IF we truly are a nation of dog lovers, then it’s time to end greyhound racing for good.

Last October saw one of the most unique protests I’ve ever been part of outside the Scottish Parliament. Dozens of campaigners – and their dogs – had come together from across Scotland to call for an end to the outdated practice of greyhound racing.

There were greyhounds galore. It was an emotional and humbling experience to talk to some of the owners, many of whom had opened their doors and their hearts to former race dogs that had been rescued after being injured or left without homes.

Though the photos we took that day are joyful, with furry friends and smiles all around, with some of the dogs having been injured, blinded or abandoned, the cause we were there for was very serious.

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Greyhound racing is and always has been a high-risk and gambling-led sport. That hasn’t changed with time. It still leaves the dogs facing totally unnecessary risk and sometimes even death. Long gone are the days when hundreds of thousands of people would pack out courses and go to watch the races every week. The “sport” may be a far diminished spectacle from what it once was, but the danger to dogs is still ever-present.

Concerns are heightened even more when such events are allowed to take place at unlicensed venues with no vets present and with no guarantee that any welfare standards are being observed.

In March, the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission published a report on the impact of greyhound racing in Scotland. It was a really important piece of work that called for an end to new greyhound racetracks in Scotland and noted that “on average, a dog bred for racing in Scotland currently has poorer welfare than the average of other dogs in the population”.

Since 2017, the regulatory body for licensed tracks, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain, has been required to publish injury and death statistics annually. In 2018, it introduced a “Greyhound Commitment”, which aimed to improve welfare and reduce injuries.

Despite those measures, the latest data reported 197 injuries and 15 deaths between 2017 and 2020 at the Shawfield Stadium in Rutherglen alone. The reality is that as long as greyhounds are raced against one another at 40mph around a circular track, there will always be risk.

But it’s not just the direct injuries and deaths that should concern us. The life of racing dogs is often one without the benefit of socialisation. Many are kept in small and cramped kennels and made to train and race from a young age.

And there is pressure from the industry to breed enough dogs to ensure that there are enough suitable dogs for racing. But what about the greyhounds that are unable to? Every year there will be a lot of dogs who are retired or simply can’t race. This means that every year healthy dogs are euthanised.

My parliamentary team used industry figures to calculate that of the 2412 racing greyhounds that died between 2018 and 2021, some 1414 were euthanised purely because they were surplus to requirements or homeless.

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Once, there were more than 20 licensed tracks in Scotland. However, with Shawfield closing as a result of lockdown, there is only one left, the unlicensed Thornton Greyhound Stadium in Fife. Its heyday may be long passed, but it still holds around 40 racing events a year with up to 30 dogs at a time.

This week, the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, took evidence on the impact of greyhound racing. We heard a range of perspectives from within the industry itself, including the owners of the Thornton Stadium and directors of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain.

The picture they painted was one of complacency. They resisted change and argued for business as usual to continue, irrespective of the damage that is being done to the dogs. Apparently having onsite vets would be too expensive, but bookmakers were fundamental to the racing experience.

They also argued that a ban on racing would move it underground, which is particularly absurd as it would be impossible to hide a 400-metre track – you could see it from space.

The session was a frustrating experience that underlined exactly why the industry cannot be trusted to self-regulate and why we need to halt it for good. Enough is enough.

Just as there are many historic uses of animals that are appalling to us today, I have no doubt future generations will look back and ask why we allowed greyhound racing to continue for so long.

How we treat vulnerable voiceless animals is a mark of how progressive we are as a nation. The Scottish Parliament has already banned the use of wild animals in circuses. It’s time we phased out greyhound racing.

Animal welfare groups, politicians and decent-minded people from across our country all agree that the greyhound racing industry is on its last legs. No dog can be left behind.

By working together we can ensure that this industry has run its last race.