Nicola van Wyk

Greyhound Racing – What’s the Big Deal?

This piece was written for Lewis & Clark’s Emerging Topics in Animal Law course. All views expressed are those of the author.

By Nicola van Wyk

The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.[1]

An Overview of Dog Racing

The Greyhound racing industry is rife with animal welfare issues. In some jurisdictions, there is a concerning lack of transparency on euthanasia, breeding, and how Greyhounds are disposed of when their keepers decide that the dogs can no longer race competitively. The recording and monitoring of injuries sustained by the dogs is often inadequate and, in certain jurisdictions, a culture of non-enforcement of and non-compliance with welfare regulations is evident.

This article will give a broad overview of welfare issues encountered in the Greyhound racing industry and the current legal position of Greyhound racing in South Africa, the United States of America (USA), and New Zealand. South Africa has enacted legislation to prohibit Greyhound racing in all its provinces, serving as a model to be followed by other jurisdictions. Similarly, the vast majority of states in the USA have banned Greyhound racing. On the other hand, Greyhound racing is still legal in New Zealand, despite it having been said that New Zealand is one of only 7 countries in the world where commercial dog racing tracks still actively operate.

No More Than Property

Racing dogs are viewed as property, not deserving of sentimental value.[2] The dogs are only valuable for as long as they can generate profit racing for their keepers. It has been said that there are three types of Greyhounds in the industry: “Those who race, those who breed, and those who are destroyed”.[3] Dogs who lack talent, or whose talent declines, are destroyed. Some of those lucky enough to survive are handed over to rescue organizations. This influx of retired Greyhounds places an even greater burden on animal shelters already overrun with healthy animals slated for euthanasia.[4] It has also been reported that some Greyhound owners have sold retired dogs to medical research facilities for invasive bone experiments, among other procedures.[5] Despite Greyhounds typically having a lifespan of 13 or more years, they are usually retired from racing and disposed of at the age of 18 months to 5 years.[6]

Throughout history complaints have been raised that the Greyhound racing industry breeds too many dogs. An article published in the Greyhound Racing Record (USA) reported that less than 30% of Greyhounds bred were “usable” for racing.[7] Greyhound breeding is akin to farming: A “mass production system” where up to 700 dogs can be kept on one such breeding farm.[8] In order to keep up with this demand for stock, Greyhounds are often artificially inseminated.[9]

Over time, selective breeding has refined the physiology and anatomy of Greyhounds, cementing their reputation as elite sprint athletes. They are able to reach speeds of roughly 18m per second and achieve anaerobic metabolism.[10] Anaerobic metabolism allows rapid energy production when there is insufficient oxygen available to power a dog during a race. However, this process causes lactic acid to accumulate in the dog’s muscles, which may cause injuries such as cramping, muscle cell damage, and muscle tears.[11]

Just like any other athlete, there is a limited period during which a Greyhound would be at his/her physiological prime for performing at optimal speed. The length of a Greyhound’s racing career is thus limited by the dog’s age, and his/her ability to perform to the satisfaction of the dog’s owner and trainer. It is during this brief period that the dog could be of the most economic value to the keeper. However, due to the regular racing that the dogs partake in during this period, there is an accumulation of load cycles and thus a heightened risk of injury.[12]

Racing dogs routinely sustain injuries on the track such as broken legs, broken necks, cardiac arrest, and spinal cord paralysis.[13] The dogs are often housed in stacked crates for 20 or more hours a day, or are kept outdoors with minimal shelter.[14] Many racing dogs are not provided with sufficient sustenance, basic veterinary care, or affection.[15]

According to GREY2K USA Worldwide, a nonprofit Greyhound protection organization, only 7 countries in the world still have active commercial dog racing tracks: Australia, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, United Kingdom, USA, and Vietnam.[16]

Greyhound Racing in South Africa

In 1949 the Transvaal provincial authority banned Greyhound racing, after which the other three provinces followed suit.[17] While Greyhound racing is prohibited by provincial legislation, betting on dog racing is prohibited on both national[18] and provincial levels.[19]

The provincial legislation enacted by the four former provinces is still applicable to the current nine provinces:

  • Ordinance 4 of 1949 (Transvaal);
  • Ordinance 11 of 1976 (Free State);
  • Ordinance 23 of 1985 (Natal); and
  • Ordinance 11 of 1986 (Cape);

In 2001, proceedings were instituted in the High Court of South Africa (Free State),[20] in an attempt to lift the prohibition on Greyhound racing in the Free State. The Applicant sought an order declaring:

  • That the Ordinance prohibiting Greyhound racing in the Free State was abrogated by disuse;
  • Alternatively, that the Ordinance was, by implication, substituted by the Free State Gambling and Racing Act 6 of 1996; or
  • Alternatively, that the Ordinance is unconstitutional.

