Animal welfare lobbyists campaigning for a ban on greyhound racing are set to take the fight to the industry's biggest night of the year.
Aaron Cross, spokesman for the Greyhound Protection League, said a protest action was likely as greyhound racing officials - including dog owners and breeders - gather in Whanganui in October for the National Greyhound Awards.
The Sunday Star-Times revealed last weekend that three racing dogs had died on New Zealand tracks in the space of a week.
Since then, another dog has died and six others have been seriously injured on the track.
"Until gambling patrons start looking at the misery they are bankrolling it will never end," Cross said.
"The reasons for greyhounds getting hurt and dying so frequently are so frivolous and the issue needs to be addressed at its own unique level."
He said the industry was holding its awards ceremony soon in Whanganui and the league may plan an action to coincide with it. One option was a candlelight vigil "to honour all of the fallen greyhounds".
The location of the likely protest was symbolic, Cross said. Whanganui's hosting of the awards coincides with the official opening of a new $1 million grandstand at the city's Hatrick Raceway.
"At the site of the awards they've just spent $1m on a lavish grandstand, while meanwhile the nationwide adoption programme languishes, on a far smaller annual budget," Cross said.
He said there were always around 100 greyhounds waiting for homes on the Greyhounds as Pets website. While the industry had talked up its intent to buy a permanent safe-house for ex-racing greyhounds , "we'll believe it when they actually put their money where their mouth is".
Green Party MP Mojo Mathers confirmed last weekend that she was preparing to exert political pressure on the multimillion-dollar greyhound racing industry.
Increased safeguards for racing dogs would be part of reforms she is set to propose for the Animal Welfare Act.
"I am working on this issue to achieve some awareness and change," Mathers said.
"I am concerned about the lack of regulation of this industry when it is seeing so many accidental deaths and having to euthanise so many animals, all for an activity that is for our entertainment."
Animal rights organisation Save Animals From Exploitation is backing a greyhound racing ban. Campaign director Eliot Pryor said: "We don't think improvements to the racing or more regulations would change the fact that dogs would die on the track."
Despite the recent on-track deaths and injuries, Greyhound Racing New Zealand general manager Jim Leach said the welfare of racing dogs was of paramount importance.
"Dogs get injured; even domestic dogs get injured . . . it is a part of a fact of life," Leach said.
"What a lot of people probably don't realise is that greyhound racing in New Zealand has been operating since the middle of the 18th century. It is licensed by an act of Parliament, it is very closely monitored . . . we go to an extreme amount of trouble to make sure the dogs are looked after."
- © Fairfax NZ News