The University of Sheffield Edward Bramley Law Society has recently come under fire for deciding to host its Christmas ball at a venue attached to and run alongside the Sheffield greyhound stadium. Although the venues operate under different names – which has misled many into thinking they are separate – through the public accounts and promotions and marketing of both venues it is clear they exist to supplement each other. Greyhound racing is a sport with an ageing demographic, hence why many students have probably never even thought about ‘going to the dogs’, or the welfare concerns surrounding it. It is thankfully on the decline, but track owners are finding new ways to diversify their offering (eg, opening up for events and parties) in a bid to bolster the sliding profits.
So what exactly is the problem? Lord Donoghue conducted a report into the welfare of racing greyhounds in 2007, although it concluded that the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB) should continue to self-regulate and follow the existing law for animals under human control from the Animal Welfare Act 2006. In 2010 newspapers were awash with stories about mistreatment and animal welfare concerns, including dogs being drugged and made to race in extreme weather.
This prompted the Welfare of Racing Greyhounds Regulations 2010 to be enacted. During the consultation period for this legislation, the government consulted the GBGB, the board principally responsible for licensing and managing greyhound tracks (ie, the board that wants to keep this industry alive). Few welfare organisations were involved in the drafting of the legislation and it led to wholly inadequate results. It did not make provisions for welfare data to be transparent, meaning that when thousands of greyhounds are unaccounted for after not finishing a race, being too slow or suffering injury, there is no record of what has happened to them. Crucially, there is no record of dogs being euthanised, or for what reasons.
The regulations did stretch to a vet being required at the tracks; however, these are often not independent of the stadiums, so are under an obligation to act in the stadiums’ best interest – not the welfare of the animals.
The legislation also failed to cover welfare in kennels and during transportation. Considering these dogs spend around 95% of their time in trainers’ kennels, this is inadequate. The industry makes over £237 million annually (Deloitte Report: Economic Impact of British Greyhound Racing Industry 2014) and a systematic failure has taken place to reinvest some of this money into welfare and kennelling or retirement. A Dogs Trust report revealed major concerns with care in kennels, finding dogs in rotting cages with no heat and appalling hygiene conditions. Recently reports of retired dogs being shipped to Asia for the dog meat trade have surfaced. This is due to a major gap in the regulations when it comes to reporting. Dogs are disappearing without a trace and there is no accountability.
So, what can you do and why does it apply to a career in law? Student societies should be careful when planning large lavish events such as balls to consider where students’ money (often running into the thousands of pounds) is being directed. Ethical concerns are often the last thing on planning committee members’ minds. But we are moving into a more socially responsible age where unethical decisions are disliked by more people and potential moral conflicts – be it with animal sports, environmental issues or labour concerns – should be on people’s minds.
Animal welfare is a particular passion of mine, and I could talk about proposed changes to areas of legislation in-depth for pages! This is not only great practice for assessments – where I have to do exactly that – but it also helps to develop my critical argument skills. Why not find an area of law (even if it is unrelated to commercial law) that you are interested in and think about how it could be changed and why it should be changed (or not changed)? If you are interested in animal welfare, get involved with volunteering or your university/local Vegan/Vegetarian Society or Animal Action group. If you live in a city with a greyhound track, share with your friends why they shouldn’t support this industry or support a local group that is against racing (most cities with stadiums will have one).
For me, telling this story had a positive impact in getting the Sheffield Law Society to make a donation towards an anti-racing charity and getting the Sheffield Students’ Union to not promote this venue to students in the future. This argument was played out very much in a public sphere, making major newspapers, which was excellent for bolstering my resilience to negative commentary and allowing me to (further!) see how the media can manipulate a story. Overall, it has made me realise that you really have very little to lose for speaking up for your beliefs at university, and you are surrounded by people who will think the same way as you. It’s given me a newfound respect for global activists (I’m looking at you, Greta!).