Dr Greg Bryant, veterinarian and orchid-grower, kept a diary while working at greyhound tracks across NSW because he saw things that he found “hard to accept”. What he recorded helped ban the industry. By Alex Gilly
On the evening of 17 December, 2014, at the greyhound track at Richmond in Sydney’s far west, the trainers led their dogs into their boxes for Race 3. It was early summer. According to the steward’s report, the weather that day was fine, the track condition good. Eight runners were starting. Wilby Mighty, a three-year-old blue greyhound, had drawn the third box out from the rail along which the mechanical lure runs. The ordeal he was about to suffer would lead a vet to testify before a commission, which would produce a report that would convince a government to outlaw greyhound racing in New South Wales.
The siren sounded, the gate raised and the dogs careered out of their boxes in pursuit of the lure. Wilby Mighty made a poor start; he went wide at the first corner, where he was blocked—‘checked’ in greyhound jargon—by another dog, forcing him to veer towards the rail.
Dr Greg Bryant, the on-track veterinarian rostered on that day, was standing near the first bend. He had learned from another on-track vet, Dr John Newell, that this was the best place to stand.
“John was a very experienced and very compassionate vet,” says Dr Bryant. “He told me you should always stand in certain places at certain tracks. The first bend, or any of the finishing lines, is a good place to stand. At Richmond from the 500 boxes, they come down past the winning post, go around that first bend, and then there’s what’s called the catching pens just past the first bend. If a dog goes down at that first bend, if you don’t get it off, the lure’s going to come past again, and the dog is going to go into the catching pen, and it’ll get hit by the other dogs.”
No dog went down in Race 3. Wilby Mighty placed fifth, outside the money. But after the race, the steward, a retired police officer named Norm Becroft, noticed that Wilby Mighty was injured. He sent him to be examined by Dr Bryant.
In a statement he later made to Greyhound Racing NSW (GRNSW), the peak body governing the sport in
the state, Becroft said that Wilby Mighty had an obvious injury to his tail. “The tail had blueish coloured hair and was missing hair on the end of the tail. I could see that the tail was broken and bent at an extreme angle approximately 9cm from the tip of the tail. I could see flesh and bone.”
Becroft was present when Gareth Miggins, Wilby Mighty’s trainer, brought the dog to Dr Bryant’s room. “On examination there was a laceration exposing the bones and a fracture in the distal quarter of the tail,” wrote Bryant in his statement to GRNSW. He cleaned the dog’s wound with Betadine, applied some local anaesthetic and bandaged his tail. Then he gave Wilby Mighty a shot of Domitor against the pain, as well as some antibiotics. “Replays of the race suggested that this injury had occurred after the tail struck the running rail,” Bryant told GRNSW.
Becroft said in his statement that he heard Dr Bryant advise Miggins that Wilby Mighty had suffered a serious injury and needed to be taken to a veterinary clinic immediately. Bryant told the trainer that the dog needed to have his tail properly amputated at a clinic equipped with anaesthetic and bone cutters. “Dr Bryant was very clear and most persistent in telling Mr Miggins that he had to go to a vet clinic for Wilby Mighty’s welfare,” wrote Becroft.
Miggins, however, said he didn’t think he could get to a clinic that night; he didn’t know of any in the area, and he was worried by what it would cost. Miggins asked, was Greyhound Racing NSW going to pay for the amputation?
Becroft told Miggins that it was the owner’s responsibility to pay for Wilby Mighty’s veterinary treatment. Dr Bryant wrote down the name and address of a nearby veterinary clinic on the back of an envelope and gave it to Miggins.
“When you’re euthanising a greyhound, they’re looking at you with their eyes, they’re expecting you to help them, and you’re not. You’re taking their life.”—Dr Greg Bryant
The orchid grower
Greg Bryant, in his late fifties, has light blue eyes, a deeply furrowed forehead and the thick brown hair and advanced hairline of a younger man. He lives in the suburbs of Sydney, with his wife and children. Also in the house are a Labrador, two cats, a python and fish. There’s a twitchiness about Bryant that makes his brow continually crease and uncrease. His disarmingly limpid eyes dart from yours to some indefinite point and back again, as though he is contemplating some private thought, deciding whether to shepherd it into the conversation or not. Dr Bryant is not the type of person who speaks without thinking; and indeed, he gives the impression of being a man who thinks a lot more than he speaks.
Bryant didn’t start out wanting to be a vet. He grew up in the southern suburbs of Sydney, where his father, Alvin, grew orchids. Growing up, he’d hear stories from family members about his military forebears—a grandfather who had fought on the Western Front, an uncle in the RAAF who hadn’t returned from the Second World War—and as a boy Bryant wanted to be an Air Force pilot.
