December 2023 – January 2024


Dog day afternoon

By Katherine Wilson
Photo of Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell outside Parlament House with rescued greyhound Graham

Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell and Graham. Photograph by Kelly Dinham

Animal welfare concerns have long plagued the greyhound racing industry, but in Victoria a campaign from covert investigators now has a parliamentarian leading the fight

On the first day of August, when an athlete named Graham limped past Victoria’s Parliament House security, he was officially listed as “Speedy Garry”. Born into a culture in which lives are commonly spent locked in cages and yoked to treadmills, Graham bore telltale wounds. That morning, medical reports confirmed his traumas, including anxiety, broken bones and untreated head injuries.

On Graham’s schedule was a meeting with Anthony Carbines, Victoria’s minister for racing. A guest of Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell, Graham was “Australia’s first trafficked greyhound to meet with the minister”, Purcell tells me.

After his meeting, Graham settled on Purcell’s sofa, resting his head on the lap of his 27-year-old adoptive companion Indy Wolf, who stroked his shoulder. As lithe and dark-haired as she, Graham bears no resemblance to his former trainer – a solid, ruddy, balding, moustachioed man named Billy Galea. These contrasts of human and canine features would become salient in Graham’s political career. 

A handful of sociology studies find greyhound trainers (who are often also owners and breeders) are predominantly white, male and ageing. Other studies find animal welfare advocates are mostly young and female. In the few Global-North countries where dog racing remains legal, black greyhounds such as Graham are statistically harder to rehome than lighter-coloured greyhounds, possibly because dog–owner resemblance isn’t mere folklore. It’s a thing, if you believe behavioural scientists. Recent studies find most of us tend to favour mini-me pets that seem familial, in looks or temperament. 

Who knew? At the track where Graham fell, in Healesville in Victoria’s Yarra Ranges, trainers tend to be as stout, white-haired and lumbering as their dogs are thin, dark and swift. A retired track veterinarian offers me a theory. “Greyhounds have gentle, loving and lazy temperaments,” he tells me, “but in racing, the resemblance theory gets inverted ’cos the dogs aren’t home-loved pets. They’re kennel-kept commodities.”

Punters with a spare 20 grand can syndicate shares in Cash on Delivery (whelped 2020), Smart Cash (whelped 2020) and Lucky Fernando (whelped 2019). Or bet on Equity Share, Life For Rent or Millions For Us. Or invest in frozen dog semen, a poorly regulated but tradeable commodity. At $12,000 per vial (or “straw”, in the jargon), Fernando Bale’s semen is a champion favourite. Declared “Australia’s number one stud dog”, with offspring earnings claimed to total $135 million, Fernando Bale has sired thousands of puppies.

Most racing greyhounds are born this way, in breeding farms to artificially inseminated bitches (“brood matrons” or “dams”) who commonly undergo impregnation surgery – illegal overseas – involving extraction and reinsertion of their uterus. Wagga Wagga vet Sarah Pollard-Williams describes this as “painful” and “risky”, making Australia’s standard of animal welfare “disastrously and embarrassingly low”. 

“I don’t think every person involved is intentionally cruel,” says Joanne Lee, spokesperson for the Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds, who meets me at Healesville’s track. “But ultimately these dogs are seen as money-making machines.”

CPG’s goal is to end greyhound racing, but meanwhile it works to limit dogs’ suffering. Its network of 75 workers calibrate data and analyse race stewards’ reports of injuries and deaths. Across Australia, this unpaid labour force comprises “drastically more women” than men, Lee says. “This is the case in animal rights advocacy overall, including investigators and those who operate rescues and sanctuaries. The overwhelming majority are women.” Research shows that more women, too, are rehoming-adopters.

We’re joined by three other women who work in both licit professions and covert investigation. The Healesville track car park is packed with dog vans but only a few cars. For all our clandestine plans, our group is conspicuously the only live audience to witness a Sunday of 12 races. This remains the case when I return on Fridays. All other humans are staff: race stewards, the caller, the TV camera operator, maintenance staff and the trainers who solemnise each race with an arcane ritual for the TV camera.

The ritual is heralded with a tractor grading the track, followed by a parade of eight graceless men, each leading a skinny muzzled dog from “kennelling” to start boxes. The lure goes off, the gates open, the chase is quickly over and the “catchers” ensure there’s no canine scramble at the end. The procedure then repeats, with the occasional woman in the pageantry. Despite the caller’s effusiveness, despite the radiant winter sun, there’s no festivity, only an eerie banality. 

