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The future is virtual, not physical dog racing

Animal Rights Week (ARW) is held in the third week of June every year and was created in 1991 by the US-based organisation In Defense of Animals. This year in honour of ARW (17-23 June 2024), The Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds (CPG) decided to take a look at virtual Greyhound racing.

While no-one would want to encourage gambling, the fact is that Australians already punt on physical Greyhound racing. Very few do it at a track any more. It’s mostly done online via a smartphone. This means it would be easy for punters to shift 'en masse' to betting on virtual Greyhound racing (VGR) which is also available via smartphones. A change like this could end the dog deaths and injuries that occur daily in this country (2024, 2023202220212020).

Incredibly, last year in Australia there were 120 on-track deaths and more than 200 off-track deaths.

On-track, injured dogs are put down by vets. While most of the injuries are broken legs which could be treated, it only costs about four dollars for the drugs to kill a dog. As a result, that’s the most common solution chosen by the racing industry as there’s no guarantee a dog will run as fast post-fracture. 

If as they say – ‘they love their dogs’ – they would spend the $4,000 to $8,000 to treat a simple fracture, or the $8,000 to $12,000+ to treat a complex fracture. Sadly, while injury rebate schemes exist to help racing dog owners pay for their dog’s treatment, Greyhounds are still killed instead.

So if virtual greyhound racing (VGR) could avoid all of this carnage, how does it work? Virtual sports are simulated versions of real world sports such as football, basketball and tennis. According to BetZillion - “The selection of virtual sports betting markets is vast, and there is no way to list all bet types available”. Virtual Greyhound racing is similar to the many other forms of sports betting on the web.

Each participant in VGR has a unique number and individually varying odds of winning the game. It’s available in most countries, including Australia, but no real dogs suffer or die. 

Essentially, the available betting markets for online virtual sports betting sites are just as large as those available for betting on real sports. VGR is just a simulation like so many other virtual sports where the winner is determined by software which uses a random number generator (RNG).

Although they all use software in various forms, virtual sports shouldn’t be confused with:
  • e-sports, short for electronic sports, which is a form of competition using video games and often takes the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players, played individually or as teams,
No doubt in the future, punters will be able to bet on VGR using virtual reality – as if they were actually at a track but in the meantime. 

However, if VGR was adopted not only would it stop the carnage, but it also would also mean an end to a host of other welfare issues these dogs face. These issues include overbreeding and euthanasia, doping, live baiting and cruelty.

Due to over-breeding, Greyhounds are unavoidably whelped that are unsuitable for racing. This results in healthy dogs being homeless and subject to neglect, abuse or euthanasia. In its policy document on greyhound racing, the RSPCA says –
“Currently, the industry is not accountable and lacks transparency particularly in relation to the fate of Greyhounds who leave the industry.”
Most dogs finish their racing lives before turning four years of age and are then discarded by their racing owners. That’s a lot of ex-racers looking for a post-racing home. 

Ex-racing Greyhound enjoying life as a pet - Photo courtesy of Greyt Greys Rescue
Consequently, industry participants are regularly looking for quick ways to get rid of slower dogs, hence the need for tracking.

In fact, not one state in Australia tracks a Greyhound for the whole of its life, so some of them just ‘disappear’ when deemed too slow or old. 
Where tracking does exist, it is partial and usually only applies when a dog is considered to be of economic value, i.e., a winner. State governments around Australia have been profoundly irresponsible when it comes to using tracking to protect racing dogs:
  • there is no tracking in the NT, SA or Tasmania,
  • there is partial tracking in NSW, QLD, VIC and WA,
  • the ACT banned Greyhound racing (and only ever had a tiny dog racing industry).

Whole of life tracking is the only way to protect young, healthy Greyhounds from unnecessary euthanasia. To be effective, it must track Greyhounds for the whole of their natural life including:

✔️ birth to death record-keeping, not tracking a dog merely while it is actively engaged in racing, and

✔️ tracking all Greyhound pups, whether they are named and/or micro-chipped or not.

Doping is another serious welfare problem for racing Greyhounds. The Sydney Morning Herald reported in 2018 that Greyhounds test positive for drugs 10 times more than horses at races. This pattern is consistent with Greyhound doping elsewhere

For example, the practice of treating Greyhounds with arsenic and cobalt has been widespread in the racing industry because it is held these drugs enhance performance. An excessive amount of arsenic has an effect on the vascular system (blood vessels), leading to swelling and bleeding in the organs. This table lists the most common drugs used on Greyhounds, why they are used and the health risks for dogs. Winning dogs are swabbed by to find evidence of illegal drug use, not to protect the dogs, but to reassure punters that their money is not being ripped off due to doping.