But then, in his early teens, he developed insulin-dependent diabetes. “It was a severe life change to a young teenager,” says Bryant. “But I was determined from an early age that I’d never use it as an excuse for not being able to do something.” Still, becoming a military pilot was now out of the question—the Air Force didn’t accept people with type 1 diabetes—and so, after reading James Herriot, Bryant decided to become a vet.
Bryant graduated from Sydney University’s vet school in January 1982 and immediately took a job with a practice in Newcastle. The owner of the practice, Philip Adams, “was a really good vet, a good guy to learn from, very ethical,” says Bryant. “He made an impression on me. The first professional experiences are important, I think.”
It was a good practice, but Bryant was young and restless; he took off for the UK, where he spent a year doing locums throughout the country. But the weather was awful, and Bryant took a trip to Spain in search of sunshine. On his way back to London, a storm diverted his flight from Heathrow to Gatwick; somewhere along the line, the airline lost his luggage. Bryant found himself at the airport with no clothes, facing a British winter. Rather than buy a new wardrobe, he decided to fly back to Australia.
Shortly after his return, Bryant’s father suffered a heart attack, and Bryant took over the nursery. He spent the next 10 years growing orchids for cut-flower export. The Bryant nursery was located on an acre and a half of land on what was then still the fringe of Sydney, and Bryant sometimes looked after neighbours’ horses or treated friends’ pets. Other than that, however, his focus was on orchids, not vet practice. He became an authority on cymbidiums—winter-blooming boat orchids with fantastically coloured flowers—which he exported by air freight to Europe until rising airfreight costs and fierce competition from New Zealand made the business increasingly challenging, and the booming Sydney property market made selling the acre and a half more alluring.
Bryant sold up, then spent the next seven years teaching veterinary science at TAFE, before searching for a new challenge. He heard that Greyhound Racing NSW were looking for track vets. Bryant had once done a locum for a vet practice in Baulkham Hills which did some greyhound work. He applied for the position. “Within a month or so of starting, they put me on their roster,” he says.
Later that evening at Richmond, Dr Bryant was suturing a wound on the face of a dog injured in Race 7 when one of the track staff came to tell him that there was a dog’s tail lying on the track near the 400 metre boxes. Dr Bryant asked the staff member to collect the tail in a plastic bag and bring it to him.
“The section of tail he had collected was consistent in size and appearance with the distal section of the injured tail from Wilby Mighty, wrote Dr Bryant in his statement to GRNSW. “The tail did not look to have been surgically removed but appeared more to have been pulled off due to the many long strands of tendons/ligaments/nerves that unevenly protruded from the section of removed tail. Some of the tendon strands were up to 30cm long. I can only imagine that the removal of the tail segment would have been very painful for the dog.”
Bryant took the section of tail to the steward, Norm Becroft. “The flesh and bone protruding from the end appeared red and was warm to the touch,” wrote Becroft in his statement. “From my experience in attending crime scenes for over 16 years as a NSW police officer, I formed the opinion that the piece of tail was extremely fresh and literally had only recently been severed. The sinews and nerves were still moist and remained extended when laid down, they didn’t recoil or shrivel to indicate that the moisture/fluids had evaporated or dried out at this time.”
Greyhound Racing NSW opened an investigation. It ordered a DNA analysis of the section of tail, which Becroft had preserved in his freezer. (Greyhound organisations often keep DNA records of dogs for pedigree purposes.) The analysis confirmed that the section of tail belonged to Wilby Mighty. GRNSW charged Miggins with four breaches of the Greyhounds Australasia Rules of Greyhound Racing, and suspended his trainer licence. Miggins was instructed to attend a hearing of the charges at the GRNSW headquarters at Rhodes in Western Sydney.
“A male greyhound is anywhere from 30 to 40 kilos, running up to 60kms per hour, and when they crash into each other, it’s a recipe for disaster.”—Dr Greg Bryant
A typical day for a track vet begins about 90 minutes before the first race, during kennelling. This is when the trainers bring in their dogs to be weighed, have their papers inspected by the stewards and the dogs examined by the vet. A typical race meet might consist of 10 races with eight dogs per race, plus reserves, plus trials. Dr Bryant says it wasn’t unusual for him to have to examine as many as a hundred dogs in the space of 45 minutes.
The sheer number of animals and the lack of time meant that his examinations were necessarily cursory. Trainers would place their dogs on a table and Dr Bryant would run his hands over them, look for signs of mistreatment, malnourishment or any medical condition. If he found any, he could recommend to the race steward that the dog be disallowed from racing. The final decision belongs to the steward, though in practice few stewards disregard the track vet’s recommendation. Sometimes, when Dr Bryant disallowed a dog from running, the animal’s trainer would turn on him. He once ruled out a dog with a cut four inches long on its hind leg; its owner threatened to kill him.