The Healesville track is “famed for its family-friendly picnic atmosphere”, according to Greyhound Racing Victoria’s website. CPG analysts say race attendance numbers are inflated by an industry spruiking its “social contribution”. But live audience numbers are of little consequence at the doggies, which thrive by producing content for the TAB. In the two remaining American states that permit dog racing, the business model “is hopeless in that it relies on people going to the track”, explains trainer Robert Britton in Australian Racing Greyhound, whereas, in Australia, “[w]e bet on our phones and on the TV”. (Britton is a Fernando Bale progeny mogul, from one of Australia’s wealthiest greyhound racing families.) The only threats to the industry are policy reforms – and a largely underground force of women (“do-gooders” or “antis” in the industry jargon) performing covert investigations. In Australia and internationally, through animal welfare bodies, they leak their findings anonymously to the media.

As we speak at Healesville, the women note dogs suffering bald flanks (“kennel coat”) and limps. Some seem in good condition; some look miserable. These dogs aren’t protected under laws governing pets – their welfare is instead regulated under livestock laws and racing codes, meaning trainers can keep them isolated in cages for 23 hours daily, and practices such as masturbating dogs (banned at tracks but permitted at farms) are deemed “husbandry” rather than “bestiality”. 

Even in an industry mired in doping and race-fixing scandals, it seems senseless to run poor-condition dogs, but a trainer-turned-whistleblower will later explain how merely entering a race can be lucrative. Still, dogs with “ungenerous racing style” or “poor racing manners” – veering too close to the rail or blocking another dog (“checking”) – are penalised. In Race 11, sponsored by the Croydon Homing Pigeon Club (itself sponsored by Healesville Greyhound Racing Club), Full On Aileen suffered multiple injuries. She was then “charged with failing to pursue the lure with due commitment (by reasons of injury)”. 

During some races “bones just get shattered, snapped”, track vet Greg Bryant explains in Vet Practice magazine. “You’ll see dogs that have just got a leg dangling by a bit of skin, because the broken bones have severed the nerves and the arteries. You get these catastrophic injuries …” Some industry estimates put injuries at 21 per cent of dogs raced. Racing bodies say numbers are going down; welfare advocates say the industry is getting craftier at hiding them. In Vet Practice, Bryant says he asked a steward why euthanasia at tracks wasn’t always recorded. The steward replied that the industry “didn’t want to stir up the greenies or give the greenies anything to complain about”.

Trainers who avoid surgery expenses by killing injured dogs can also be penalised, but Joanne Lee tells me acts that “would usually be considered criminal animal cruelty are dealt with internally by the industry”. She proffers the case of trainer Ian Anderson, whose dogs raced at Healesville. After their times waned, four of the animals vanished from records. Dobbed in for bludgeoning them to death, Anderson was reportedly disqualified, but he faced no criminal charges. When trainers are disqualified, transferring dog registrations into family members’ names is against industry code but “standard practice and it is widespread”, an industry worker told BuzzFeed

In its 12-year study, a 2016 New South Wales inquiry reported up to 70 per cent of young healthy greyhounds were killed annually. It found that dogs not up to champion standard (“wastage”) are “dispensable commercial commodities” and that in NSW between 48,891 and 68,448 dogs have been killed because they were “considered too slow … or were unsuitable for racing”. There’s no cap on breeding, and mass graves around Australia have been found after investigator tip-offs: 55 greyhound carcasses were found in bushland outside Bundaberg in 2015; 99 “underperforming” greyhounds were buried at a Hunter Valley property that same year. 

In the weeks before Georgie Purcell ushered Graham into Parliament House, news outlets broadcast footage of the Adelaide property of Tony Rasmussen, described on online betting site Racenet as “South Australia’s premier trainer”, though he was found guilty in 2017 of sexually abusing a greyhound. The footage showed “multiple greyhounds, including puppies” being assaulted. In weeks following, reports showed drone footage, leaked via Animal Liberation Tasmania, of neglected animals at a Tasmanian farm belonging to Anthony Bullock, Graham’s first trainer. Bullock – “the state’s premier greyhound trainer”, who owns or trains “over a third of racing greyhounds in Tasmania” – had pleaded guilty to drugging dogs and is alleged to have brutalised them. (Later, in October, he was banned for life for live-baiting after a pademelon tail was found attached to his training lure.) In Queensland, trainer Jason Haim was reported as keeping 26 greyhounds and puppies in inhumane conditions, and was disqualified for 15 months. 

