Final battle to save Macau’s exploited racing greyhounds

International animal rights groups mount combined effort to try to find new homes for some 650 dogs, with the Macau Canidrome Club set to be shut down in July next year

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 July, 2017, 9:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 July, 2017, 12:02pm

Animal rights groups are fighting a final battle to rescue 650 greyhounds in Macau and find them new homes after the city’s controversial racing track closes down in July 2018.

An international campaign, involving Macau animal welfare charity Anima and two other animal rights groups in America and Italy, GREY2K USA Worldwide and Pet Ievrieri, was launched this week calling for the adoption of the dogs, which are currently used for profit.

“Our fear is that if we are not able to rescue them, these animals might be sent to [mainland] China, where there are private races, or Vietnam to run in unregulated race tracks,” Albano Martins, president of Anima, said. “Surely they would be used to feed illegal gambling.”

The Macau Canidrome Club, also known as Yat Yuen, has lawmaker Angela Leong On-Kei, gambling mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun’s fourth wife, as one of its directors. It has faced strong criticism from the international community in past years for being accused of killing hundreds of dogs that failed to perform.

Following growing public pressure to end the races and make better use of the space in the former Portuguese enclave, the local government announced that the club’s license would not be renewed beyond July 2018.

Anima is still requesting the club’s management to allow them to take care of the dogs once the races are over. “We are trying to be ahead of the game. Because it is a big number of animals, once we get the green light we need to be ready to provide them with a home,” he said.

Martins said that several international organisations and individuals already showed interest in adopting 254 greyhounds – mostly in the UK, Italy, France, Portugal and Canada. Seven residents of Hong Kong are also enrolled in the adoption programme.

Kathleen Trainor, 55, an American businesswoman based in Hong Kong for 22 years, was one of the first people to show interest in sheltering one of the dogs. A proud owner of a nine-year-old greyhound – and previously three others – Trainor contacted Anima after she heard the news that Macau’s dog racing venue was going to shut down.

“It would be a shame not to save as many as possible, they are just great pets,” she said. “They are so sweet and calm. Great with kids. They really suit the Hong Kong lifestyle,” Trainor described.

“Once they retire, they actually don’t need a lot of exercise ... They are couch potatoes, they love being with people in the house ... and they don’t bark,” Trainor said. “Also, they are easy to take care of. You don’t need to take them to grooming ,” she noted.

Martins said that the greyhounds will only be sent to countries and regions where there are animal protection laws in place.

Before that batch of dogs is eventually released, two injured greyhounds from the Canidrome, which were at first received by the government’s shelter and are with Anima since July 14, will be sent to the UK and France in September to be adopted by two leaders of animal groups.

On the top of finding homes for the surviving dogs, Martins said that Anima was studying different solutions to reduce the transportation costs from Macau to other destinations.

According to Martins, there are currently about 650 greyhounds in the Canidrome, 50 of them who are “inactive”, meaning that they no longer race due to injuries or underperformance.

The club organises 12 races a day – three days a week. Six dogs compete in each one.

Anima’s president estimated that some 70 dogs died or were killed last year due to injuries, diseases or underperformance.

An animal protection law was approved in Macau in July 2016 and enacted in September, which led to a reduction of number of races and greater monitoring over the situation at the race track. Killing dogs for underperformance was also made illegal.

A South China Morning Post investigation in 2011 revealed that in 2010 alone the Canidrome killed 383 underperforming dogs.

The club, located in one of the most densely populated areas of Macau but with few people in the audience, opened its doors in 1963 .

Although facing declining revenues, it made 4.8 million patacas in annual profits in 2015.

The Canidrome has not responded to the Sunday Morning Post’s queries.