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Greyhound welfare at boiling point ahead of summer racing

The forecast for summer is in, and it’s bad news for racing Greyhounds. The looming threat? Soaring temperatures as Australia's on the brink of one of our hottest summers on record according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Not surprisingly, the RSPCA is on the public record with a warning about the risks for Greyhounds made to race in hot conditions. 
The RSPCA says “When the air temperature is high, the risk of heat stress is greatly increased. Prolonged and untreated heat stress can lead to dehydration, collapse and death.”
The RSPCA also “supports the development of mandatory welfare standards for all racing codes which include provisions to cancel races in weather above a specific temperature” and says addressing this issue requires urgent attention given climate change predictions.

Andrea Pollard, president of the Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds (CPG), also warns of dire consequences for racing dogs under such extreme conditions.

“It’s hard to imagine a more brutal environment for these sensitive animals. Too many Greyhounds will suffer horrific deaths on Australian racing tracks this summer. Their bodies
just can’t cope with that kind of heat,” she said.

Risks for Greyhounds in hot weather

High temperatures are dangerous to Greyhounds because of their unique physiology. These canines - just like other dogs - have a cooling system which is very different to the human system. As temperatures soar, dogs’ method of cooling becomes a source of vulnerability.

Unlike humans who can sweat to lose heat, dogs rely on panting, which moves air across wet respiratory membranes. While this adaptation serves them well under normal conditions, it falters under oppressive heat and humidity.

Furthermore, Greyhounds, bred for centuries for athletic prowess, have a muscle-heavy physique that generates heat rapidly. This high heat production makes them particularly vulnerable to exertional hyperthermia.

What is Heat Stroke? 

This vulnerability leads to harrowing consequences - heat stress - symptoms of this include pantingelevated heart rate, and listlessness. At the first signs of heat stress, move a dog to a cool area with good ventilation, provide cool drinking water and gently cool with wet towels. Use ice packs on feet, armpits and inner thighs, if necessary.
When untreated, heat stress can progress to heat stroke, a severe and potentially fatal condition. 

Symptoms include excessive panting, thick saliva, vomiting, diarrhoea, wobbliness, strange behaviour, seizures, and, in severe cases, collapse. Heat stroke is a veterinary emergency.

Of course, prevention is best, and knowing the warning signs is vital. Don’t exercise your dog in the heat, watch for the signs of heat strain. 

Also, make sure your dog always has access to plenty of shade, ventilation and fresh water.

Battling the Heat on Race Tracks

With the relentless impact of extreme temperatures on Greyhounds' health, it’s essential to understand the specific challenges faced by racing Greyhounds. 
Australian research confirms the dangers, with larger, dark-coloured dogs at greatest risk.

“These defenceless animals are at the frontline of the battle against relentless heat. Rising temperatures, increased heat waves and prolonged hot spells create perilous conditions on
already dangerous tracks,” said Andrea Pollard.

One heart-wrenching incident serves as a stark reminder of the life-threatening challenges racing Greyhounds endure during scorching races. In February this year, Weblec Gem, a three-year-old racing Greyhound, tragically met her end amid a severe heatwave in South Australia.

As reported by Channel 10 Adelaide TV, Weblec Gem died of Hemoabdomen which is marked by blood accumulation in the abdomen. Vets often link this condition to organ rupture, a painful and fatal consequence of racing in extreme heat.

CPG SA Director Elle Trahair
Animal welfare advocates who had been raising concerns about the risks posed by high temperatures had forewarned of this devastating event.

CPG’s South Australia spokesperson, Elle Trahair, said everyone knew what the risks were that day, but the dogs were forced to race anyway.

“The severe physical strain on Weblec Gem’s body in the scorching conditions led to her catastrophic internal injuries. 
How many more Greyhounds have to die like this?”

A Victory for Greyhound Welfare

Outraged by the circumstances of Weblec Gem’s death, CPG launched a campaign, calling for the suspension of races when temperatures reach 
38°C degrees. Many members of the public played an important part by sending emails to the authorities.

CPG’s campaign for stronger heat policies garnered substantial media attention. In an extended Channel 10 Adelaide TV interview, CPG’s Elle Trahair reacted to Greyhounds dying
from heat-related injuries on the track.

“It absolutely breaks my heart to think that this is what they endure and go through. This is really common when you’ve got dogs running in extreme heat. The stress on their body is far
too much,” she said.

Greyhound Racing SA claimed Weblec Gem’s hemoabdomen death was not related to racing in heat, but in an article published by GRSA’s rehoming arm GAP SA, it says:

“Due to their slender bodies, Greyhounds can be very susceptible to heat stress and heatstroke; So, with temperatures in the high 30s and even over 40
°C common in SA, it is important to make sure you are looking out for your Greyhound and helping them keep cool!

On ABC Radio Adelaide, Elle also explained the extent of heat-related casualties that the industry wants to keep hidden. Joining Elle was Dr. Rebekah Eyers of RSPCA SA, who recommends caps lower than 38 degrees, based on findings from Adelaide University.

“The research has already been done. This is dangerous for dogs… [The] study found that when the temperature was 38 degrees, four out of ten of the dogs racing, after the
race, their body temperature went up to 41 degrees or higher. Now this is extreme heat stress,” said Dr Eyers.

The Greens are all in on this important cause, advocating for legislative reforms to protect racing Greyhounds from extreme heat and to hold clubs accountable.

“The Government needs to listen to the RSPCA and introduce mandatory enforceable welfare standards for Greyhound racing, including a capped temperature at which races must
be cancelled. [...] Reform is needed more urgently than ever” said SA Greens MP Tammy Franks.

In response to the public outcry, Greyhound Racing South Australia (GRSA) eventually heeded the call for change and updated its heat policy. It now requires SA racing clubs to suspend races when the mercury hits 38
°C degrees.

This was a pivotal moment in the ongoing fight to protect racing Greyhounds from extreme heat. Elle Trahair said the win shows the power of grassroots advocacy and public pressure to drive positive change within the racing industry.

“It’s a testament to what we can achieve when we come together to prioritise the safety and welfare of worthy racing Greyhounds,” she said.

The Campaign Heats Up

After the significant win in South Australia, advocates are now turning their attention to Queensland. As heatwaves loom once more, the urgency for action is clear.

While the risks of extreme heat during races are high nationwide, they are perilous in regions which still lack crucial heat caps for race suspensions and Queensland is a key offender in this regard.

As the RSPCA says - “Generally speaking, it is up to individual racing clubs to decide if races should be cancelled or rescheduled during very hot weather to minimise the risk of heat stress. Some state racing bodies have developed ‘heat’ policies which provide guidance on the factors that should be considered when deciding to cancel races or race meetings, but they do not prescribe a maximum temperature at which to cancel races.”

Queensland’s independent government regulator QRIC has failed to take this action. With dire weather on the horizon, CPG is asking everyone who cares about the wellbeing of racing Greyhounds to take action.

You Can Make a Difference

To help racing Greyhounds in Queensland, please send an email to Queensland’s Minister for Racing, Grace Grace - see here for inspiration and the Minister’s email address.

If you would like to be involved in rescuing, helping, and/or rehoming Greyhounds, here are some useful links to Greyhound rescue groups.

If you are interested in volunteering with the Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds, see here. CPG is particularly keen to hear from writers with several years’ experience in either journalism or PR.

Written by Marnie Hill, Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds, October 2023 for Australian Dog Lover.


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