Apologies and thanks

First of all, thanks to all of you who bother to read this – including the people who don’t think greyhounds need any welfare. ( read Phil Donaldson’s blog, if you don’t believe they still exist) Sometimes you wonder how people who are so blinkered avoid getting run over by a bus. But, at least the man is honest. Not for him, the protestations of concern and promises to make it his priority. No, that was Lord Lipsey. All during the ten years it has taken for the Animal Welfare Act to ignore racing greyhounds. Ten years for the dogs to get nothing that will make the slightest difference to their existence as gambling chips.
The trouble with democracy is it only works as well as we make it or want it.
The dogs have been promised a consultation on the success of the present regulations in another five years.
First of all, political “promises” have a way of turning out to have been “aspirations” not promises at all.
Secondly who is going to be consulted? I think we can rely on it being the same people who succumbed to the bullying this time around.
When a committee is set up by this Govt. it is clearly expected to back the Government’s already declared opinion and intention on regulations. If it has the temerity to disagree it is discredited and discounted. Simple. Now if the committee is largely composed of charities – as was the case with greyhounds – the dogs don’t have the ghost of a chance. As I see it, charities are, of necessity, professional begggars. They cannot risk their dependence on the public’s goodwill by being confrontational with a body that is unscrupulous in its methods of dealing with opposition. I hoped for more steel from the League Against Cruel Sports but it’s still fighting the fox hunting battle and it was outnumbered by the charities.
Not that the charities didn’t publish their “disappointment” etc..They just didn’t stick to their guns because they couldn’t. And the Govt. knew that. In five years it will still know that and the whole sorry charade will be repeated. It’s not, it seems to me, a case of Gordon Brown being a bully. Since this Govt. came into power it has bullied its way through more parts of our lives than that drink is supposed to reach.
(Have to feed the dogs now)
You have to wonder, too, what use any consultation is going to be when a Government Minister simply refuses to believe a number that has been tested against all the evidence which the industry cannot hide if it wants to advertise dog racing. On the other hand, Lord Lipsey told the Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee (I know, I know) that the rehoming effort of the industry is largely funded by the bookmakers’ voluntary levy when, in fact, the bookies only contribute 38% of the money. The rest comes from the public. They all swallowed that and more, which was equally misleading, but it gets boring. He has also claimed 7000 rehomed in a year.
If only! But again, I expect the inhabitants of the Westminster village believe him. Is this an example of “bunker mentality”? Are those of us outside never to be trusted?
I lost any respect for this Govt. when the House of Commons got rid of Elizabeth Filk (I think that was her name), who had been given the job of making sure the honourable members of that House behaved honourably. They voted her out because, as one of them put it, “she did the job too enthusiastically” Long before we discovered some of what they got up to. In both Houses.
So those of us who still believe that the welfare of racing greyounds should not be left in the hands of the business that exploits them and only makes regulations to protect the bookmakers’ interests are back where we started except there are far more of us now and we have the internet where information can be instant and checked and where we can easily form links among ourselves and our supporters. That’s why I do this. You can only get supporters if they know the facts. And one of the facts is that the welfare body wasn’t asking for a ban or any influence in the business side of racing.
We were also told – in the pages of the Racing Post and wherever else Lord Lipsey could get it – that , to the genuine welfarists (his word) his door was always open. Well, from our first encounter, and for all the years since then, I can vouch for the door being open but the mind was as closed as any I’ve ever encountered. I also got the impression that the message that the dogs would not get statutory legislation interfering with self regulation was being delivered from “on high” but maybe that was Lord Lipsey’s spin and it was just the bookies’ determination that made sure the dogs got nothing.
Before I make myself a coffee, I wonder if any of you watched the Five Days drama that finished last night. And I wonder if you were as irritated by the seemingly ceaseless background music.
Sometimes, as an actor, I’ve filmed a scene and then watched it with background music superimposed and thought “I wouldn’t have played it like that if I’d known we were going to smother it in bloody violins.”
I promise you I don’t spend my life grousing. But you only have my word for it.

greyhounds need your click now

We have got a petition on the number 10 website for greyhounds. Never let it be said that we left the dogs to the mercy of a gambling business because we were told to by a member of the House of Lords who was acting as a consultant for that business. The way he put it was profit comes before welfare. Any regulations about welfare were “aspirational”. So, if any of you want to join us in poking a stick into this so-called democratic process, here is the website address.

