Efforts to clean up the state’s greyhound racing industry to make it safer and more humane for racing dogs have led to significant improvements, but critics say ongoing animal welfare problems remain.

Scrutiny over practices like live baiting, overbreeding, and high injury and death rates have dominated coverage of greyhound racing in the media. It led to a temporary ban in NSW that lasted five months in 2017 following calls from animal rights groups and activists to ban the sport in Australia, and forced the industry to review its practices.

“[The NSW greyhound industry] has witnessed transformational reform and change in recent years,” said Rob Macaulay, the chief executive of Greyhound Racing NSW, who added many people were unaware of what the industry had done to protect and promote the welfare of animals.

“Most significantly, the change has centred around the welfare outcomes for our greyhounds: record rehoming numbers of retired athletes as household pets and retrained as companion dogs; and track safety to reduce fatalities to all-time low numbers.

“Welfare is, and always will be, at the forefront of everything we do.”

John Papanidis, from the Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds (CPG, said though the industry had stopped the killing of 17,000 greyhounds a year, it had not done enough with its “second chance” to reform.

Moreover, he said the absence of an independent regulator for the sport, the continual censorship of race videos, and a lack of data published about individual track dog casualties, remained a cause for concern.

“They’ve had a second chance and shown they can’t be trusted to give animal welfare any kind of priority,” he added. “Look at the recent cases of doping and live baiting, they feature industry veterans who are supposedly the leaders.

“At its core, greyhound racing is corrupt and immoral and can’t be reformed. Dogs are treated like commodities and profits come before animal welfare.

“Another fundamental issue is that you can’t have dogs running at 70km/h on a track without placing their lives in danger. And when there are incidents and injuries, the industry will frequently kill a dog rather than spend the money to treat and rehabilitate it.”

If you spend a day with a trainer, went to the races, and saw how much the dogs love it when they come out on the track and after a race, that’s the sort of stuff people don’t see in the media.

A spokesperson for the RSPCA said: “While there have been some changes in the greyhound racing industry that are intended to improve welfare, there remain significant ongoing animal welfare problems in the industry.”

For many people in the industry, however, the reality is that the greyhounds and the sport are their love and living.

“If you spend a day with a trainer, went to the races, and saw how much the dogs love it when they come out on the track and after a race, that’s the sort of stuff people don’t see in the media,” said Dimity Maher.

Maher was born into the greyhound racing industry and began playing an active part aged eight, following her father and grandfather who were both trainers and breeders. She is now involved in the breeding side of the business also, while being the social media manager for the Greyhound Owners Trainers and Breeders Association. She is also the host of the podcast The Greyhound Girl.

“There has been an enormous amount of work done to make the sport safer,” says Maher, citing the industry’s shift to sand-based loam surfaces on tracks, and installing padded railings and fences to minimise injuries during races.

Additionally she points to the nutritional and fitness care afforded to the dogs, with the addition of vet checks required at every race.

“Dogs are getting fed and looked after extremely well so they are going onto the track really healthy and you’re giving them the best opportunity possible to not have any injuries sustained.”

Greyhound Racing NSW’s 2021-2023 Annual Report claims catastrophic injury rates were at an “all-time low, down another 28.6 per cent”, from 1.6 per 1,000 starters to 0.5 per 1,000 starters, which they connect to upgrades in best-practice methods and technologies.

Furthermore, the requirement to rehome greyhounds at the end of their career implemented by the Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission has led to a “record” 2,014 transition of greyhounds into pet life, a response to one of the key criticisms of the industry, that dogs were often terminated when no longer able to race, and inhumanely in some cases.

“Like all industries, there were a few bad apples in greyhound racing, but thankfully they were found, punished and removed from the industry following the proposed NSW Government ban in 2016/17,” said Macauley.

“That statement made it clear to all that we do not want those types of people in our sport, and anyone who breaks our strict rules around welfare will be swiftly removed from the sport.”

Main image: Wednesday night races at Wentworth Park by Celine Marshall.