Despite a year of widespread Lockdown measures, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain is today reporting on the continued success of its Greyhound Commitment – helping to deliver the highest standards of welfare.

As regulator of British licensed greyhound racing, GBGB launched the Commitment in 2018 as the sport’s blueprint for welfare. It sets out how the industry prioritises the health and wellbeing of its greyhounds above all else, alongside driving forwards its world-leading integrity standards and making a significant cultural and economic contribution to communities up and down the country.

Of course, GBGB’s latest report is set against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. As all grassroots sports and activities found, a prolonged period without spectators, participants, income and operation put the future of the sport in doubt. This meant not only a threat to thousands of livelihoods across Great Britain but to the welfare of the sport’s canine athletes, who rely on a thriving sport.

It is more remarkable than ever, therefore, that the report shows strong progress towards meeting each of the Greyhound Commitment’s eight pledges. This includes the launch of watershed initiatives for the sport – such as the Greyhound Retirement Scheme, the publication of a Code of Practice for residential kennels and the overhaul of licensing and residential kennel inspections. Together with many others, these measures are having a tangible impact on welfare standards as demonstrated by the injury and retirement data for 2020 being released today.

This progress represents the efforts of the whole greyhound community to rally together to overcome the worst effects of the pandemic. With emergency financial support from GBGB and the British Greyhound Racing Fund (BGRF), government, owners, trainers, kennels and stadia worked to keep dogs fed, exercised and ready to return to racing as soon as possible.

With a comprehensive Covid-19 Operational Policy from GBGB in place, greyhound racing was not only the last sport to operate before the first Lockdown but also the first to reopen successfully last summer.

What does the data show?

Despite fears of Lockdown having a detrimental impact on track injuries due to so many weeks away from the track, the year’s data in fact shows a decrease in the number of greyhounds sustaining injuries at GBGB-licensed tracks.

Whilst there were fewer runs as a result of Covid, the track injury rate is still lower at 1.12% compared to 1.21% in 2019. The track fatality rate remains consistent with last year at 0.06%; reducing this continues to be a priority for the entire sport going forward.

Today’s figures also show significant improvements in the number of greyhounds being homed on retirement. 95% of greyhounds leaving the sport were successfully rehomed in 2020 – up from 90% in 2019.

Importantly, the figures show that the number of greyhounds put to sleep because of the high cost of veterinary treatment has fallen significantly; from 123 in 2019 to 24 in 2020. For the second year running, no greyhounds were put to sleep because no home could be found for them.

In 2019, GBGB set itself and the sport the target to halve the number of greyhounds put to sleep because of the high cost of treatment or because no home could be found for them. In 2018, 180 greyhounds were put to sleep for these reasons and, as such, the 2020 data being released today shows that the sport has already met this target. GBGB’s ultimate goal is to eliminate these unnecessary euthanasias entirely.

Other key figures have also seen reductions – such as those greyhounds put to sleep because they were designated unsuitable for homing; and overall deaths across the registered greyhound population. The latter includes those who sadly die for reasons that equally affect working and non-working dogs of all breeds, including long-term health conditions and sudden death.

Commenting on the progress achieved, Mark Bird, Managing Director of GBGB, said:

“When we began to put in place our programme of improvements for 2020, we could have no idea that the Covid-19 pandemic would be the major battle we would face that year – nor that we would still be experiencing the after effects now. It was a hugely challenging year for the UK and for the world, and it really has been through the hard work and fortitude of everyone within greyhound racing that we have pulled through it as an industry and driven further progress through our Greyhound Commitment.
“With the March 2020 Lockdown in particular, we saw the detrimental impact that the loss of greyhound racing – albeit temporarily – had on livelihoods across our sport. And the consequences of that on our greyhounds could have been tragic.
“But with the emergency financial support we were able to introduce and the efforts of owners, trainers, vets, stadia and our own Stipendiary Stewards, we were able to prevent the very difficult scenarios which we may have otherwise faced. The success of these measures is borne out in the figures released today and I would like to thank everyone across our sport who acted to maintain the highest standards of care and attention for our greyhounds throughout.”

Commenting on the 2020 data, Jeremy Cooper, GBGB Chairman, said:

“Whilst the impact of Covid will continue to be felt for some time, everyone can be proud that British greyhound racing continues to be a thriving sport with world-class welfare standards.

“The data being published today demonstrates the success of the Greyhound Commitment and many of the initiatives contained within it. To have achieved such a sharp fall in the number of greyhounds put to sleep on economic grounds is highly commendable and reflects the determination of everyone within the sport to ensure every greyhound enjoys a long and healthy retirement. Looking ahead, we remain steadfast in our commitment to further reducing the track fatality rate and we look forward to working across the sport to achieve this.”

Animal Welfare Minister Lord Goldsmith said:

“Greyhounds deserve the highest level of care not only during their racing career but also in their retirement that follows.

“I welcome the full transparency shown by the Greyhound Board of Great Britain in publishing its annual data on greyhound injuries and retirement and it is encouraging to see that progress continues despite the restrictions last year with the percentage of injuries decreasing and more dogs being rehomed.

“These statistics clearly point to improved outcomes for greyhounds following retirement from racing and the Government will continue to work with the sport and governing body to build on this positive progress.”

What next for the Greyhound Commitment?

To drive further improvements in welfare across the sport, GBGB is today announcing that it is in the process of appointing a Non-Executive Veterinary Director to its Board. Once appointed, their first task will be to undertake a comprehensive review into track injuries and to identify initiatives to bring about long term, sustainable change. In doing so, they will work closely with GBGB’s Track Safety Officer who will be appointed shortly.

GBGB is also announcing an extension to its Injury Recovery Scheme which covers the costs of veterinary treatment for career-ending orthopaedic injuries sustained at the track. In 2020, GBGB paid out over £90,000 through the IRS enabling nearly 300 greyhounds to go on to enjoy retirement. Given the success of the scheme, GBGB is increasing its funding in order to cover more expensive treatments.