‘They couldn’t care less’: fears for dogs’ welfare as Greyhound Racing NSW axes one of two adoption centres

Current and former staff have raised serious concerns about animal welfare and the culture at the agency that governs greyhound racing in New South Wales after it abruptly shut down one of just two adoption centres for ex-racing dogs this week.

Workers at the Greyhound Adoption Program (GAP) in Wyee were fired on Monday, the same day the Greyhound Racing New South Wales (GRNSW) chief executive, Rob Macaulay, announced the agency would cut 30% from its budget in the next financial year after a 22.5% fall in gambling revenue.

In a press release, Macaulay said GRNSW’s savings measures would include staff redundancies, as well as the “re-purposing” of the Wyee GAP kennels into a facility for retired greyhounds enrolled in the GRNSW program to rehome dogs in the US.

Macaulay said there would be “no negative impact on animal welfare” as a result of the cuts. But staff who have spoken to Guardian Australia on and off the record strongly disagree.

Sarah Stratford worked part-time at the Wyee GAP until she was sacked this week. She said many of the greyhounds would “not cope” with the flight.

A GRNSW spokesperson said none of the greyhounds that were kennelled at Wyee “on Monday” were in the US program, but Guardian Australia has seen a list of 13 dogs that have been earmarked for export to the US. In response to additional questions, GRNSW said it was “yet to be seen which dogs will go to the US”.

Stratford was concerned about the way Macaulay and two other executives spoke about the dogs.

“We would have mandatory meetings where they would [call] them commodities,” Stratford alleged. Another former worker said: “It was honestly like they couldn’t care less about the dogs.”

A GRNSW spokesperson said this “could not be further from the truth” and that “first and foremost is our care for our animals and the welfare of all greyhounds”.

Greyhounds race at Wentworth Park in Sydney. Photograph: AAP

GAP rehabilitates racing greyhounds for adoption and matches them with new homes. The program is registered as a charity but its staff are employed by GRNSW, which has a target of “rehoming” 3,500 dogs in the 2024-2025 financial year. The other GAP adoption centre in western Sydney will continue operating.

The contractor Hanrob, which will take over operating the Wyee facility, did not respond to a request for comment.

‘Sales targets’ for greyhound rehoming in US

A current GAP employee, who requested anonymity to speak about the situation, said executives insisted on sending dogs to the US that “weren’t suitable”, including those that had higher grade heart murmurs or pannus, a type of eye disease.

The dogs would be counted as having been “rehomed”, even if they were just going to “sit in a kennel” or be transferred to another adoption centre in the US.

A GRNSW spokesperson said all dogs that went to the US were “fully vet checked and fit for adoption”.

In an email Macaulay sent to staff in August last year, seen by Guardian Australia, the executive referred to dogs sent to the US as “sales targets”.

A staff member involved in the “Aussie Mates in the States” program, which started in January 2023, told Macaulay that 208 retired racing greyhounds had been sent to the US as of the end of July at an average cost of $4,400 per dog, emails seen by the Guardian show.

The staff member told Macaulay he believed 600 greyhounds could be rehomed in the US per year. But Macaulay wanted more.

Emails seen by the Guardian show Macaulay asked the staff member to come up with a strategy to meet a new KPI: “1009 for the balance of the year = 92 per month = 21 per week.”

“We need to adjust our monthly sales target up for the balance of the year to achieve our annual sales goal,” Macaulay wrote.

“Obviously, it is important to get on to this delivery level month-in-month out, or the ‘cliff’ gets too big at the other end to achieve.”

A former GAP employee said: “We’d follow up with the rescues in America … and many of them would be still be awaiting adoption and in kennels. And that would be months.”

GRNSW initially denied the Macaulay had set a target of 1,000 dogs for the past financial year. Asked about the emails, a spokesperson said: “He didn’t refer to the greyhounds as sales targets, he referred to sales targets for greyhound rehoming.”

The spokesperson confirmed that dogs sent to the US were counted as having been “rehomed”.

‘Bonuses based on how many dogs they’re getting rid of’

Stratford said GRNSW executives’ bonuses depended on meeting their KPIs, including how many dogs were rehomed. A spokesperson for the agency said rehoming was one of the “common organisational KPIs” across all leaders in the business.

One of Stratford’s former colleagues alleged: “They’re getting their bonuses based on how many dogs they’re getting rid of. And the more dogs they get rid of, they can keep breeding more. And so they’re shipping them to the US.”

A blurred image of an injury that staff at the Wyee GAP centre said a dog sustained due to the facility being unsafe. Photograph: Wyee Greyhound Adoption Program

Stratford said she and her colleagues had told Macaulay and two other executives that the facility was unsafe and badly needed repairs because the greyhounds had allegedly suffered injuries, including one dog having “slashed her foot completely open”.

“They all said that renovations were on hold for our site because it was going to cost them an extra, I think, $4m and they just couldn’t afford it,” Stratford said.

A former staff member alleged the “site was falling apart” and they had raised similar concerns with the executives. The Guardian has seen photos of injuries the workers claim the dogs sustained on site.

A GRNSW spokesperson said the facility had never been unsafe and that its “experienced site manager” had a “good budget” for repairs and maintenance.

After the closure of the Wyee GAP was announced, Macaulay told the Newcastle Herald that only one dog had died “in transit” to the US.

Stratford disputed this – she alleged three dogs had died. “I really want that to be clear that it was not one dog,” she said.

Asked about the discrepancy, Macaulay said two other dogs enrolled in the US program had died in NSW.

The Guardian contacted the racing minister, David Harris, for comment. A spokesperson for the government said it and the “wider community” expected the industry to be run with the “highest standards of integrity and animal welfare”.


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