Like many others we were horrified and appalled by last night’s Four Corners, “Making a Killing”, investigation into live baiting in the Australian greyhound racing industry. We were not, however, surprised at the revelations that piglets, possums and rabbits are regularly used to ‘blood’ dogs in an attempt to extract from them their best athletic performance.
From the little academic research into greyhound racing violence that exists, there is evidence of endemic violence with a long history, not idiosyncratic or individual acts. Atkinson and Young outline four types of violence they found to be an integral part of the US greyhound racing industry:
- breeding violence, e.g. killing or abandoning puppies that are deemed unsuitable for racing
- training violence, e.g. pain and injury associated with ‘overuse’; use of performance enhancing drugs,
- housing violence, e.g. the ‘stacking’ housing approach akin to battery hens
- disposal violence, e.g. killing and dumping dogs at the end of their racing careers.
At the heart of this industry then are three connected issues: the need to ‘make a (financial) killing’ in the industry; the objectification of the working dogs used in racing; and the cruelty of using live ‘bait’ animals to entice the dogs to run faster. As Bob Torres in ‘Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights’ explains “animals become nothing more than living machines, transformed from beings who live for themselves into beings that live for capital”. The importance of making a profit was clearly visible in Four Corners, “Making a Killing”, that aired last night, as multiple trainers and greyhound “racing royalty” were implicated in the use of live bait, seen discussing the profits from their own betting activities, the economic cost of using live bait for training purposes, and the disposing of dogs whose running times do not meet human expectations.
Violence and abject exploitation within the greyhound racing industry does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, it is an extension of the way we see “Others” – marginalized, disempowered and disenfranchised groups in society, whether they be animal or human. Non human animals are compelling examples of how sentient life can be commodified. They become constituted as things or objects to be used for our purposes. These practices occur throughout society – in the media, education, eating habits etc – and start in early childhood, reflecting a long intellectual tradition in the west of assuming human superiority in intellect, morality and culture.
When the violence in the racing industry was exposed, through the Four Corners documentary, a sense of collective shock and outrage was expressed with calls for immediate change demanded (see, e.g. one MP’s calls for the suspension of the industry). What we often fail to see, though, is how far the web of abuse extends beyond the racing industry and every other industry that relies on dominating animals for profit.
We know, for example, that animal abuse, domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse are linked. We know that kids exposed to both domestic violence and animal abuse have higher propensities for violence and ‘anti social behaviour’ as adults (see, here for overview). And we also know that the common denominators in all of this are the objectification and exploitation of those considered inferior. Last night’s program demonstrated the abhorrent consequences of this – to the piglets, possums and rabbits used as live bait, but also hinted at it for the dogs too with the acceptance of the routine killing and disposal of ex racing canines.
It is against this backdrop that we object to the recent Sportsbet parody of 50 Shades of Grey(hound). Had it not come from the racing industry, whose ethics are more than questionable in so many of life’s domains (encouraging gambling, mistreating animals, fostering domination, particularly machismo styles of domination) we might have been able to see the potential humour and playfulness of the parody. We might have been able to see the ridiculousness of a greyhound dressed so and laugh it off. But when viewed in light of the industry’s cruelty there is no latitude to see the funny side. The sexual politics of meat are all too clear with both woman and greyhound ridiculed and objectified for prized male punters.
Authors: Nik Taylor and Heather Fraser