http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/helpgreyhounds/

Spread the word and let’s hear it for these poor beasts, bred in their thousands, every year, with never a thought for their wellbeing – just their speed.
Incidentally, when Jilly Cooper and I tried to present a petition into No. 10, accompanied by our pet greyhounds, we were told that we couldn’t take the dogs with us because it would be “disrespectful”.
They’re depending on you. All you have to do is click.

promises, promises

When I first encountered Lord Lipsey, to give him a copy of the evidence Greyhounds UK had collected about greyhound racing and which we had presented to a Home Affairs Committee meeting, he told me that the dogs wouldn’t get statutory regulation; that self-regulation would continue. I thought he was expressing an opinion. I’ve grown used to hearing people say, “You’ll never get change.” What I didn’t know or suspect, was that Lord Lipsey was going to be paid £25,000 a year to make sure that the dogs wouldn’t get change.

I had to leave that blog on Thursday when I was sent a script to learn for Friday for a comedy sketch to be filmed in a park in Pinewood. It’s for a TV show for Xmas/New Year. So the evening was spent learning and packing the bag. Mainly remembering tissues – lots – because I have a cold, and cleaning the dog- walking boots, because wherever you’re filming, at whatever the time of year, once the heavy vehicles have parked up at the base the ground has usually turned into mud if it has rained at all. And the Friday forecast is for rain.
I’m picked up at 7am and skip breakfast because the the dogs assume that if I’ve got up before 6 o’clock and got dressed etc then they must be going for a walk. So progress is very slow. It’s difficult moving when three dogs are dancing around in front of you and they have to be persuaded to go out into the garden for a pee. It’s raining, of course, so that means 12 muddy paws to be wiped with kitchen roll before they get further than the kitchen and they’re simply not listening as you keep telling them they’re not going with you.
The car is waiting outside and off we go. Traffic is unexpectedly light and we get there too early for which the driver apologises, bless him. And that is when the glamour starts. Because this is only a day’s work there is no catering van and the food on offer has been brought in – fried bacon (pale and watery) baked beans – I stop looking. There’s no toast and no coffee. No big deal, and at least there is a threeway trailer sitting among the puddles. So I get into my third of it and prepare to wait. There’s a couch in these things but never much light because the window always has blinds that are broken and impossible to open and the door is usually shut against the elements. Costume arrives and I get out of my warm comfy clothes into cold ones.
It’s back to waiting. I tried the fruit salad but it’s too cold to eat when you’re cold and you’ve got cold air being blown at you from a vent that hasn’t any controls. That gets sorted and I get an electric fan heater just as I’m put in the car to get to the other end of the carpark. It’s three hours later and still raining so the puddles are bigger.
Now, you can think you know your lines and you can recite them happily while you lie in bed or sit in the car etc… but …when you come to the location and the director shows you where he wants you to start, walk
and where to stop and tells you that the first paragraph is not out of vision and you will be saying it to camera (because there are no other actors involved), and although the rain has stopped you’re walking into the wind which makes your eyes run…..it all starts to unravel. Fortunately, this is not an uncommon phenomenon and no-one thinks it’s the end of the world except you because you’re the one trying to control your brain cells. The director declares himself satisfied and we move onto the next bit and that’s when the ducks get involved.
There are no other actors but I’m working with ducks.
Now, over the last fifty three years I’ve worked with cats, dogs, horses, lemurs, monkeys and children and I’m not too surprised to be bitten, scratched or have a monkey’s bottom presented to me. (Because, if you please, she had worked out that I was the oldest in the room and therefore the one who probably ruled the roost.)
Birds are difficult.
We are filming beside a pond and in order to tempt the ducks into the picture with me they have to be fed with bread by people who have to do it without getting into shot. That sounds easy until you try it. There is more than one type of duck in this pond and there are skirmishes that develop into splashing exits from shot and groans from crew. Then two swans turn up. Dave, who is the general dogsbody of the unit, otherwise known as the runner, is advised to hold a big piece of bread out to the swans and lead them away from the ducks by walking crablike along the path at the edge of the pond. He didn’t fall in but I didn’t give much for his chances so it was lucky the shot worked. Just as the rain started again. The next shot needed ducks out of the water and on the path in front of me. That seemed to take forever while I stood still at my starting point. At last I walk forward – maybe the writer thought they would go on eating and I could pick my way through sodden bread and gobbling ducks – ? Anyway, as I try to hang onto my lines, and advance
slowly towards the ducks, a couple with a child in a buggy trundle along the path and I can’t see for ducks taking off like a swarm of locusts.
The last piece was supposed to be filmed with me holding a duck but the
duck that had been hired proved too big for me to hold safely and we sat next to each other on a bench with me holding onto her and praying.
The rain had stopped by the time we did the “voice overs” in the sound van back in the car park which was a huge relief until my stomach started to complain about no breakfast and Dave was sent to “get a banana” and then I had a coughing fit that was part of this cold but resulted in Dave being sent for “a bottle of water ” and then”and tissues” as the tears poured down my face.
The sun came out as they broke for lunch and I came home to dogs who had been walked and fed by my daughter and had gone back to bed.
Sorry if that has bored you to death.
The promises are the ones that were made by the greyhound racing industry to improve the welfare of the dogs. They were all lies.
There is to be no accountability and no transparancy.
No tracking of dogs from cradle to grave and no publication of injury figures at tracks. Just two examples.
And, while I think of it, the industry has always been keen to imply that the Greyhound Forum was an area of agreement between itself and the welfare community but there are only two independent charities, dealing specifically with racing greyhounds, on the Forum and one of them concentrates on dogs in Spain. The other charities are Blue Cross, Dogs Trust and PDSA. In a letter I have seen, from the RSPCA to Dogs Trust, it is pointed out that the Forum is not a properly constituted Forum , that nothing is signed off and that at its meetings the welfare representatives are “outnumbered and outgunned” by the industry.
This has not deterred the industry from implying that it has the approval of the welfare body as a whole. The APGAW Report gives the lie to that but, of course, I’m not sure many inside the two Houses of Parliament will have read it.
I understand that charities have a problem protesting about the treatment of racing greyhounds. Unless the charity is there for greyhounds specifically, its supporters could complain about the concentration on one breed, some of its supporters may be followers of greyhound racing and the Charity Commission may still disapprove of charities getting involved in political campaigning. All the same, during the run up to the Animal Welfare Bill, would have been the time to make it clear that the Greyhound Forum was not speaking for the majority of greyhound rescue charities – who are looking at the rules and regulations that are proposed by DEFRA with disbelief and something far deeper and bitter than disappointment.

