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Mike Baird’s ban on greyhound racing will be divisive, but after I met Bernie, a victim of the industry, my mind was made up.
There are some things that are quintessentially Australian. Be it the summer BBQ, laidback riposte or having a casual punt. Needless to say, Mike Baird’s decision today to end greyhound racing in NSW will surely be met with considerable dissent, for not only the removal of tradition but also the livelihood of those within the industry.
But let me tell you about an individual named Bernie who helped me construct my opinion of the greyhound industry through his short spell in my life.
Bernie was a rescue greyhound. He was no longer “useful” in the industry due to his lack of speed and senescence (Bernie was only three years old). So he was palmed off to a volunteer rescue group to be “re-homed”. But how can you re-home an individual that has only ever been taught to chase, to hunt? Bernie was blooded. By “blooded” I mean that he was given bleeding or freshly killed prey animals to evoke his prey drive. And a prey drive he had.
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“We’ll put a muzzle on him and keep him tied up while we introduce the two”, the volunteer explained.
I imagine I was not the first to come in with a spoilt and excessively-loved pooch, hoping to adopt a rescue dog.
But Bernie had never been a pet. We took him home for a trial and sure enough, he proved his lack of household manners by urinating all over the kitchen. I was annoyed at him, and then reminded myself that this dog had never been inside a home. He had spent all of his relatively short life either cooped up in a tiny steel cage or out on the tracks. I did my best to assimilate the dog into that of a pet’s life; we went to the park (Bernie’s “training” had led him to chase the park’s resident Maltese Terrier – it was lucky he was muzzled), we went for evening walks (Bernie saw a cat and chased it, dragging me, attached by lead, along the bitumen until my feet were red raw).
Because of his training, Bernie was not likely to ever be the animal that could have been. But I knew that Bernie was one of the lucky ones. When a greyhound becomes a potential racer, their ears are tattooed so they can be identified. If a greyhound is not doing well on the track and needs to be disposed of, sometimes less “official” methods of disposal take place and the ears of the defeated athletes are cut off so that the bodies cannot be traced back to the original owner.
Bernie made it to a rescue group, so Bernie was lucky.
I remained optimistic that with strict training and conditioning, he might one day be able to be pet. My optimism was met with continual failure and eventually I made the heart-breaking decision to return him to the rescue group. As I was leaving, with my best attempts to not look back at his beautiful and sad eyes, the kennel hand called out to me: “Please don’t forget Bernie. He hasn’t had any other interest. Just come and walk him once in a while, will you?”
With tears now rolling down my cheek, I agreed.
I’m sure that there are many good people within that industry, and I do empathise with their loss of something dear and true to them. But today, when reading the about the culture exposed in the report, I was reminded of Bernie. Bernie is much like the industry that made him – unable to change who they are, because they know nothing different, and much like Bernie, they now face an uncertain future.