Live baiting of Greyhounds is also illegal, but occurs regularly. This is because there is an old-fashioned belief held by some racing industry participants that ‘blooding’ gets Greyhounds to run faster. 

This is not true. The RSPCA says

“Live baiting involves small animals such as a rabbits, possums or piglets being used as a lure or bait to train greyhounds to race around a track. ‘Bait’ animals are attached to the mechanical lure and are hurled at speed around the track while greyhounds are released to pursue, catch and maul them. Live baiting may also involve pulling animals on leads/ropes and inciting dogs to maul them. The animals involved experience pain, fear, injury and distress and will eventually die. The same animals may be used repeatedly, suffering a very long and painful death.”

In addition to the small animals used for live baiting, Greyhounds themselves suffer many forms of cruelty while in the dog racing industry. This includes neglect, underfeeding, surgical AI and being discarded to universities and labs for experimentation, dissection and terminal blood donation.

Visual evidence of cruelty sustained
by a racing Greyhound
When a dog doesn’t win, it can suffer neglect. Most commonly, slower dogs are sometimes left in a paddock and fed a subsistence diet while the trainer or owner tries to get them rid of them. 
This is how so many ex-racers end up on the online market Gumtree looking for a home or arriving at community rescues underweight and in poor condition. A CPG survey found that the racing industry hands over most of its dogs in a neglected condition, despite welfare codes requiring the exact opposite.

Meanwhile, female Greyhounds are subjected to surgical artificial insemination (SAI), an old fashioned and painful breeding procedure which is no longer necessary. SAI requires an incision into the abdomen through all muscle layers to allow semen to be injected directly into the uterine horns of a female dog. The female dog must then carry pups to full term while healing. Given this, SAI is unjustifiable ethically.

Despite this, over 80 percent of Greyhound breeding is done using SAI because the dog racing industry is slow to adopt newer and less invasive methods, like TCI (trans cervical insemination). TCI is used worldwide and occurs via a vaginal and cervical catheter. No anaesthetic is required and the procedure only takes about 15 minutes. In late 2022, the Australian Veterinary Association issued its policy against SAI which said –

“All states and territories in Australia should adopt the prohibition of surgical AI in dogs, in their respective Animal Welfare Acts…Veterinarians should phase-out the use of surgical AI by 1 January 2024.”

So far, no state or territory government in Australia has announced it will act on this expert advice, although it has been recommended by a recent inquiry into the SA dog racing industry.

In Queensland, the cruelty is even worse. The Miles Government is allowing the dog racing industry to send unwanted dogs to a grisly end in labs, rather than require any effort to rehome ex-racing Greyhounds. Over the last five years, according to the Queensland Racing and Integrity Commission (QRIC), 900 retired greyhounds have been “surrendered to other agency”, which means universities and veterinary practices.

At university labs, discarded Greyhounds are used for experimentation, while at vet practices they are used for terminal blood donation. Greyhounds have an ideal blood type for use in animal hospitals to treat patients requiring a blood transfusion. Most Greys have a negative blood type which makes them universal donors

They also have a gentle temperament, easily accessible veins and their blood has a high percentage of red blood cells. Before being euthanised, healthy Greyhounds are bled dry and their blood is ironically supplied to animals that need life saving treatment. Many like to think that terminal blood donation no longer goes on, but that’s not true.

Given these appalling practices, it’s surely time to switch to virtual Greyhound racing, instead of old-fashioned physical dog racing? This would get rid of the cruelty and neglect which has now been an ongoing part of dog racing for decades. 

Greyhounds have the right to a good life as a pet, just like any other animal. 

It’s time they got to enjoy life on a couch, not on a track or locked up 23 hours a day and given only 30 minutes of exercise

With the adoption of VGR instead of physical racing, these beautiful dogs could thrive in the future as pets, instead of suffering to make money for racing owners who care more about their hip pocket then they do about animal rights.

written by James Alexander Palfi and Fiona Chisholm, CPG volunteers, June 2024 for Australian Dog Lover (all rights reserved).

Lead image designed by Melissa Buckley, CPG Volunteer.

About The Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds

CPG is a dedicated group of people across Australia who work together to inform the public about the cruelties of Greyhound racing. 
Learn more by following their channels on: FacebookWebsiteInstagrammedia coverage.

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