How Irish dog racers muzzle humane critics
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2005:
SALLINS, County Kildare–Greyhound
racing issues in Ireland converge on the People’s
Animal Welfare Society, halfway between Dublin
and the Newbridge Greyhound Racing Track, just a
few miles beyond at Naas. Greyhound breeding,
training, and boarding are big business right in
PAWS founder Deirdre Hetherington, 73, is among
the most prominent critics of the Irish greyhound
Yet PAWS is also increasingly reliant on
funding from both the Irish government and the
Irish Greyhound Board, reputedly made available
as part of a co-optive strategy to distract
opposition by rehoming a relative handful of the
greyhounds who are bred to race.
Many of the PAWS dogs are boarded with a
prominent local greyhound racer.
Hetherington operates PAWS from her home,
Sallins Castle, built to withstand armed foes.
Some Irish tourism web sites allege that
Sallins Castle, later known as Sallins Lodge, no
longer stands. In truth, it is well-preserved,
though disguised with a stucco façade, and is
almost entirely still used according to the
original Norman plan. Hetherington started PAWS
in 1996, formally incorporating in February
1997, by simply renovating the ancient stables
and kennels already on the site, and putting
them back to use.
Built soon after the mid-12th century
Norman conquest of Ireland, a century after the
1066 Norman conquest of England, Sallins Castle
was in essence a fortified farmhouse for the
knights of Sallins, who ruled the nearby village
for most of 800 years. Now a bustling Dublin
suburb, Sallins throughout that time had a human
population always recorded within a few dozen of
A moated keep with twin half-round towers
flanking the portcullis faced the river road,
the direction from which attack was most likely.
The upper floors of the keep housed the knights
and their families. The lower floor housed their
At the back of the keep stood a two-story
stable, with an armory in between. On the
ground level were the horses. Above was a loft,
defended by loopholes, with a pitched roof to
keep firebrands out of the hay.
Like most Norman castles, Sallins Castle
was not designed to withstand a prolonged siege.
The strategy, if attacked, was for most of the
residents to put up the best fight they could,
while riders or runners slipped out the back way
to fetch help from the next castle, typically 10
to 20 miles distant along the main toll roads.
For the knights of Sallins, that meant Dublin, 18 miles east.
Hugonauts exiled from France in the 16th century
bought the Sallins keep, probably by then
abandoned, and rebuilt it into a more comfortable
house, after the style of French chateaus, by
opening windows through the Norman walls,
filling most of the moat to keep down insects,
and completely replacing the wooden interior.
The best-remembered residents of Sallins
Castle and the neighborhood arrived in the 18th
century, including the author Richard Brooke,
who shared Sallins Lodge with his brother and
their families for a few years early in the
century; General Samuel Holt, who occupied the
castle during and after the 1798 rebellion; and
Theobald Wolfe Tone, instigator of the rebellion.
A resident of Sallins village, not the
castle, Tone is buried at nearby Bodenstown.
Poet Thomas Davis made the graveyard a
nationalist shrine by erecting a stone to Tone’s
memory in 1843.
The Sallins Castle stable has proba bly
housed greyhounds and other dogs for as long as
it has existed. Norman knights typically kept a
hunting pack in an otherwise unoccupied horse
stall. The stable appears to have been renovated
only twice, by the Hugonauts, who built the
present stalls, and by Hetherington, who added
some tile walls and floors. Eventually
Hetherington also converted the former servants’
quarters into dog housing, and turned the
outbuildings into kennels. The onetime gardens
Raising an annual budget of about
$150,000 per year, assisted by family and
friends, Hetherington has ambitions of replacing
the admittedly dilapidated, cold, wet, drafty
medieval animal quarters with a state-of-the-art
adoption palace. But that will take an influx of
new funding from somewhere, perhaps a major
Hetherington claims to have adopted out
more than 7,000 dogs since starting PAWS, 70% of
them adults. Many were cast-offs from the
“We are the only animal rescue in Ireland
currently taking greyhounds from the state-run
dog pounds, and one of the few taking lurchers,”
or greyhound-mix hunting dogs, Hetherington says.
“All of the greyhounds are ex-racers,
who have been taken to the pounds to be
destroyed, usually at about two years of age,”
Hetherington continues. “As it is nearly
impossible to rehome these dogs in Ireland, we
have to hold them until we can get them to the
United Kingdom or the U.S.,” where many are
rehomed by Louise Coleman of Greyhound Friends,
in Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
The PAWS adoption record is outstanding,
but has a more problematic side.
