A recent ABC documentary exposed the use of live baiting in the greyhound industry. The practice involves training greyhounds to chase live animals (usually cats, rabbits, possums, piglets) which are strapped to a mechanical lure to simulate race conditions. At the end of the simulated race conditions, the dog is allowed to eat the live animal.
The practice rests on the belief that greyhounds will run faster if they expect that they will have a kill at the end of the race. This belief is as old as greyhound racing and has its origins in its centuries-old predecessor, live hare coursing. Coursing is a competition where two greyhounds pursue a hare with the aim of catching and killing it. Traditionally, it was a rural activity because dogs were used for hunting for food, sport or for pest control. Farmers and landowners would often meet to socialise and course their dogs. Naturally, large sums of money would often be gambled as well.
Coursing has been illegal in Australia for some time but was only outlawed in Northern Ireland in 2011. Greyhound racing as it is known today evolved as result of public outrage at coursing’s bloodsport image but essentially the sport is still based upon the idea of a dog pursuing something that it hopes to catch and eat. And many of the people who own greyhounds believe that the closer you can get your dog to believing this, the faster it will run. Hence, the practice of live baiting.
Until relatively recently, racing dogs would normally be “blooded”, that is trained to race with live bait, as a matter of course. Everybody did it, it was the accepted practice.
Pressure from animal welfare groups resulted in greyhound regulatory bodies banning the practice but in fact it proved to be very difficult. Owners of private greyhound training tracks, which are only the size of 400m running track, can offer live baiting facilities and be fairly certain they will be away from the prying eyes of officialdom.
The most obvious solution is to impose lifelong bans on anyone involved in live baiting and possibly insisting that any registered trainers who own training tracks must have 24-hour CCT installed and that the video surveillance must be submitted regularly to the regulatory authorities but that would be extremely difficult to police.
It is a difficult problem and one that goes to the very heart nature of the industry.