greyhounds/politics/facts/figures

The final stage of the Animal Welfare Bill is close and the rules and regulations governing racing greyhounds is about to be decided by a body of people who know little or nothing about the activity and its consequences, not just for the dogs but for owners, trainers and the general public. The rules and regulations proposed by DEFRA bear all the signs of having been dictated by the greyhound racing branch of the gambling industry. Self-regulation is at an end for banks and politicians but not for this business, which has had a deservedly squalid reputation for almost a century.
The dogs are, as the Chinese call them, “dice on legs”, the owners and trainers are what might be called the workforce but the profits go to the promoters and the bookmakers and it’s the bookmakers who have called the tune since 1928 and the formation of the National Greyhound Racing Club. (I think it was Lord Rooker who thought that changing the name of that body would change things for the better.)
Here are some Facts:-

DOGS:-
Close to 27,000 greyhound pups were born in 2008-9, 89% in Ireland. About two thirds of the Irish puppies were bred for the British UK market – so this means about 20,000 puppies were bred for the UK racing market.
Of these 20,000:-

About 10,000 dogs start racing each year (9,000 registered to race at GBGB tracks – about 1.000 at independent tracks);
About1,000 are rehomed by the Retired Greyhound Trust;
About 9,000 “disappear” – i.e. close to half of the puppies born are not surviving to 18 months and racing. In other words, of a typical litter of 6 pups 3 will be dead before 18 months are up..
The racing population is fairly stable – tha total number of greyhounds on racing strength is unknown, but lies somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 (the closures of Walthamstow and Reading did not change the number of fixtures). So the 10,000 new racers replace 10,000 unwanted dogs each year.
Of these 10,000 ceasing to race each year, about two thirds survive:
RGT branches currently rehome about 4,500 dogs each year
Other charities, with their own charity numbers, rehome about 1,500.
Less than 2,000 stay with their owners or trainers, and
Less than 750 return to Ireland for breeding or probably death.
So , overall, of a typical litter of 6 pups, 2 will reach stable retirement at approx. 3-4 years. A greyhound’s lifespan is about 13 years.
” HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A GREYHOUND PUPPY”