By late August, when Minister Carbines presented medals at Victorian greyhound racing’s “night of nights” at Melbourne’s Sofitel Ballroom, where retired champion Fernando Bale attended draped in regalia, Purcell’s office was briefing the ABC on documents revealing “retired” dogs being sold and trafficked to China. There, investigators had released footage showing live greyhounds being tossed, screaming, into cauldrons of boiling water (adrenaline is thought to make their meat tastier). The industry felt besieged. “It’s clearly a political attack right across the whole country,” wrote champion trainer Jason Newman on Facebook. Speaking to media outside parliament, Purcell described the industry as a “dog-killing machine”. 

As scandals amassed, the industry deployed counternarratives. A reporter in The Greyhound Recorder warned: “recent anti-racing activists … will never relent and their lies must be dealt with … activists are again using drones and illegally entering properties to install covert (and illegal) closed circuit cameras”. On social media, supporters were generating positive videos: in one, a greyhound watching a televised race becomes excited, ostensibly supporting the oft-repeated claim that greyhounds “love racing”. (This is likely true, the former track vet tells me. To animals kept in cages away from sunshine, or yoked to training treadmills, the unleashing on the track may well feel like relative freedom.)

But the do-gooders are maintaining their lead in the public-relations war. As one Greyhound Recorder article puts it: “99 per cent of the general public don’t give a ‘rats’ about greyhound racing but everyone cares about animal welfare and that’s where greyhound administration has dropped the ball”. In September, a pack of greyhounds and their rescuers gathered at Parliament House in Canberra, led by Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi, outspoken in her calls to shut down racing industries. In October, New Zealand’s Labour and National parties both pledged in their election-eve televised debate to ban greyhound racing. By November, Graham was billboarded on highways around Melbourne. Prominent Queensland trainer Clint Kratzmann warned: “we have got 10 years left at most”. Trainer Robert Britton said the industry must “fight back, it’s no good taking a knife to a gunfight”. Welfare advocates, he said, “want us all to become vegans”.

In repeated polling, most surveyed voters want greyhound racing banned and public funding of it stopped, but Australia maintains by far the world’s largest industry. Taxpayers fund it to the tune of billions, building and upgrading racetracks, financing clubs and funding the downstream costs of gambling.

There’s been no shortage of scandal since 2015, when ABC’s Four Corners broadcast investigator footage that almost felled the industry. Extracts from thousands of hours of covert video showed grotesque cruelty by champion trainers and senior figures, including Victoria’s former racing integrity head, filmed casually stretching and binding a succession of small screaming animals – piglets, baby possums and rabbits – over lures and flying them around a training track until they died of exhaustion or were mauled to death. Following state inquiries, these trainers were deregistered or suspended. 

These were almost all silver-haired white male property-owners; the covert investigators exposing them were mostly young women. Investigator Amber Schmidt (not her real name) says she has suffered threats, doxxing, lawsuits and trauma following the depravity she exposed. “I’m still paying off counselling,” she tells me. “This work smashes your spirit.” Investigator Siena Ariel, from the Farm Transparency Project, says: “There’s a certain guilt that comes from desensitisation. When you’re exposed to animal suffering … you begin to feel less.”

A more public power asymmetry emerged in 2017, when then NSW premier Mike Baird outlawed the industry, whose practices he described as “chilling, confronting, horrific”. He then famously re-legalised it after the industry marshalled Coalition, Labor and shock-jock allies. Alan Jones reportedly took credit for the state government’s backflip after hosting the premier for dinner. “I told him what I thought,” Jones said. “You can overplay this animal welfare thing. At the end of the day, there are people here who are being driven to penury and to suicide, and when I explained that to him he understood.” 

The industry sponsored favourable stories in regional papers and mobilised columnists at News Corp, owner of gambling site In The Australian, Hedley Thomas, who has a self-declared share in a greyhound, downplayed the case for a ban. The Daily Telegraph’s Miranda Devine wrote that the ban: “is driven by the sensibilities of vegan GetUp! activists, with nose piercings and psychological hangups, who loathe the culture that greyhounds represent – of male battlers in regional Australia hanging onto their dignity, whose main social interaction is a night at the doggies”.

