Greyhounds are not racing machines
With the licence concession for the construction of a new racetrack for amateur racing at Maserada sul Piave in the Veneto region, in discussions about the opportunity of letting greyhounds race on a track and compete in coursing competitions one basic misapprehension stands out, which is is that greyhounds are by their nature racing animals. This is a falsehood, since greyhounds were born hunters and were formally used as hunting dogs – and indeed still are in some parts of the world. Coursing and racing appeared later: the former in 1776 with the Swaffham Coursing Club, the latter in the 1920s in Florida. Leaving aside the horrors of coursing with live prey as currently practiced in Ireland, Spain and Portugal, when coursing with a mechanical lure greyhounds do at least two things which do not occur in live hunting, which are to compete against each other and to chase a mechanical object. The competing part is an element introduced by man, usually for money, whether acquired via betting or through prizes, or indirectly via breeding profits. If it’s not for money, then it is in order to satisfy the unfortunate human propensity for competition and for entertainment through competition.
To chase a mechanical object is completely different from chasing a hare: the mechanical object moves chaotically and unpredictably in a way that does not allow the dog to use his brain in any way. When coursing with the mechanical lure the dogs run impulsively, as fast as possible and without being able to try and predict the movement of the prey. Indeed the use of reasoning and intelligence – necessary in real hunting for survival – is banned from coursing in Spain: dogs who anticipate the direction of the hare are disqualified.
It’s even worse in racing, where the competitive aspect is accompanied by an even more unnatural kind of performance: running in a circular direction. This kind of running is even more unnatural (than in coursing) – a fact recognised by trainers themselves in the greyhound racing industry, who have to teach the dogs how to run on a track.
The idea that greyhounds are mainly if not exclusively racers and that they enjoy running on a track or chasing a rag is therefore a historical construct, an ideology which serves the purposes of those who exploit them in Ireland or in Spain, who breed and train greyhounds as if they were racing cars. This kind of vision of greyhounds has nothing to do with their wellbeing, but unfortunately it is shared by many self professed greyhound lovers and, it would seem, by part of the dog loving community.
So there is nothing natural about it and it has nothing to do with the wellbeing of greyhounds, some of whose qualities are mechanically used for ends which are strictly for humans. The excitement of competitiveness and a mechanical and impulsive mode of running have nothing to do with the wellbeing of dogs, who need to be able to run in freedom if and how they want to, like any real living being and not like a machine.
Finally, but no less importantly, racing – above all on racetracks – objectively involves elements of danger. It is in fact well known to anyone with a minimum of knowledge about track racing as well as physics that bends are objectively dangerous; indeed a large number of accidents including fatal ones occur on the bends, when the dog is at his highest acceleration point and suddenly has to change course in a way that tends to make him veer towards the outside. Who does this benefit?
By Massimo Greco
Translated by Isobel Deeley