MONEY
Greyhound racing is the second biggest business for the UK gambling industry – with takings of £2.3 billion pa.
Of this, just over half of one percent (0.60%, about £14m) is given, by the bookies, to the racing industry via a voluntary levy to cover…
welfare, integrity(doping etc), DEVELOPMENT AND PROMOTION OF THE SPORT!!!.
Of the £14, just £3.7m or about one quarter, is assigned to greyhound welfare (of the rest, the prize money fund got £2.7m, marketing got £2.1m, and track improvements £1.6m)
Of the £3.7m for welfare:- £1.7m went to the RGT (the rest funded things like welfare attendance at tracks, racing surface research, the track safety scheme, and the Trainer’s Assistance Fund)
The RGT more than doubled the £1.7m by the addition of £2.1m from branch volunteers’ collections and other donations, making a total RGT income of £3.8m.
It is estimated that non-RGT organisations collect and spend at least £1.6m each year, caring for and rehoming 1,500 greyhounds.
So , it becomes clear that the total spent rehoming greyhounds in the UK is about £5.3m pa – of which less than one third comes from the gambling industry which is the self regulating cause of all this.

How much does it cost to rehome a greyhound? The average is about £900 per dog – including the RGT average of £830 per dog and the most efficient rehomers, Greyhound Rescue West of England at £450 per dog.

All the welfare groups were asking for from the Bill was an end to self-regulation and an independent body to take over licensing and scrutiny. Lord Lipsey, who has led the field for the industry, argues that Local Authorities wouldn’t have the necessary expertise to inspect trainers’ kennels but I would argue that the standards for Local Authority boarding kennels are well above those used by some trainers and that’s the real fear of the industry.
He was quoted in the Racing Post in June2004, while he was Chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board, saying “If the industry does not continue to improve welfare standards it will be imperilling its own future”
On the 24th August 2005 he made it clear to a working committee, set up by DEFRA to consider rules for the welfare of the dogs, that profit came well before welfare and that any rules they might have in mind would be “aspirational” And I think we all know what that means.
He has also claimed that 99.09% or it may even have been 99.99% of owners love their dogs.

cars and dogs,MPs and rules

I had a lovely time on Wednesday evening meeting friends I haven’t seen for ages. I mention it because I wouldn’t like you to think that I have no other interests but animal wellfare. We all turned up at a book launch for a book on the battle of Britain. As most of us are of an age to remember the sound of a German aircraft engine, most of us had trouble remembering where and when we had worked together and names caused long pauses until we were joined by Geoffrey Whitehead who’s only seventy (if that). He was able to tell us that Simenon was the author of the play that Frank Finlay and I had done together forty two years ago. All I could remember was that he was French, wrote murder mysteries and boasted about the number of women he had seduced in his life.

Today I hear that two independent greyhound rescue kennels are reporting a surge in the numbers of dogs that need accommodation.

There are 63 bitches missing from Wimbledon’s racing programmes of the last 3 months we are asking the Greyhound Board of Great Britain to account for and……

DEFRA has published proposed rules and regulations for greyhound racing that it intends to put before the House of Commons from where it goes to the House of Lords for approval.
They do nothing for the dogs’ welfare while they are awayfrom the public gaze.
Having published them the welfare bodies were invited – yet again – to send in their comments (responses). DEFRA said there had been 2,451 responses, and that their “assessment” had addressed those responses. (Translating as Go away and stop bothering us) But somewhere in the DEFRA papers they had said that there had been additional responses from RSPCA supporters which missed the deadline and so were not considered.
On asking the RSPCA how many such responses were binned by DEFRA the answer is – 8,500!!!
Now, to quote, 1. “It is in a minister’s discretion whether to accept responses received after the deadline i.e. they are not bound by the consultation process deadline and
2. Often such late responses are accepted because to ignore them increases the arguments for judicial revue of the consultation process on the grounds that it was not reasonable.”
In other words, theere were actually 10,951 responses and DEFRA ministers decided to ignore 78% of them on a technicality.
Another example of New Labour’s idea of democracy.
Forget the marches, the committees set up by the Govt. the promised referendums etc. The voters get what their elected representatives have already decided to give them.

