SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia's greyhound racing industry was responsible for the deaths of thousands of the dogs each year, an inquiry into claims that the animals were trained with live bait heard on Monday (Sept 28).
The special commission was established after the Australian Broadcasting Corporation revealed that live animals such as piglets, rabbits and possums were used as bait to train some of the country's most successful dogs.
Counsel assisting the inquiry Stephen Rushton said an industry report had estimated that overbreeding was so excessive that thousands of healthy dogs were put down every year when found unsuitable for racing.
"This industry is responsible for the unnecessary deaths of anywhere between 13,000 and 17,000 healthy greyhounds a year," the internal report by Greyhounds Australasia said, the inquiry was told.
"These figures are a terrible indictment on this industry," Mr Rushton said.
The New South Wales inquiry heard that greyhounds found to be unsuitable for racing were rarely found a new home or retained by trainers.
"Why would an industry which is prepared to use small, vulnerable, helpless animals to blood its young greyhounds in pursuit of money care at all whether it bred too many animals?" Mr Rushton said, the ABC reported.
"Why would it care if the animals which were surplus to industry needs be destroyed?
"And conversely, would an industry which kills thousands of young greyhounds every year without really batting an eyelid, care one jot about using live baits to train their dogs, be they rabbits, possums, piglets, kittens or chickens?"
Australia has one of the world's largest greyhound racing industries and live baiting has been banned and criminalised for decades.
But the ABC programme broadcast in February showed small live animals being fixed to mechanical lures before being chased and torn apart during training sessions.
Rushton said the idea of live baiting was sickening but questioned whether the industry could improve animal welfare.
"The industry and Greyhound Racing New South Wales should get their running shoes on: some might say that they, rather than greyhounds, are now running for their lives," he said.
The New South Wales inquiry, headed by former High Court judge Michael McHugh, is expected to report by March. It is one of several investigations into greyhound racing around Australia.