Purcell says “male battlers” are strawmen, among other nostalgic canards. Wealthy punters own hundreds of dogs but “for most, racing isn’t their livelihood – it’s just a side-hustle”. In racing’s Depression-era heyday, crowds in the tens of thousands enjoyed race nights with hundreds of bookmakers attending. A friend recalls Western Australia’s Cannington track, as late as the 1980s: “It was an exciting night out. My family weren’t gamblers, but there was a bar with a disco ball – it was a teenage alternative to rollerskating.” Billed as family events, many country race meetings are now as socially empty as Healesville’s, says Lee. 

One counter-offensive to the well-organised force of women hell-bent on taking down the industry is the Companions and Pets Party, registered in 2022 to “support your rights to own an animal and pursue your chosen activity with that animal”. Its founders are Robert Britton (“a very articulate person”), dog-show judge Craig Reid, and dog breeder John Hutchinson. The party aims “to push back against groups like the Animal Justice Party”, Hutchison told The Weekly Times, and to protect livestock owners “from protestors invading their farms”. But there’s nary a greyhound on its website, which is furnished with clip-art animals including a mouse, a turtle, a lizard, a frog, a guinea pig, a budgie and a goldfish. Looking regal on the directors page, Hutchinson cautions against “the threat to our continued ownership and enjoyment of our companion animals by those so called ‘animal rights advocates’… these anti’s do not want you to own a pet”. 

Perhaps as a riposte, the Animal Justice Party website lists Georgie Purcell’s pets: “17 sheep, donkey, 3 horses, 4 ex-puppy farm dogs and 4 cats”. Her limbs are festooned in ink, but for Purcell, the struggle is more sinister than slurs about piercings and pet-naysayers. Before I visit Parliament House to meet Graham, Purcell’s chief of staff Aimee Weir sends me a series of racist and sexist social media comments posted by people in the industry, about which her office had received complaints. These were posted by ordinary trainers, not the champion multimillionaires. Their accounts relay QAnon and patriot themes, a mistrust of mainstream media but a commitment to Sky News, and an admiration for now-independent NSW MP Mark Latham, who likened his state’s Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission to “some kind of Stasi organisation”. 

Weir also forwards an email exchange between Purcell and Shane O’Connell, who heads Greyhound Racing Victoria’s Integrity Unit. First, Purcell alerts O’Connell to a Facebook post by trainer and breeder Daniel Welsh, depicting Welsh and another person striking Nazi salutes. His saluting-selfie is captioned: “Hitler, or hit-her”. Welsh had posted the photo to a punters’ Facebook group page bearing a logo of a prosthetic leg. The logo’s significance would be familiar to those who’ve followed news of Australian war criminal Ben Roberts-Smith. A notorious photograph shows him with fellow soldiers binge-drinking from a prosthetic leg reportedly trophied from the corpse of an Afghan man he had murdered. In the Facebook group, another punter replies to Welsh’s Nazi salute with a picture of Hitler and Mussolini saluting the Leibstandarte SS unit.

Purcell writes to O’Connell: “… the symbolism has been banned by the Government, who announced in March they are also committed to banning this salute”. In response, O’Connell, once a senior police investigator, asks Purcell to provide him with “the relevant legislation”. Purcell (herself a lawyer) obliges, then O’Connell argues against her definition of a Nazi symbol according to law. Purcell is sitting in chambers that day, so Weir responds on her behalf: “…we assumed it would be concerning that there are GRV participants behaving in this manner … demonstrating antisemitism and trivialising violence against women”. O’Connell replies that his emails were misunderstood – his intention is to clarify whether a breach of the law occurred, and to advise that the integrity unit will investigate.

In Australia, links between greyhound racing and bikie gangs are widely reported; in the United Kingdom, the culture is reportedly rife with white supremacists, and activists here claim Australia’s punditry is linked with this scene. So, on Facebook Messenger I asked Welsh about the intent behind his Nazi salutes, his caption and the group’s prosthetic leg emblem. He promptly blocked me and removed his page from public view. 

