Trainer Garry Edwards has eight greyhounds in his Nowra kennels and reckons they are part of the family.
He bristles when activists make generalisations that trainers and owners mishandle their animals and kill the ones that can’t bring in the big bucks.
‘‘I look after them, I call them my girls,’’ the Wollongong-born trainer said yesterday referring to his seven bitches. Among them is 2013 Greyhound of the Year Double Twist.
‘‘I’ve got seven girls here and one dog and the only way they will leave my place is with old age.
‘‘They’re really well looked after, with double rugs for them, a heater in their kennels at night time.''
‘‘They last couple were 14, 15 ... when they can’t get off the bed I euthanase them, it’s very hard on me, very sad, I’ve reared them since they were pups or witnessed them being brought into this world.’’
Mr Edwards first got a taste of racing when he was a young boy, hitting the tracks in the Illawarra with his dad.
‘‘When I was older, when I got a job, I came home one day and asked my father to lend me $500. I was an apprentice fitter and turner making $23 a fortnight.
‘‘I told him I wanted to buy a quarter share in a greyhound and he lent me the money.’’
Mr Edwards has been hooked ever since.
‘‘We bought our first dog in 1974, Patricia Lisa. She was a terrific winner,’’ he recalled.
‘‘She went from winning maiden to breaking track records at Dapto to turning into a free-for-all stayer in the city. It was a great induction.’’
When any of his greyhounds race he gets emotional.
‘‘I’ve developed a bit of a heart problem because I get too tensed up. I’m not satisfied until I get back after the race and get them off the track in the catching pen and walk them round to make sure there’s nothing wrong.’’
Mr Edwards devotes a lot of time and money to his hobby. He follows a strict training routine in the lead-up to race day and the hours after the big event are all about his greyhounds.
‘‘After they race I make sure they have their big drink. I mix them up electrolytes with one litre of milk and they drink that before they get home,’’ he said.
‘‘Then we stop at Maccas and I give them french fries, chicken nuggets and soft serve ice cream. They love that,’’ he said.
‘‘I’ve got eight; seven are bitches, and they all have different owners from all different walks of life. And every one of their owners loves them.’’
Mr Edwards considers his kennels his home away from home.
‘‘They’re really well looked after, with double rugs for them, a heater in their kennels at night time,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m with them here for three or four hours in the morning, take them for a walk-free gallop in the paddock, they eat yoghurt, noodles, rice, schmackos.
‘‘I only race them once a week and I make sure they’re never injured.’’
Mr Edwards said the industry had changed for the better over the last 40 years.
‘‘There is a lot more education from vets to owners to trainers to hobby trainers, to handlers. Everything is a lot more above board and stricter nowadays, especially with animal safety and welfare,’’ he said.
‘‘The vets have come into it and they’ve helped us a lot. We are grateful they will tell us things that help us care for the greyhounds.’’
Greyhound Racing NSW is tightening rules around breeding and education and is collecting more data on the amount of dogs killed per year. Currently, statistics around the amount of greyhounds euthanised are not collected – though the industry has admitted the figure in NSW is about 3000 per year.
Both Greyhound Racing Victoria and Greyhound Racing New South Wales have called for nationally consistent, industry-wide standards of care.
Mr Edwards said there were always a lot of rumours floating around but he was yet to see proof of cruelty.
‘‘Greyhound Racing NSW now has strict controls ... there’s something new coming in every week,’’ he said. ‘‘The kennels are being inspected, they’re checking the dogs are being looked after in respect to feeding, healthcare, hygiene.
‘‘The council comes in and checks to make sure everything is up to scratch, they check the quantity of dogs, the kennels, the whole works.’’
‘‘I used to hear the rumours, but I never saw anything and to make accusations you’ve got to have proof. I think sometimes we’re getting painted like people were 40 or 50 or 60 years ago.’’
He said the negative publicity often took the shine off an industry that was good for the local economy.
‘‘Our track at Nowra, for example, employs 10 people. Three of them are permanent and every two or three years we put a person through a business management plan at our track.
‘‘We’ve had a couple of young people get full-time jobs from greyhound owners at the track.
‘‘Our industry brings in a million dollars in prize money – it’s the same with Dapto, Bulli, the money that owners and trainers earn is money spent in our local industry.’’