The Applicant failed to satisfy the Court as to the legitimacy of any of the above orders sought, and the Application was accordingly dismissed with costs. Greyhound racing thus remained illegal in all 9 provinces in South Africa, as well as at national level.

In 2011, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) established a commission to evaluate the possibility of legalizing Greyhound racing in South Africa. However, there was a majority decision to keep it banned. In 2014, the DTI once again attempted to legalize Greyhound racing by proposing a revised draft of the national gambling norms and standards. However, this revised draft did not succeed due to: welfare concerns; dog racing not being a traditional African pastime; and the risks associated with proliferation of gambling. It is imperative that the South African Government continues to recognize the importance of the legislation that is already in place to prohibit dog racing, by giving consideration to public opinion and the best interests of the dogs involved.

The conscientious, progressive legislation enacted by the South African Government to prohibit Greyhound racing has spared innumerable dogs the exploitation and abuse that they would have otherwise endured over the past seven decades, and serves as a model for how other jurisdictions should approach the welfare concerns related to Greyhound racing.

Greyhound Racing in the USA

Greyhound racing became unpopular in the USA due to the public becoming aware of the often cruel and inhumane treatment that the dogs experience. From 2001 to 2014 the total amount spent gambling on Greyhound racing throughout the United States declined by 70%, and state tax revenue from Greyhound racing declined by 82%.[21]

In 2015, two advocacy groups worked together to release a national report on Greyhound racing in the USA, reflecting the amount of Greyhound injuries and deaths in the 7 states where tracks still actively operating from 2008 to 2015:

  • 11,722 Greyhound injuries. More than 3,000 dogs have suffered broken legs and other injuries such as crushed skulls, broken backs, paralysis and electrocutions.
  • 909 racing Greyhound deaths. The true number of deaths is likely higher as there are no verifiable statistics on the ultimate fate of Greyhounds who survive racing but are disposed of each year when injured or no longer competitive.
  • 27 cases of Greyhound cruelty and neglect. This figure captures the number of dogs who were starved to death, denied veterinary care, or endured poor track kennel conditions. Additionally, 16 racing Greyhounds tested positive for cocaine.
  • 2,200 state disciplinary rulings have been issued since 2008. Racing Commissions have a history of regulatory failures and industry attempts at self-regulating have proven to be ineffective.
  • More than 80,000 young Greyhounds have entered the racing industry.[22]

Despite the USA’s lack of federal legislation to prohibit Greyhound racing, 41 out of 50 states have enacted legislation to ban Greyhound racing. The 9 states that have not yet criminalized Greyhound racing (4 of which do not have active racetracks) all require that a track must obtain a license before it can host dog races. Except for Wisconsin and Connecticut, each of these states statutorily created a racing commission to oversee races, issue licenses, and regulate racing.[23] Wisconsin’s Department of Administration supervises, regulates, and issues licenses, whereas Connecticut’s Commissioner of Consumer Protection supervises and regulates Greyhound racing.[24]

In light of the welfare concerns highlighted by the above report, which includes the inefficiency of the regulatory commissions, and the lack of support that Americans have shown the Greyhound racing industry, the 9 states that have not yet prohibited Greyhound racing should follow the example of the vast majority of states that have already enacted progressive legislation to ban the racing of dogs.

The Career of a Greyhound in New Zealand

Comprehensive information on the training and career length of Greyhounds in New Zealand is not readily available. In New Zealand, Greyhounds are on average raced at least every seven days.[25] These races are typically between 295m and 779m long.[26] Greyhounds usually start being trained at 12 months of age, with speed work commencing at 14 months of age. In line with industry standards, these dogs usually start racing at 16 months of age.[27] It is likely that rigorous training and racing frequency significantly decline the welfare of these working dogs.