Anti-Semitic posturing can be born of mere ignorance and bravado, themselves often products of social alienation. But for women like me who have Holocaust-surviving mothers, Welsh’s posts feel violent. And while O’Connell’s emails are composed in the language of bureaucratic neutrality, to me they feel like a hostile flex of entitlement. When the Healesville form guide lists Burn The Witch running in Race 2, it doesn’t feel neutral to me. Nor do Serial Stalker, All Tied Up, Victim Of Desire, Daddy’s Girl, Tears And Tanty, Extreme Rage, Bend The Rules, Corrupted, Emotional Damage, Blown Injected, Got That Boody, Pillow Torque, Lady Slam, Baby Bad Girl and Ten Dollar Slaps. Registering racing dogs in sadistic and coprophilic porn slang is one of the industry’s open secrets, say whistleblowers. Officially registered greyhound names at state-sponsored family race meetings include Tweak Freak, Filthy Phantom, Potato Peeler, Boof Buzz, Liquor License, Break And Enter and Rim Rattler (you can reap their pornographic and sadistic alt-meanings from Urban Dictionary). At the time of writing, trainer Anthony Andrews applied – unsuccessfully – to register Peta File, Pillow Biter, Shirt Lifter, Scat Play and Brownie Queen.

For decades, philosophers predicted racing animals would go the way of other animal entertainments: circus elephants, cockfights, caged zoo tigers and hound-hunting (still legal in Victoria and New South Wales). Many sociological studies draw links between racism, misogyny, violence and animal cruelty. (At Purcell’s behest, Victoria recently included animal abuse in the Prevention of Family Violence Act, in line with New South Wales.) In Animal Liberation (1975), Peter Singer equated speciesism – humans’ assumptions of superiority over other animals – with sexism and racism. A 2020 Journal of Intercultural Studies paper, too, described how “animals continue to be foundational to cultures of nationalism and racial demarcation”. Feminist theories of “kyriarchy” explain why animal athletes continue to be oppressed under laws of “ownership”, “chattels”, “livestock” and “husbandry”. In Decolonising Animals (2023), edited by Curtin University adjunct fellow Rick De Vos, researchers theorise an enduring “possession and domination” mindset that curtails non-human animals’ freedoms and denies them subjectivity and personhood.

In their book Deviance and Social Control in Sport (2008), sociologists Michael Atkinson and Kevin Young write that greyhound racing is characterised by “breeding violence; training violence; housing violence; and disposal violence”. The researchers omit gender and racial violence, but they find “violence, victimization, and crime are embedded in greyhound racing,” not through “a few bad apples but rather through extended and complex chains of social interaction involving … several levels of activity [that] reject the notion that animal athletes have social rights”. 

It’s an ideological clash. The Companions and Pets Party opposes the “removal of ‘the property status of animals’”. Inversely, the Animal Justice Party wants “to reframe companion animals as individuals rather than as commodities”.

By late August, among the trainers slipping into Purcell’s Instagram DMs was Scott Jackson (@thirstygooner). “I want you to publicly deny being a stripper or a pole dancer,” he wrote. “And you have the audacity to lecture the greyhound industry on morals bahahaha.”

When girls and young women are employed as race stewards to perform track regulation and kennel inspections, they’re curbed by a toxic trainer culture, says former trainer Anne Pettigrew (not her real name). In recent assaults: a Gippsland trainer fired a gun at stewards during a kennel inspection; at Bathurst, a trainer assaulted a steward after she banned his injured dog from racing; in Perth, a trainer smashed a glass window during a steward disagreement; at Bendigo, a trainer hurled two dogs and punched a steward. As I write, trainer Garry Hartley has been suspended for “rubbing his penis” on a steward’s buttocks (he reportedly blamed his greyhound, saying it “has a tendency to gravitate towards a person’s groin area”). When a vet reportedly “ruled out a dog with a cut four inches long on its hind leg”, its trainer threatened to kill the vet. At the time of Graham’s visit to Parliament House, the ABC was reporting trainers threatening to shoot their dogs if animal shelters refused them. In October, Tasmanian industry whistleblower Kiera Salerno told 7News she was sacked for speaking out about poor animal welfare. That same month, veterinary student Kirstie Bear told the ABC that staff at South Australia’s greyhound adoption program, which receives abused greyhounds, faced: “a lot of abuse from trainers making comments like, ‘Gone are the good old days when we could just put a bullet in the dog’s head’”.

