When is a dog not a dog? When it’s an Irish greyhound

Review: RTÉ Investigates exposes shocking treatment of greyhounds in the racing industry

RTÉ Investigates: Greyhounds Running for their Lives offers searing evidence of unimaginable cruelty to greyhounds. Photograph: Peter Kohalmi/AFP/Getty Images

Here is a particularly gruesome riddle: When is a dog not a dog? The answer, according to an extremely disturbing, eye-opening report, is when it’s a greyhound.

Under Irish law, these lean and hungry creatures are not classified as dogs at all, but as farm animals. Perhaps they are impressive at pest control, or very good at pulling tiny ploughs, because otherwise it makes no sense. No other farm animals would be treated so appallingly.

Long before RTÉ Investigates: Greyhounds Running for their Lives (RTÉ One, Wednesday, 9.35pm) has ended, you watch searing evidence of the unimaginable scale of cruelty that comes with treating greyhounds as something less than dogs.

Overbreeding in Ireland, estimated at 16,000 born each year, creates a massive surplus of greyhounds, for a racing industry in obvious freefall. Owners, race attendance and advertising have fallen in number by roughly half in recent years. Is it due to desperation, then, or abomination, that almost 6,000 healthy, “under-performing” dogs are killed every year?


As farm animals, greyhounds fall under the remit of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which allocates close to €17 million of taxpayers' money to the Irish Greyhound Board (IGB), the organisation that oversees racing, gambling and welfare.

The IGB, which made a confidential report public once RTÉ had gained a copy, has been aware of the scale of the problems facing the industry for some time. Those include missing dogs, doping, unreported international trade, and the suffering and malicious slaughter of animals.

If Conor Ryan’s report seems exhaustive, it may be because damning evidence is not hard to find. Prominent Irish trainers have been charged with doping offences but, with little meaningful sanctions, recidivism is rife. Mutilated dogs are plentiful, their ears hacked off or burned with acid to prevent identification, because, one rescuer explains, “he’s just been a failed racer”.

The IGB-commissioned report described a greyhound population that is “out of control”, where widespread culling “could threaten the very existence of the industry” and action was needed to prevent “below-cost dumping of dogs in the UK, which is ultimately underpinned by the Irish taxpayer”. (We see Gerard Dollard, chief executive of the IGB, quibble with the figures on Claire Byrne Live.)

The programme easily lifts the lids on hare coursing practices, filming unsanctioned meetings week after week on Whiddy Island, attended by leading figures in the community.

But it is most disturbing when it follows the consequences of dumping surplus dogs or of clandestine sales beyond the UK.

When the transportation of 24 Irish dogs to the infamous Canidrome in Macao was exposed in 2016, the IGB admitted “huge reputational damage”.

When the picture here freezes – but not the soundtrack – as one dog in China is hacked to death, or when it keeps rolling as another squealing dog is boiled alive, you wonder what reputation anyone involved has left to lose.

Closer to home, the trade in knackering is so flagrant that a camera captures the full sight of a greyhound shot in the head, and its collar returned to the waiting owner, while the animal writhes on the ground for several minutes until its death.

Greyhound racing, like the IGB itself hopefully, is right to worry for its future, because it depends on drawing new fans and on its significant government subsidy.

To put it another way, that is our money, those are our dogs. Ireland, this commendably revealing programme reminds you, is one of the last eight countries that still allows greyhound racing. Maybe it’s time to put this sorry affair out of its misery.