Its important that the government are aware of how the population feel about the issues that come with racing. Greyhound racing is particularly unique in that it is non-essential activity that benefits a very small subsection of society, while at the same time brings considerable harm to "mans best friend". For most people, treating dogs like farming stock or worse, for the sake of entertainment, is simply unacceptable.
Putting the issue on the table, must be done in a very factual and accurate way. In our research, we quote from sources such as the racing industry itself, government (both NZ and Australian) and recently from the industries own internal review. The industry internal review came about as an emergency measure by the racing industry, to make it look like they were ready to change their ways, in response to our petition to the Government Administrations Select Committee and growing public concern.
When we asked the racing industry whats happening to greyhounds, they gave us vague assurances that everything was fine and that their stakeholders would only ever have the best intentions for their numerous failed investments. They would not and as it turns out, could not provide any proof of this, because they hadn't actually been paying attention. We delivered a petition to the government, via the Government Administrations Select Committee, who are a group of MP's from various parties, whos role amoungst other things is to keep government business ticking along. Their particular responsibilities include managing New Zealands racing industry. So they have every right to know whats going on in the racing industry, and who are also charged with taking into account public concern should there be any.
We presented our petition and spoke in front of the committee. It was encouraging to see cross party support for our concerns. When they then summoned the greyhound racing industry to give their side of the story, they were met with weak excuses as to why record keeping beyond racing was a shambles at best and non-existent at worst. Facing the government set panic among greyhound racing officials and particpants.
The racing industry soon figured out they were in big trouble, and rapidly took evasive action. The administrators of Greyhound Racing New Zealand are not racing participants themselves, and they probably thought they could meet us head on, consult their stakeholders and quickly prove us wrong. So they hired an accounting firm with experience in unusual audits, to take a look at their own industry. The leader of their audit was Bill Colgan, former Racing Board CEO and his assistant was Craig Neil, a former assitant to the Auditor General, who for a brief period of time in July 2014 was appointed as Racing Manager for Greyhound Racing New Zealand. While the industry claimed the investigators were impartial, the previous appointment of Mr Colgan as Racing Board CEO raised a red flag in terms of the reports "independence" of the report, and when Mr Neil was appointed as Racing Manager for GRNZ, he was described as having "a lifelong personal interest in racing". So while this report was described as "independent" by GRNZ administrators, it was in fact undertaken by people with a very clear bias towards racing in general.
Known as the WHK report, named after the auditing accounting firm, the report did however raise a plethora of issues within the industry, and provided us with key information straight from industry participants, despite its questionable "independence" and clear bias. Still in panic mode, the GRNZ board recognised the threat that government prying might be from an animal welfare perspective, so they voted to support most of its 72 recommendations at the following AGM. This included the appointment of a 'Welfare officer" Greg Kerr.
Mr Kerrs efforts whilst welcomed and better than nothing, are compromised by two major issues. Firstly a single appointee can simply not address the scale of issues faced by the greyhound racing industry, and secondly his personal ambitions to solve the mystery of the missing greyhounds were lacking, either personally as a flaw in his reckoning, or professionally as part of his job description. To find out where the missing greyhounds have gone, simply involves tracking the greyhounds ear tattoos on paper, and when asked would he do that, he said that no, it was too much effort. Over time Mr Kerr has become the target of criticism from industry participants who claim his welfare efforts are inadequate, and from the start we simply knew that one persons efforts at such a late stage of self-inflicted damage, was simply not going to save the industry.
Mr Kerrs role within the industry endures and while his efforts are frankly too little too late, we welcome his presence.
The industry has made other efforts, such as committing the capital to buy a halfway house for racing dogs near Levin. However, there is still the problem of supply of greyhounds well exceeding demand, and once the GAP property (now called Greylands) is full of greyhounds, the industry will be in at its greatest disadvantage yet, because it will also have the financial day to day costs of keeping those hounds, as GAP will remain focussed on the rehoming of dogs with its considerably smaller budget.
After considering evidence from both sides, the Select Committee gave its report to the Racing Minister, who mostly ignored its recommendations, but most importantly the Select Committee committed to reviewing the racing industries performance, 12 months after the report to the Racing Minister was released. That enabled the GPLNZ to focus on becoming what is essentially an intelligence agency, supporting informants and investigatons in the field. This led to the scandal involving burnt discarded greyhound bodies, and a series of other investigations some of which are yet to be revealed, others which remain ongoing.
This period of invisibility on our part has meant that the industry has begun to return to its old ways, with the most recent AGM resulting in votes against new animal welfare measures, rather than for them like the previous year after the Select Committee attention.
Many greyhounds have died from serious injuries in the time since the Select Committee released its report, and new rules around culling lead us to believe there will be increased welfare issues around the hoarding of ex-racing greyhounds, based on past evidence. In terms of what we sought when petitioning the government; that being transparency regarding culling and injuries, and an independent inquiry as to where those animals have gone, we have at this stage been unsuccessful. The racing industries initial admission of poor record keeping allowed it a period of grace where it has sought to impress with smoke and mirrors tactics of appointing an token welfare officer, and staging a faux independent inquiry of its own while it sought to get its books in order going forward.
As mentioned the need to track where the many thousands of already missing greyhounds are was never taken in to consideration
We intend to present the body of evidence we have collated since the Committee report, and present it to the Select Committee in 2015, as it adds considerable weight to the argument that the Minister for Racing should be gravely concerned about whats happening within this industry in ethical terms, and what the public perception will be of racing activity in general in New Zealand, should its current practices continue.
We will also have special focus campaigns in the months ahead, to undermine the racing industries special tax-free treatment, and also subsidies to the racing industry like the "Racing Safety Development Fund", which is a special priviledged fund for enhacing racing facilities under the guise of safety, that is paid for by the taxpayer despite the racing industry boasting turnover of $2Billion dollars for the last racing season.
As well as the political forefront being the focus of the campaign, we will continue to support industry informants and investigators, while also working with the GRNZ Welfare Officer and the SPCA where appropriate. We will continue to expose sponsors as willing partners in this cruel industry, and we will seek to bring greater public awareness via mainstream media. Greyhound advocacy and protection is now more important than ever, as the industries attempt to thwart public concern has we fear made things worse for greyhounds in an industry that has for a very long time treated greyhounds as disposable short term investments. The government has two options once the truth has finally been admitted to. Let the industry die and leave its participants out in the cold, or begin negotiating compensation settlements, similar to what has occured recently in Iowa.
We will continue to advocate for greyhound protection, for as long as it takes.