greyhounds,politicians & bookies

The first time I met Ben Bradshaw was when he shared a platform with me at a Labour Party Conference where I was talking about greyhound racing. He had only recently been appointed Minister at DEFRA, took his chair announcing that he knew nothing about greyhound racing, had another engagement to go to, and could I be quick. I could, I was and he was gone.
I didn’t expect him to know anything about greyhound racing. I don’t expect many MPs about to vote on the Animal Welfare Bill and how it will affect the welfare of the racing greyhounds, know anything either. Not even the members of the greyhound racing lobby, because they will have been shown the glossy side. The bar, the restaurant and the dogs running under the lights. However, I would hope that some MPs, at least, will look up the APGAW Report which was set up in the wake of Seaham and the response that that got from the public. I have been reading the letters that went into the Racing Post and I had forgotten how many owners and trainers expressed, not just their disgust, but their anger at the industry’s declared shock. The very idea that this could have gone unnoticed is ridiculous but that it wasn’t reported is completely understandable. In a self-regulating business that discourages criticism or complaint you don’t blow any whistles if you want to keep your job.
The next time I met Ben Bradshaw was at a reception held by APGAW. I tried to explain to him how self-regulation was the huge obstacle to any improvement for the dogs when he recoiled from me, telling me to leave him alone. I was a fundamentalist and he doesn’t talk to those. And he was gone again.

Interesting then that while on “News Night”, during the saga of MPs expenses, he was at pains to tell how, when he became an MP, he had been shocked at a system of self-regulation which “stank” and how, ever since he has been trying to change it.
Ed Balls, too, described self-regulation as “an awful system” which had to be changed. Gordon Brown seems to disapprove. but, unless the public demand that their MPs demonstrate their ability to judge between right and wrong before they’re pushed, the dogs are to be left in the limbo they have been in for almost a century. No protection from the police or the RSPCA because the dogs belong to a business that uses the Data Protection Act like a steel shutter.
The greyhound racing industry doesn’t appreciate criticism, basicaly because it knows it has no defence against the numbers involved and the total lack of control that exists in an activity that never had a management system that would be obligatory if it was starting up now.
Much as Lord Lipsey would like us to believe that the animal welfare body are its only critics, plenty of the evidence that was submitted to the APGAW Report was from inside greyhound racing.
I suppose there are people who think that in the world, now, or at any time, animals are at the bottom of any list of priorities. A lot of us think that if you cannot or will not tackle a simple, clear case of animal cruelty resulting from self-regulation, then there’s even less hope for the more complex problems in our society.

rspca, dogs trust, blue cross et al

Everyone who supports any of the above needs to read this.
There is shortly to be published a statement signed by various charities in response to the rules and regulations for greyhound racing drawn up by DEFRA under the the Animal Welfare Act.
These proposed regulations will do nothing to prevent another Seaham and will leave thousands of dogs still at the mercy of a gambling business that remains operated by the bookmakers and promoters who own the tracks (and in many cases bookmakers are both) in their own interests.
The statement is not going to say any of this because, as I understand it, Dogs Trust doesn’t want the statement to be ’emotive” and prefers that it should be businesslike.
For those of you who may read this and don’t remember Seaham, that’s where the Sunday Times, in 2006, discovered and photographed a man who was in the process of killing two greyhounds to add to the estimated 10,000 he had already disposed of, with a boltgun and his mechanical digger, in his field, as he had been doing for the last 10 years. And, we were told, his father had been doing before him.
The Chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board at that time was Lord Lipsey, who was sufficiently embarrassed perhaps to write to all 646 MPs a two page letter, possibly reiterating his assurance that it was a “one-off”. Two months later Leigh Animal Sanctuary, in Greater Manchester, was discovered – again by the Sunday Times – to be an abbatoir for greyhounds and used on an almost daily basis by trainers for many years.
Three months before Seaham Lord Lipsey had declared to the House of Lords that the idea of greyhounds being dropped into a black pit when they finished racing was a “myth”.
So Lord Lipsey, I imagine, will be relieved for the ommission in the statement.
Those of us who have patiently and meekly collected evidence and submitted it to various Government departments, committees and Reports over the years and listened to promises and assurances from our elected representatives are not so sanguine.
How does the word “businesslike” attach itself to uncontrolled slaughter of thousands of dogs bred for a gambling entertainment?
If Dogs Trust believes “A dog is for life not just for Christmas” why is the mere mention of Seaham only, perhaps, to be used in debate? Why leave it to chance? We have already seen how amendments attempting to deal with welfare of the dogs were swept aside by Lord Rooker in a previous debate.
And why, when Ministers have been falling over themselves to condemn self-regulation as a huge mistake – for themselves and their Lordships – and are trying to rein in the bankers, is it still the “preferred option” of this Government for greyhound racing? Where’s the logic in that? Or is it all about the money the dogs make for the Treasury?