IF a few Sundays back, you had taken a trip to the soggy Lee Fields or Fitzgerald’s Park, you may have noticed that it wasn’t just raining cats and dogs!
The public areas were crammed with greyhounds, lurchers and whippets — 68 to be exact — along with the 20 other breeds who tagged along to support their four-legged friends on that wet and wild afternoon.
June 9 was the designated day for the 10th annual Great Global Greyhound Walk, a dog-walking event that brings together greyhounds, sighthounds and their owners to raise awareness of the breed as a wonderful pet.
The event was launched in the UK ten years ago by the East Anglian charity Greyhound Walks, and by 2014 it had gone global. This year there were 275 registered walks taking place everywhere from Scotland to the Philippines, involving 8,795 hounds.
The walks are organised by local volunteers, in Cork’s case by Susan Walsh and Darren Mulqueen. Susan, of Douglas, first became involved in the plight of sighthounds after adopting her lurcher Penny from the CSPCA.
“She had been dumped on the Kinsale Road Roundabout as a pup,’ says Susan. “I had just adopted a collie pup so wasn’t looking to get another, but I was at charity dog shows two weekends in a row and saw Penny in a dog playpen with other pups looking for homes with the CSPCA Mahon.
“After the third weekend I asked if anyone had enquired about adopting her and was told no, as people just didn’t realise what amazing pets they make. It annoyed me. I mean, she’s a dog the same as any other and yet she was not wanted because of her breed. So I went down the following morning to sign the adoption papers and took her home.”
Sighthounds are breeds of hunting dogs that primarily hunt by sight and speed, rather than by scent and endurance, and can sometimes get a bad press.
Susan finds that people judge Penny quite harshly, even though “she is a goofball”.
“I have had people judge her for her looks, ask if she bites, or who cross the road when they see her. I was gobsmacked. Penny adores people. She loves being chased by dogs, she adores a belly rub and yet she’s so misjudged.”
Changing these negative preconceptions about sighthounds is one of the goals that fuels Susan’s work.
“They are the laziest dog. They will sleep 18 hours a day if you let them. They are couch potatoes who love to be loved, and will adore you back.”
She says one of her aims is to see more sighthounds homed as pets in Ireland, as currently many are sent from Irish rescues to the UK, Sweden, Italy and the Czech Republic.
“Here in Ireland,” Susan adds, “we need to change people’s attitudes towards greyhounds and sighthounds. They are one of the meekest, most gentle pet dogs you can have. The reason they are abused so heavily is because they are timid and take the abuse. They deserve love and care, the same as any other dog.”
When Susan found out about Greyhound walks taking place in Dublin and Galway, she was irked that there was none taking place in Cork, so she set about making it happen.
“I asked members of the Greythounds & Friends group on Facebook if they would be up for it and it sparked a lot of interest. I know Darren Mulqueen from peaceful protests at the Curraheen Racing Track. We got talking about it and three weeks later, thanks to the permission of Cork City Council, we were able to hold our first walk at Fitzgerald’s Park.”
The annual walks are proving so successful that a group of greyhound and sighthound owners have decided to make it a more regular event. “We are thinking of meeting once a month in different areas,’ says Susan. “This could also lead to other splinter groups all over Cork county, which would be brilliant as more people will see sighthounds as pets and not machines to earn money from.”
The greyhound racing industry has come in for criticism in recent years, and tomorrow night at 9.35pm, RTÉ1 is showing a documentary, entitled Greyhounds Running For Their Lives, which claims to “go behind the glitz and glamour of the public facade of greyhound racing to reveal serious animal welfare issues in an industry that costs the Irish taxpayer millions of euro every year”.
Asked whether she sees greyhound racing coming to an end in the near future, Susan replies: “I sadly think it will be another generation before it dies completely. The Irish Greyhound Board are just not ready to throw in the towel. People are becoming more aware of this industry through social media. It’s not a fun night out when dogs pay for it with their lives on a track. But it will go. It’s old school entertainment.”
As a mark of the success of the Great Global Greyhound Walk in Cork, Susan is happy to report that two of the dogs, Spirit and Sully, were adopted afterwards.
“As our aim is to get these beautiful dogs adopted in Irish homes, we are definitely doing something right as on the first walk last year the whippet Bala found her forever home and this year, two sighthounds found their forever homes,” she said.
““Long may this annual walk continue so that more sighthounds will be homed. Adopt, don’t shop.”
Greyhound Awareness Cork will be holding their next peaceful protest at Curraheen Park Greyhound Stadium on June 29 from 6.30pm to 8pm.
There will be a fun walk for Greyhound/Sighthound owners on July 30 at Tramore Valley Park. Details can be found on the Greythounds and Friends Facebook page.
Next year’s Great Global Greyhound Walk will take place on Sunday, June 14, 2020.