This year and last, reviews into the Victorian industry reported that “numerous victim survivors” described “inaction of racing authorities in response to their complaints of sexual and physical abuse” and “cover-ups and complaints being swept under the carpet”. For some, “the threat of retribution is palpable” with “a culture of silence … those who have raised complaints have been the subject of overt retaliation. A number hold the perception that perpetrators of abuse have been protected.”

The review reported children as young as 12 among the victims. The Coalition for the Protection of Greyhounds documents “targeting of children by the greyhound industry as they seek to replenish the ranks of aging industry participants”. Twelve-year-old children are employed as race attendants in New South Wales; younger children frequently act as race “catchers” or banner-bearers, and women and children dominate the industry’s PR imagery. Young trainers are frequently publicised in industry media: one argues the case for “prong collars”; another, a teenager, is advertised winning prizes with Fernando Bale’s offspring; others feature on a podcast called The Greyhound Girl

The Greyhound Girl is hosted by Dimity Maher, from a family of NSW race identities. On her socials, Maher cheerleads the industry with evangelical zeal. At a stadium wearing a Calvin Klein playsuit, she encourages young people into “the breeding barn [and] the process from when you first buy a pup, right on when they hit the racetrack and hopefully win you a big race”. To “youngsters” confronting naysayers, her advice is: “Just block them … if it’s just them carrying on with their nonsense … just block them and don’t even justify them with a response.” On TikTok, she captions a “Why I love greyhound racing” selfie with: “Lots of cuddles, Make Lifelong Friends, Prizemoney, Sense of Accomplishment, Priceless Photos, Celebrating with friends and family.” Through Messenger and by email, I invited Maher to share her insider perspective, but she didn’t respond. “There’s a lot of mainstream media out there that quickly like to jump on us,” she says in one podcast episode. “I’m constantly clicking the block button.”

Maher also assures listeners of the surge in prize money since Mike Baird’s government backflipped on its racing ban: “We’ve got support and, you know, we’re not fighting the authorities, the government as well … it feels like they’re always throwing funding at us.”

Two more covert investigators text me on Signal on condition that I delete our threads, lest I be subpoenaed to reveal them. (Several laws prohibit “do-gooders”.) A third sends bodycam footage – a rescue from the home of one of the trainers who had made racist, sexist Facebook posts. He also keeps homing pigeons. An elderly man, he appears sweet and vulnerable; his voice is gentle. Shuffling in tired tracksuit pants, he looks like he tried his luck on the promise of big wins at the “city” tracks (there’s a hierarchy). He lives in an unkempt exurban property, where he keeps greyhounds with mottled tails, bald flanks and protruding ribs. Their kennels look dank and dark, with concrete floors and decrepit cages. In a feat of cognitive dissonance, says the investigator, he keeps a couple of well-fed dogs inside as pets.

Another investigator suggests I meet her outside her local TAB in the city. There, two men’s faces illuminate as they cup their hands to light smokes. The investigator – whose licit work is as a union lawyer – speaks with rapid-fire eloquence and uses the TAB as a didactic stage, gesturing at its TV screen. “You can’t in good conscience use the word ‘industry’,” she says. “An industry produces things of value.” She points to the smokers. “It’s not a sport – sport promotes health. It’s a state-sponsored cult.” Ignoring my questions about infrared spycams and drones, she instead tells me the RSPCA, while publicly against greyhound racing, lacks funds and powers to adequately investigate or prosecute cases. (It can’t prosecute using illegally obtained footage.) “They handball cases to the industry.” She says that the women opposing the industry end up funding surveillance, vets’ bills, shelters, fosters, media communications and the whole mess. That women are the ones toilet-training, socialising and rehabilitating traumatised dogs, which are often fearful of men. And that the women doing this unpaid labour are themselves traumatised, which is one reason they “relate” to animal suffering.

The woman tells me she won’t work with some rescue shelters because “the industry uses them to launder its crimes”. Some are supported by industry funds and so they won’t get involved in whistleblowing. (The industry has its own rehoming programs but “breeds more than four times as many dogs as it has the capacity to rehome”, Purcell later tells me.) She defines a cartel, raises her brows and, using air-quotes, says knowingly: “Look into the ‘Controlling Body’.” That would be GRV.