PAWS’ work has been subsidized since 2001
by grants from the Irish government. Officially,
there is no direct link between subsidies for
animal welfare and efforts to counter activist
criticism of the greyhound industry. Yet PAWS
began getting help after the Dublin-based
Alliance for Animal Rights and the
American/European Greyhound Alliance embarrassed
agriculture minister Joe Walsh with an August
2000 protest outside Leinster House, seat of the
The Irish SPCA followed up in 2001 with
an investigative report detailing cruel treatment
of greyhounds exported to Spain.
As the Irish greyhound export issue gained global
attention, the aid increased– some of it coming
directly from the industry.
“During 2004 we hugely expanded our
greyhound rescue,” daughter Gina Hetherington
explained in a recent PAWS newsletter. “The
Irish Greyhound Board has committed to pay
kenneling fees and neutering costs for registered
greyhounds in our care.”
Most of the PAWS greyhounds are boarded
with a racing trainer whose large commercial
kennel and cattery stands on the same road, a
mile beyond Sallins Castle.
The PAWS greyhound rescue program thereby
helps indirectly to keep at least one trainer in
business, while helping the Irish government to
pretend that the usual fate of ex-racing dogs is
But PAWS is scarcely the only Irish
animal welfare charity to receive government and
industry subsidies for finding homes for
ex-racing greyhounds. The funding, a fraction
of the $69 million euros spent to subsidize
racing in 2004, is reputedly liberally
distributed among animal rescue societies.
Neither is PAWS the only Irish animal
welfare charity to board dogs with greyhound
trainers. No one has been more outspokenly
critical of the greyhound industry over the years
than American/European Greyhound Association and
Limerick Animal Welfare cofounder Marion
FitzGibbon, for example. FitzGibbon is also a
board member of the Avalon Greyhound Sanctuary.
Her former tenure as Irish SPCA board president
coincided with the most aggressive phase of ISPCA
Yet among the boarders housing dogs for
FitzGibbon is prominent racing trainer and
transporter Donal Croke.
“Croke has just built new kennels and has
big paddocks for the dogs to run in,” FitzGibbon
told supporters. “He has good connections in
England, and will try to find homes for
greyhounds in the south of England, as well as
promoting them in the southeast of Ireland.”
FitzGibbon and virtually every other
Irish animal advocate whom ANIMAL PEOPLE
interviewed readily agreed that greyhound racing
is among the most urgent animal welfare issues in
Ireland–but most also asserted that the racing
industry is much too strong to confront directly,
and that working with it is inevitable.
Ironically, FitzGibbon and others
quickly acknowledge the longtime support of
Greyhound Friends founder Louise Coleman.
Outspokenly critical of both greyhound racing and
U.S. organizations that accept aid from the
industry, allegedly at the price of silence,
Coleman began Greyhound Friends in 1983 precisely
because, as she put it, she refused to be
Major U.S. promoters were then still
building new greyhound tracks. Now tracks close
every year, not to be replaced, and most of the
survivors augment live racing with telecasts,
slot machines, and poker tables.
The Irish greyhound industry is also
declining–but about a generation more slowly.
As of 1994, according to the Irish
Greyhound Studbook, Ireland bred 25,000
greyhounds per year. About 11,000 grey hounds
per year were retired from racing, of whom about
4,000 were killed, according to the Irish SPCA.
Approximately 10,000 greyhounds were exported,
chiefly to race and hunt in Spain. Most of the
dogs sold to Spain were believed by greyhound
advocates to have been killed at the end of the
hunting or racing season, to be replaced with
more dogs from Ireland the next year.
By 2003, only 20,000 greyhounds were
whelped in Ireland, according to a report called
Grey-hound Hell, jointly published by the Irish
SPCA and the Royal SPCA of Great Britain. As the
export market had dwindled, following a collapse
of greyhound racing at Spanish tourist venues,
the Irish SPCA believed that about 14,000 Irish
greyhounds were killed as surplus in 2003, more
than triple the volume of killing when exports
13,278 greyhounds were registered during
the first half of 2005, according to FitzGibbon.
Since breeding and registry mostly come early in
the year, the 2005 total may represent another
drop in greyhound whelping.
Yet the complete context shows little to
celebrate. The three most recently published
annual totals of dogs killed in Irish shelters
were 24,000, 20,000, and 18,000. The numbers
are dropping due to the success of pet
sterilization programs such as SpayWeek Ireland.
If the greyhound toll is included in the
shelter toll, as the reporting leaves unclear,
greyhounds accounted for 13% of Irish shelter dog
killing in 1993, 58% in 2003, and 78% in fiscal
2005. If the greyhound toll is separate,
greyhounds accounted for 11% in 1993, 37% in
2003, and 44% in fiscal 2005. Either way,
ex-racing greyhounds are the largest single
source of homeless dogs killed in Ireland.