Among other welfare concerns, reports[28] released on New Zealand’s Greyhound racing industry highlight:

  • A lack of transparency on euthanasia, injuries, rehoming numbers, breeding, and health statistics;
  • Inadequate recording and monitoring of injuries sustained by dogs;
  • A culture of non-enforcement and non-compliance of welfare rules;
  • Serious deficiencies in Greyhound Racing New Zealand’s database; and
  • A high injury rate within the sport. [29]

Despite these welfare concerns, New Zealand has not yet criminalized Greyhound racing. Greyhound Racing New Zealand and the Racing Integrity Unit are the governing bodies tasked with regulating the training and racing of Greyhounds. Trainers are required to comply with the Greyhound Racing New Zealand Rules of Racing and Welfare Standards, which provide the “duty of care required to meet the physical, health, environmental, behavioural and mental needs of Greyhounds.”[30] However, detailed training information has not been documented at either trainer or dog level.

The Way Forward

The inherent welfare issues that go hand-in-hand with the commodification of racing dogs are plentiful and devastating to the animals: excessive breeding; destruction of retired dogs; the burden placed on animal rescue organizations; the likelihood of injuries; and inadequate housing, sustenance, affection and veterinary care.

As public awareness grew in the USA, citizens became increasingly concerned about the welfare issues associated with Greyhound racing, and came to the realization that, even if some dogs are treated humanely by their keepers during their racing careers, ex-racers are ultimately treated as commodities and discarded.[31] A vast majority of the states in the USA have subsequently recognized that the exploitation of dogs for purposes of racing is unacceptable.

New Zealand’s failure to criminalize Greyhound racing is out of step with many other countries’ position on the outdated sport. New Zealand should acknowledge that Greyhound racing is against the moral values of society, and follow the example of jurisdictions such as South Africa that have enacted progressive, conscientious legislation to ban Greyhound racing. After all, dogs are not simply property, they are our best friends.


[1] George Graham Vest, (last visited Nov. 22, 2021).

[2] Gwyneth Anne Thayer, Going To The Dogs 130 (2013) [hereinafter Going To The Dogs].

[3] Id. at 133.

[4] Going To The Dogs, supra note 2, at 136.

[5] Going To The Dogs, supra note 2, at 150, 151.

[6] Greyhound Racing, ASPCA, (last visited Oct. 15, 2021) [hereinafter Greyhound Racing].

[7] Going To The Dogs, supra note 2, at 133.

[8] Going To The Dogs, supra note 2, at 134.

[9] Going To The Dogs, supra note 2, at 135.

[10] Palmer, A., Rogers, C., Stafford, K., Gal, A., Cochrane, D., & Bolwell, C. (2020). Cross-Sectional Survey of the Training Practices of Racing Greyhounds in New Zealand. Animals (Basel), 10(11), 2032, at 2 [hereinafter Survey].

[11] Greyhound Sports Nutrition, Greyhound Racing NSW, 2 (Feb. 22, 2016) .

[12] Survey, supra note 10, at 11.

[13] Chelsea Lenard, Overview of Dog Racing Laws, Michigan State University, (2019) (last visited Oct. 15, 2021) [hereinafter Overview of Dog Racing Laws].

[14] Id.

[15] Greyhound Racing, supra note 6.

[16] Greyhound Racing Around the World, GREY2K USA Worldwide, (last visited Nov. 22, 2021).

[17] Marita Carnelley, Betting on Dog Racing, Unlv Gaming Law Journal, July 20, 2010, at 76, 77 [hereinafter Betting on Dog Racing].

[18] National Gambling Act 7 of 2004 (za.).

[19] Betting on Dog Racing, supra note 17, at 80.

[20] United Greyhound Racing and Breeders Society v Vrystaat Dobbel en Wedrenraad 2003 (2) SA 269 (O).

[21] Overview of Dog Racing Laws, supra note 13.

[22] Greyhound Racing, supra note 6.

[23] Overview of Dog Racing Laws, supra note 13.

[24] Overview of Dog Racing Laws, supra note 13.

[25] Survey, supra note 10, at 6.

[26] Survey, supra note 10, at 2.

[27] Survey, supra note 10, at 9.

[28] Rodney Hansen, Report To New Zealand Racing Board On Welfare Issues Affecting Greyhound Racing In New Zealand. See:

[29] Enough Chances for Greyhound Racing Industry – Animal Welfare Advocates, (last visited Oct. 16, 2021).

[30] Survey, supra note 10, at 2.

[31] Going To The Dogs, supra note 2, at 150, 151.


Nicola van Wyk