Likewise, ex-trainer Anne Pettigrew tells me the scene is “like a cult … You get these men who everyone knows are crooked but never get charged with anything.” She lists a dozen names of leading trainer-breeders. The former track vet labels these men “The Untouchables”. (The Monthly makes no suggestion that any trainer mentioned in this story is one of those named in this manner.) Pettigrew claims the trainers fly to the United States a few times a year to buy performance-enhancing drugs. “All of a sudden, when they come back, their dogs are performing again,” she says. “They joke about it in the kennels – you can’t have a champion dog if you’re racing honestly.

“Prior to Covid, certain trainers had all the best stayers, but over Covid the trainers couldn’t travel … a whole different array of trainers’ dogs started winning.”

When trainers do get charged with doping, their excuses are a running gag. To paraphrase successful defences in tribunal transcripts: “my wife fed the dogs poppyseed bread” (to explain morphine); “they slept on second-hand carpet” (a frequent defence for detection of amphetamines, along with “they ate contaminated knackery meat”); “they chewed their kennel’s treated pine” (to explain arsenic). In one amphetamine hearing, a trainer said his friend had urinated after ingesting amphetamine and the greyhound then licked the man’s toilet-hand. (This defence wasn’t successful, but the tribunal accepted its truth.)

“They’re still live-baiting and the new generation are all family, nothing’s changed,” Pettigrew says. “You have media exposés, and they make a show of punishing some, but it’s the same. Whistleblowing is not a thing to be doing – they come after you. All of a sudden, they’ll be testing your dogs, entering your property and hassling you. If you’re racing at the Meadows [Australia’s most prestigious track], they’ll swab you and you’ll need to wait the mandatory two races.” When disqualified for life for charges over the killing of some retired dogs, one trainer told the Herald Sun in January that the industry “just bend the rules to suit themselves … The whole thing is so corrupt and so rotten I wouldn’t want to go back again.”

Pettigrew alleges the industry enlists outsiders with promises of wins, but punishes those who won’t conform. 

Whistleblowers proffer the case of 36-year-old Sri Lankan immigrant Cassendra Jayakody. In 2020, Jayakody and her husband settled in Melton, in Melbourne’s west. They “saved some money” and “bought three Fernando Bale pups”. Then more. Jayakody told GRV: “I was working with [redacted], who has greyhounds. I love dogs in general and [redacted] told me all about greyhound racing.” Housing a few in outdoor kennels and a few within her home, Jayakody was charged by GRV with keeping “three active racing greyhounds residing in the house, which was in violation of the code”. Dogs were “at large in a house” and the outdoor kennels were deemed substandard. Jayakody said she gave her dogs more space than industry requirements and disagreed with the steward. She published a negative review of GRV on Google Reviews. 

Her review read in part: “They say they treat all participants the same way … they don’t. Don’t suspend big trainers license for animal cruelty but suspend me for not having enough space to walk between kennels.” She said she faced industry stonewalling and misrepresentation. GRV then charged her with being “contemptuous, unseemly, improper and insulting towards the Controlling Body”, and fined a total of $2500 (much higher than some penalties for cruelty). The judgement against her allowed: “You are a person of limited experience in the industry. You are a young married woman and you work full time in catering.”

Researchers Atkinson and Young, who classify greyhound racing as a blood sport, find its participants “are typically wary of sharing their trade secrets and personal reflections because they fear both public exposure and reprisal”. Trainers are penalised for negative remarks on social media, under a Controlling Body code that forbids them behaving “in any way detrimental or prejudicial to the interest, welfare, image, control or promotion of greyhound racing”. The trainers who blocked me or didn’t respond also likely had me figured as a media do-gooder, the kind derided on The Greyhound Girl: “We laugh about their wokeness.” 

But there’s secrecy on all sides. Rescue shelters, fearing loss of funds, won’t speak publicly; investigators feared me joining their covert operations, lest I blew their cover; sources feared retaliation and refused to be named. There are spies, infiltrators and double agents: one investigator sent me a screenshot of a trainer with whom she’d matched herself on the dating app Hinge, in order to entrap him. On August 22, on Greyhound Racing World’s private Facebook page, administrator Darrell Leathen (once found guilty of abusing a steward) posted about his “infiltration” of Georgie Purcell’s mailing list, which “arms me in the fight for our rights to race … Fox is in the hen house.” Spies within his own group took screenshots of his comments and sent them to Purcell’s office, which identified Leathen as the owner-trainer of rescue dog Tommy, found injured and emaciated on the streets of Ballarat, as reported on ABC News a week earlier.