Greyhound racing thrived even when
Ireland was poor. Now that Ireland has the
fastest growing economy in Europe, the Irish
government sees dog racing as perhaps the easiest
way to raise taxes in a nation whose historical
antagonism toward tax collectors is why Sallins
Castle was built.
“A major difference be-tween greyhound
racing here and there,” Coleman told ANIMAL
PEOPLE, “is that in Ireland the Bord na
gCon–the Irish equivalent of the National
Greyhound Associ-ation–is almost an official
government agency. Many aspects of the greyhound
industry receive special privileges. So the
industry seems to be more monolithic than here.
“I began going to Ireland on a regular
basis in 1978,” Coleman added. “I have Irish
grandparents and used to go over to visit family,
hear music, and have a good time. After my
greyhound work began in 1983, I realized that
the glut of extraneous greyhounds in the U.S. had
a corollary in Ireland. Many of the dogs raced
here are from Ireland or are bred from Irish dogs.
“In 1994 I heard that the World Greyhound
Racing Feder-ation was meeting in Dublin. I
decided to see what was happening,” Coleman
recalled. “I was not an official registrant but
sat in on many presentations. I became worried
about plans to send greyhounds to race in
countries where there is little or no animal
protection, including in the Far East, Spain,
and Morocco. Even with marginal welfare
provisions, those dogs’ fate was obviously grim.
And in some ways things have not gottten better.
“In Ireland,” Coleman said, “one major
change is that there are now shelters that take
greyhounds. When I started work with FitzGibbon
in 1994, almost no Irish greyhounds were
rescued. Now there is <www.IrishAnimals.com>,
and some grey hounds get exposure.”
Coleman noted that in Ireland, by law,
racing greyhounds must be muzzled if outside
their kennels, lest they attack other small
animals after being trained to race by chasing
“In Ireland, greyhounds are used for
coursing, as well as racing,” Coleman pointed
out. “Coursing is a spectator sport, even
sometimes televised, in which greyhounds tear a
live rabbit to shreds. From this, people have
the mistaken idea that greyhounds are dangerous,”
even though no greyhound has ever been listed on
the ANIMAL PEOPLE log of life-threatening and
fatal dog attacks, kept since 1982. The log
includes more than 2,000 attacks by dogs of 83
different breeds and combinations, including
more than 1,000 attacks by pit bull terriers and
nearly 400 by Rottweilers.
Coleman sees convincing the Irish public
that greyhounds are not inherently dangerous as
the first step toward turning public opinion
against the cruelties of greyhound racing and
training–and coursing, the longtime primary
target of the Irish League Against Cruel Sports.
“For the past seven years I have set up a
greyhound welfare/ adoption booth at the Dublin
Horse Show,” Coleman said. “Initially, people
would look at our booth as if we were crazy to
offer greyhounds as companions. Gradually more
and more people have stopped to say that they
have taken in a stray greyhound, or lurcher, or
have adopted one from a pound. People believe
what they see,” Coleman emphasized. “If there
were not legions of adopted greyhounds out and
around in the U.S., the greyhound welfare effort
would be stunted.”
Coleman agreed that takng industry
funding seems to make Irish greyhound advocates
“more hesitant to lobby against racing,” but
noted that even in the U.S., “Different groups
have different work. The Greyhound Protection
League is the most outspoken. Adoption groups
like Greyhound Friends,” as frank as Coleman
herself is, “have to be more circumspect. If we
are seen as anti-racing, the tracks will not
give us dogs.”
The leading dog welfare organization in
Britain, already helping dogs in Ireland too,
and planning to add an Irish affiliate, is Dogs
“I chair the U.K. Greyhound Forum and the
International Greyhound Forum. Deirdre
Hetherington sits on the latter,” Dogs Trust
chief executive Clarissa Baldwin told ANIMAL
PEOPLE. “I agree it is a difficult line to walk
when you accept money and then need to cajole the
same people to change their ways. Dogs Trust does
not accept money from the industry,” Bald-win
stipulated. “I do, however, believe in working
from within, and have spent much time with the
industry bosses. Deirdre is not backward when
she talks to the industry,” Baldwin avered,
“and weighs in heavily when she thinks they are
not doing what has been promised.
“Her kennels are by no means perfect,”
Baldwin continued, “but I think she does her
best, and she does save a lot of dogs’ lives.
She turned her home over to the dogs and is very
short of cash. We help her out with neutering
vouchers when we can.
“There is a lot of work to be done in
Ireland,” Baldwin emphasized, “but there are
moves afoot to do it. New greyhound breeding
and transport laws are under discussion. Our
frustration is with the length of time it takes!
Ireland is a very rich country now, and Irish
care of animals has to be improved in line with