December 2022. The issue of greyhound racing was to have been decided at the first meeting of Cabinet in February 2023.
With the change in Prime Minister thanks to Jacinda Ardern’s resignation and the Civil Defense emergency caused by Cyclone Gabrielle, the first Cabinet meeting of February was taken up with other business. But, it’s now mid-March 2023 and it’s time for Minister McAnulty to make a decision – and at a minimum publicly release the Racing Integrity Board’s report which has been kept confidential to this point.
I spoke to the Minister’s press secretary, Joanna Ramsay, this morning and asked for an update on when the Minister will be making a recommendation to Cabinet, and if/when he will release a copy of the Racing Integrity Board’s report.
Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand