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Greyhound euthanasia sparks debate: Born to race
Greyhound number 2 won’t stay quiet. His ‘sifu’ – master or trainer in Chinese, the man who takes the dog by the leash – is constantly trying to control him. Another man, wearing a white suit and behaving as the one in control, gives a sign with his hand. Only then the sifus take the dogs to the deserted racetrack, walking counter clockwise, at a very slow pace until they reach the starting boxes.
Number 2 continues hopping from one side to another. The sleek and graceful animal looks completely euphoric while it is taken to the starting point of the race. As he springs from the traps at astonishing speed he lags behind no other dog in chasing the mechanical hare. He’s done his part and on that day his owner will be pleased.
After the race, one of the dog owners is waiting by the fence with a woman. ‘Sifu’ he calls. The grey-faced keeper brings the dog along with him out of the racetrack, while another man holding a camera runs in their direction to take a group picture.
The couple free the dog from the leash; cuddle him and smile at the camera, but not like other people do with their pets. It is not pet love you see and the dog is merely another way for them to make money. Picture taken and all the love is gone; and the truth is that the relationship will thrive as long as the dog keeps winning.
Race nights at the Macau Canidrome takes place on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Each night, there are 18 races, with six dogs in each. Nowadays, only a few go to watch from the stands of the stadium not far from the border gate.
Macau has enjoyed horse and greyhound racing for a long time. The Macau Jockey Club was established in 1989, while the Canidrome was build in 1930, both owned by Stanley Ho’s gambling empire. However, horses and greyhounds live in different conditions and are given different lives after racing.
What happens inside the concrete compound is only Macau Yat Yuen Canidrome Club’s business. The Civil and Municipal Affairs Bureau (IACM) is allowed to carry out inspections and that’s about it.
Hundreds of dogs are kept inside those walls spending the majority of their lives in cages. They never leave the Canidrome and are kept on a short leash every time they are led onto the track for exercise or when they race for the amusement of a collection of gambling junkies.
Aside from IACM’s staff, other people or organisations – if not punters – seem to be unwelcome. The Macau Daily Times was not authorised to visit the facilities and not even permitted to take photos of the races.
In this secrecy stadium, only well informed sources or those that once worked there can say what happens inside those walls. António Galvão, who for almost a decade headed the division of animal control and inspection of the IACM in the 1990s, says greyhounds are kept in individual kennels.
From 4:00am to 9:30am the dogs train. Later on in the day, around 3pm, the dogs are freed again for a walk around the exercise yard, in groups of six. A veterinarian examines them and checks their weight.
“Then, they are locked up again in the kennel, waiting for the race to start. They are kept in the cages because they are there to race,” Galvão says, adding that the greyhounds have to be protected.
According to director of local Society for the Protection of Animals (ANIMA), Albano Martins, greyhounds are kept in air-conditioned kennels. The information is confirmed by the IACM, which “inspects the sanitary condition of the kennel regularly”.
On the other hand, a private security company protects the Canidrome facilities.
“Each kennel has its own security system. Strangers are not allowed, because there is always the risk that someone could try to harm the dogs,” said Galvão, who is also a veterinarian.
Unlike horses that race in Macau, greyhounds are massively imported to the territory. The dogs are brought from Australia to the local Canidrome, tucked in the northern part of the peninsula.
Imported greyhounds are then bought at auction and can cost up to HKD 50,000 each, according to a recent report from the South China Morning Post. The Canidrome takes a commission on the import and sale of each dog.
In Macau, a greyhound’s race career is quite short, as their race life ends after three years. 'They [the Canidrome] euthanise about 30 dogs each month,' Choi U Fai, who currently heads the IACM’s animal control division told the SCMP. According to the newspaper, the number of dogs put down rose from 322 in 2009 to 383 last year. In March this year, 45 dogs were euthanised and sent to government incinerators, they added.
Hundreds of greyhounds spend the majority of their lives in cages
The government’s bureau however would not disclose the numbers to MDTimes. “For the number of greyhound and horses euthanised, please contact the relevant company directly,” they simply said in a statement.
The MDTimes tried to contact the management of the Macau Yat Yuen Canidrome Club, but got no reply following several attempts.
Why the greyhounds have to be put down is one of Macau’s longstanding debates. While other jurisdictions have programmes for retired dogs and people are able to adopt them as pets, this does not happen in Macau.
“The dog-racing centre will not allow these dogs to be given up for adoption in Macau.
“Macau is a small place and they don't want to have any complaints about the dogs causing problems or damage. But they have no objection to them going elsewhere and that is what we are exploring,” Choi told the SCMP.
It is very difficult for greyhounds in Macau to escape euthanasia, because they are part of a gambling activity, observers told the MDTimes.
“Macau has no conditions to keep these dogs, so we cannot criticise the euthanasia system. After five years, they are not able to run anymore so they are put down. That’s the philosophy of the game,” said Galvão.
Albano Martins shares the same view, but he regrets the existence of greyhound racing in Macau. However, he says, the SAR is not different from other places in the world where the same activity takes place.
“Greyhounds’ living conditions in Macau are not different from what happens in Australia or the United States. Macau is a small city, so it’s hard to keep them here, and it is not possible to send the dogs back home, because there is no laws on infectious disease [they have to stay in quarantine for 40 days in Hong Kong],” he said.
Martins suggested Macau should ink an agreement with Canberra to force the Canidrome company to export the greyhounds back to Australia when they are not able to race. Nonetheless, he doubts it will work.
The number of dogs put down at the Macau Canidrome rose from 322 in 2009 to 383 last year
“The Australian Government has an adoption policy for retired greyhounds, but only a very small part is adopted. There are huge movements in the United Stated to stop euthanasia of greyhounds, but it is very difficult to get results because dog racing is a business,” he said.
Sending the dogs for adoption in mainland China is also not a good idea. “There is a risk of the Chinese starting to breed racing greyhounds, but that must only be done by specialists,” Galvão said.
What Macau authorities should do is make sure greyhounds live in good sanitary conditions and improve the quality of the professionals that take care of them, he proposes.
“It is important to ensure that only the best quality dogs are imported to Macau, if they live in good sanitary conditions and facilities, and are well fed,” he says.
The veterinarian also called for anti-doping control, which is currently a concern all over the world. According to Galvão, female greyhounds are given drugs to interrupt their cycle so they can race with males at the same time. “Those drugs must be monitored in order to ensure they do not harm the dogs’ health,” he explains.
The IACM’s spokesperson told the MDtimes: “Euthanasia of injured greyhounds by injection is done by the veterinarian of Macau Yat Yuen Canidrome Club under IACM supervision.” However, it did not explain if any other drugs are administrated to dogs and if that action is also supervised.
According to SCMP’s report, only a few greyhounds are put to sleep because they are injured. “For most of them, it is because they can't run and they can't win,” said Choi.
Only the best quality dogs should be imported to Macau as they could have an extended racing life, says Galvão, adding that this could be a way to reduce the number of greyhounds that are put down each month.
Another issue is the certification of veterinarians. “Veterinarians are not licensed in Macau and that’s a big concern. Who is providing assistance to the greyhounds? Does that professional hold enough expertise to do so?” he questioned.
Galvão believes it is very important to legislate the activity of veterinarians, which is included in the draft law on the protection of animal rights, shelved in 2007. The government has already confirmed that they have no intentions of raising the subject this year, so the draft law won’t be presented in the legislature anytime soon.
Lawmaker José Pereira Coutinho has been expressing concerns over the delays in the legislative process of the so-called ‘Law of the Ownership of Animals’. “There is a massive importation of animals to Macau without any rules,” he pointed out.
Regarding the greyhounds, Coutinho accuses the IACM of being “conniving” with the situation. “The IACM knows what is happening to the greyhounds and they do nothing. I believe the delays in enacting the law on animal rights has to do with lobbies from the companies of horse and dog racing,” he said.
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