By the time I meet Graham at Parliament House, I’ve already met Purcell. She was one of the four women at the Healesville track. She’d told me: “We run an underground rescue ring from the office. I speak to the trainers, one of us drives before or after work to some town, then takes the dog to the foster carer or foster the dog ourselves. They always stink like piss. The trainers feed you lies and you just act dumb.”

Loving and sweet-natured, Graham limps terribly and walks into walls. His veterinary report lists brutal untreated injuries: a botched home-surgery, brain damage, broken bones, “severe head injury”, “lung haemorrhage”, “signs of an animal treated with violence” and blood tests showing sedative residue. The report, by a senior vet, contradicts the industry steward’s minor injury report and finishes: “Personal note: I am horrified.” Graham’s guardian Indy Wolf, a clothing designer, is greeted by Purcell’s chief of staff Aimee Weir and senior adviser Dannielle Chandler. Animal photographer Kelly Dinham arrives for Graham’s media shoot. We coo over Graham like schoolgirls. Purcell, who has been in chambers, joins us. “They weren’t too feral today,” she smiles, when I ask about parliamentary hecklers.

She describes the ministerial meeting with Graham, who’d rested his head on Anthony Carbines’ lap. Purcell had briefed Carbines about the vet report and given him an open letter about the unpaid labour force “cleaning up the industry’s mess”. Community rescues, shelters and foster networks are buckling under the stress of too much supply and too many untreated traumas; some report a Handmaid’s Tale scenario of injured champion bitches left untreated while owners impregnate them to eke out a final return on investment. 

Then she told him Graham’s story.

An abridged version starts with Wendy, another rescue dog in Wolf’s care. “When I first adopted her,” Wolf tells me, “she’d collect socks and toys in her bed and lick them. I’d lie with her, and I know it sounds hyperbolic, but I promised her ‘I will find your babies’.” She “kept an eye” on Wendy’s litter’s race registrations. “One by one, her babies disappeared.” Through the covert network, Wolf discovered that the last, “Speedy Garry” (whelped 2019), was registered in Victoria but trafficked to Tasmania to “disappear”. (Moving dogs interstate is one way to lose records between discrete state systems, explains Weir.) The team made calls; the dog was still alive. Wolf bought him a $200 Spirit of Tasmania ticket to Geelong. She named him Graham.

Here is a crack team of young women, all of them with model-looks, detailing how easily they’d busted a trans-Tasman trafficking operation, when mighty industry and state resources hadn’t. Fearing I’ve credulously crashed a Charlie’s Angels cosplay, I ask for more evidence. Weir obliges.

Then I check with the minister. Carbines’ office won’t be drawn on whether Graham’s case is being investigated, nor on details of the meeting. He says: “We take animal welfare extremely seriously and that’s why we’ve invested more than $6.5 million to improve animal welfare in the greyhound racing sector. GRV has made considerable progress towards improving greyhound welfare. This includes a range of programs,” including “financial assistance to the owners of injured dogs for veterinary treatment”.

Industry sights are now fixed on Purcell, a moving target. She secured from Carbines whole-of-life tracking of racing dogs, which might help investigators find dogs that disappear. (He offered: “We’ll have more to say on this as it develops.”) She also lodged a Parliamentary Budget Office request for a costed end to greyhound racing. Ending it would save Victoria $81.7 million over the next three years, and $298.4 million over the next decade, the PBO found.

When Purcell named industry offenders under parliamentary privilege, GRV accused her of “actively impeding the investigation” of crimes and potentially causing animal deaths by “failing to provide” GRV with the intel raised in parliament. (She responded: “You would be aware that I have done this, on a number of occasions.”) When she described Graham’s medical report to parliament, Robert Britton, founder of the Companions and Pets Party, appeared on her Facebook page. “Either Georgie is full of BS or the dog needs a new vet,” he wrote. “Let’s not let the truth get in the way of another ‘anti’ greyhound story hey Georgie.”

Katherine Wilson

Katherine Wilson is the author of Tinkering: Australians Reinvent DIY Culture. She has a PhD in cultural studies.

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