Zandie enjoying being brushed Supplied: GRNZ
Zandie enjoying being brushed Supplied: GRNZ

SocietyNovember 21, 2018

Great mates: The prison inmates caring for retired greyhounds

Zandie enjoying being brushed Supplied: GRNZ
Zandie enjoying being brushed Supplied: GRNZ

Retired greyhounds being supported to become the wonderful pets they are inside by men who are inside New Zealand prisons.

I dislike both the greyhound racing industry and the industrial prison complex but there’s no denying that even if this is a PR stunt it’s a lovely one. In early 2018 Greyhound Racing New Zealand joined the Department of Corrections to develop a greyhound rehoming programme.

It’s been announced that it’s now permanent which is wonderful news. The Great Mates Prison Programme supports men in prison to become dog handlers, trainers and foster carers to rescued (GRNZ prefer the term retired) greyhounds.

The extra training and love and attention the greyhounds are given by men in the Great Mates Prison Programme before adoption increases the likelihood that once the dogs are placed in a new home, they will remain there.

Over eight weeks, four prison handlers work with one dog each, training them and getting them ready for a real home. Kennels, an exercise area and an area that resembles a residential home have been established within the prison grounds at Te Whare Manaakitanga Special Treatment Unit at Rimutaka Prison to help the greyhounds get ready for adoption.

“You can see the changes in the men and the dogs as they work together,” says Jo Heath, the unit’s principal corrections officer. “The men have supported each other and when they’ve faced challenges they have worked as a team to get solve them.”

A prisoner in the unit said that working with greyhounds has taught him to trust again. He says working with the greyhounds has taught him communication skills. Another said it has taught him to ask people for help.

It’s a beautiful connection joining greyhounds that may have struggled with a lack of attachment, love and support – and, at worst, abuse – with incarcerated men who may have as well. One prisoner talked about how it allows him to have someone to show affection to. There’s not likely much affection, if any, in a prison.

Anything that makes prison less torturous for inmates and gets greyhounds out of cages and into loving homes is a fantastic initiative.

Greyhounds are usually “retired” from being forced to compete at about age four. Despite making ideal and loving pets, they’re not as popular as other dogs due to their size and the stigma of racing. While there are two adoption agencies working to find homes for greyhounds in New Zealand, last year a review of greyhound racing revealed more than 1440 dogs had been euthanised over four years. The report also found close to 1300 dogs were unaccounted for – that means they’re probably dead or in pits somewhere.

The real numbers are largely hidden. The Greyhound Protection League says Greyhounds As Pets have rehomed over 1200 greyhounds since being established by the racing industry in 2006. That’s 150 per year on average, although early years had lower numbers, and recent years are seeing higher numbers. They say they have no access to other organisations’ figures, though they understand animal shelter Helping You Help Animals has rehomed around 40 greyhounds over the last few years, and other organisations considerably fewer. According to a greyhound racing industry internal review, trainers are keeping on average 93 greyhounds per year as pets, and 55 per year for breeding (what they do with these greyhounds after that is not known). So, they say, no matter how you look at it well in excess of 1000 greyhounds are simply disappearing every year.

In my opinion greyhound racing is an awful industry that preys on sweet and gentle dogs, eating them up and spitting them out. The industry is a litany of cruelty. A Newshub investigation in July found 24 dogs have been killed in the first half of this year due to injuries on racing tracks. Greyhound Racing New Zealand told Newshub the current injury rate is 15 per every 1000 starts, but wouldn’t answer Newshub’s question whether euthanising 24 dogs in six months was higher or lower than usual. One of New Zealand’s top greyhound trainers has been ordered to pay $6500 after five of his dogs died from suffocation just a few months ago. Dogs are regularly drugged: the dogs of leading South Island trainer John McInerney tested positive for procaine in 1997, heptaminol in 2001, codeine and hydroxystanolozol in 2010, caffeine in 2013 and ketoprofen in 2017. There are regular accusations of live baiting. But if you dare say any of this those in the industry will trot out the “We love our dogs!” mantra – despite dogs disappearing or being sent to be rehomed and never thought of again.

It’s estimated a racing greyhound could be worth anything between $4000 and $200,000. This is a big money business and in big money businesses that involve animals, the animals suffer.

My rescue greyhound Twinkle is priceless. When we first bought her she seemed worried we would hit her every time we tried to pat her. She hid away in her kennel and had to be carried everywhere because she was scared of stairs, plastic bags, people, cats, other dogs… everything. She has now been with us a year and we can’t imagine life without her. She is the most gentle, loving, darling (enormous) dog we have ever owned. She allows the children to drape themselves all over her and she checks on them every night. She is just absolutely full of love.

We will never have any other breed of dog now; we truly believe the best types of dogs are the ones desperate for a loving home. We cover the racing brand on her ear and whisper to her how much we love her, and she smiles and falls asleep on our laps. She is our 32kg lap dog and we adore her.

Please consider adopting a greyhound – you might just be supporting men who are rehabilitating themselves as well.

Save the life of a greyhound and they’ll love you forever. Visit Greyhounds As Pets.

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