Czech group offers new lease of life for greyhounds destroyed in retirement


JAN SVOBODA was smitten from the moment he met Anna – a sleek and playful beauty from distant Ireland – in Prague.

Anna is one of hundreds of Irish greyhounds spending their retirement in the Czech Republic, far from a homeland where thousands of former racers, and dogs that never made the grade, are destroyed each year.

Campaigners say the State should tighten regulation of Ireland’s €500 million greyhound industry, and do more to change breeders’ perceptions of greyhounds as mere commodities, and the widespread public belief that they make poor family pets.

“Tully Anna – who I renamed Anicka, or Little Anna in Czech – was a successful racer, and now she is an absolutely sweet pet,” said Svoboda.

He acquired Anna through Greathounds In Need, a Czech group that has found homes for more than 200 Irish greyhounds, taking them from trainers and from pounds where they are usually killed after seven days.

“About 5,000 Irish greyhounds retire from racing every year, and at best 500 find new homes – most of them abroad,” said the founder of Greathounds in Need, Lucie Poucova.

“This industry makes so much money, but puts hardly anything into caring for dogs when they retire. The Irish Greyhound Board does not operate a single shelter. And most owners don’t want to spend money on dogs when they stop racing.”

The board does not record how many dogs retire each year.

“I can’t go into the numbers. Those figures are not available,” said Barry Coleman, the board’s welfare manager. “We sell a lot of greyhounds to the UK for racing. So it can’t be assumed that because greyhounds are not running [in Ireland] that they are retired.”

The Irish Coursing Club registered 3,003 greyhound litters in 2010, suggesting that about 18,000 greyhounds were born. Of them, 15,908 were formally named, which is a requirement for racing. The fate of the rest is not known.

Most greyhounds stop racing by the age of four, but the breed lives on average for 10-12 years. Few owners want to look after retired dogs or care for young ones that are not fast enough to race.

The figures suggest that most Irish greyhounds suffer an early death. In 2010, 822 greyhounds were placed in State pounds, and 672 of them were killed. Considering how many greyhounds are born each year, and how few are rehoused in Ireland, the Czech Republic or elsewhere, thousands of dogs are left unaccounted for.

“Most owners just want to get rid of the problem. The reality is that dogs just get shot. Owners won’t pay for euthanasia,” said Poucova.

Coleman said Bord na gCon – which is set to receive more than €11 million in State funding this year – spends about €200,000 on rehoming retired greyhounds. “We are actively involved now in promoting a campaign to create awareness of greyhounds as pets,” he insisted.

For Svoboda, preparing to take Anicka for a walk in Prague, change cannot come fast enough. “Irish people raised their voices recently against sending their greyhounds to China,” he said. “I believe it’s necessary to change how things are done in Ireland too.”