The greyhound—with its long, narrow muzzle, thrown-back ears and thick, strong neck reaching from a big chest that narrows to an astonishingly narrow waist—is muscular the way swimmers, rather than, say, weightlifters, are muscular. Its legs are long and astonishingly thin. Greyhounds have extremely flexible spines, tremendous muscle mass, fast-twitch muscles, large hearts, and a higher red blood cell count than other breeds.
Racing greyhounds are obliged to wear muzzles, which can make them appear aggressive, but virtually all accounts have them as a particularly gentle breed. “[Greyhounds] are great dogs; they’re really nice dogs,” says Dr Bryant. “When you are euthanasing a greyhound, they’re looking at you with their eyes, they’re expecting you to help them, and you’re not. You’re taking their life.” Dr Bryant looks away. “These gentle creatures.”
“A male greyhound is anywhere from 30 to 40 kilos, running up to 60kms per hour, and when they crash into each other, it’s a recipe for disaster,” he says. “Bones just get shattered, snapped. You’ll see dogs that have just got a leg dangling by a bit of skin, because the broken bones have severed the nerves and the arteries. You get these catastrophic injuries, and you get a lot of lesser injuries, sprains and strains.”
Part of a race steward’s job is to keep a record of all injuries suffered by dogs at meets. Dr Bryant could advise a steward of an injury, but it was up to the steward whether to report it or not. Dr Bryant worked as track vet for at least 10 different dog tracks across NSW, and, as he later testified to the inquiry commissioned by the state government, he began to notice that the injuries he was treating weren’t showing up in the stewards’ reports. Even dogs he had been obliged to euthanase weren’t
So in January, 2015, Dr Bryant started keeping a diary of his work as an on-track vet. Over the course of the next seven months, he attended 96 race meetings. Thirteen dogs died during that period. In his diary, he noted that he put down 12 himself, after they had suffered catastrophic injuries; the 13th died on the track.
On 16 February—six days after GRNSW charged Gareth Miggins—the ABC’s Four Corners program aired ‘Making a Killing’, an investigation into the ongoing practice of live-baiting in greyhound racing. The program shocked the nation. The NSW government commissioned an inquiry into the greyhound racing industry in the state. Dr Bryant was central to the inquiry, and his diary was presented as key evidence. In its Report, published on 16 June, 2016, the Commission credits “conscientious, former on-track veterinarian Dr Gregory Bryant” with helping bring the misconduct to light:
“Dr Bryant gave evidence that, while working as an on-track veterinarian, he observed that stewards’ reports did not record the fact that a dog has been euthanased at the track. This is also readily apparent from a comparison of the entries in Dr Bryant’s diary for the 13 dogs that died at the track from 10 January 2015 to 8 August 2015, with the corresponding stewards’ reports.
“Dr Bryant told the Commission that, on at least one occasion when he was working on-track, he asked a steward why the euthanasia of dogs at tracks was not recorded in the stewards’ reports. The steward told him this was because they, GRNSW, ‘didn’t want to stir up the greenies or give the greenies anything to complain about’.
“Dr Bryant told the Commission: ‘I found that to be hard to accept. I wasn’t happy about it.’”
“Dr Bryant gave evidence that, while working as an on-track veterinarian, he observed that stewards’ reports did not record the fact that a dog has been euthanased at the track.”—Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry in NSW
On 16 May, 2015, at the final race of the night at the Bundaberg track in Queensland, Wilby Mighty was squeezed for room at the first corner and went wide, crashing into another dog. It was his last race: he was euthanased nine days later.
One evening in August, Dr Bryant was working at the Wentworth Park track in Sydney when he happened to glance up at a TV monitor carrying the Sky Channel’s coverage of the races in Rockhampton, Queensland. He saw Gareth Miggins loading a dog into a starting box. Bryant fired off an email to GRNSW’s manager of investigations, who forwarded it to the organisation’s chief steward. Bryant lamented that, despite the DNA evidence, the video evidence and the testimony of both Norm Becroft and himself, Miggins was still training dogs.
At the hearing in Rhodes, Miggins had claimed that Wilby Mighty’s tail had come off during the race, not after. Miggins had also obtained an opinion from another vet that he had acted in an appropriate manner when he had not immediately gone to a vet clinic to have the tail properly amputated that night.
When asked about the inquiry, a GRNSW spokesperson said, “GRNSW stewards held an inquiry hearing into four charges issued against Mr Gareth Miggins. On 9 August 2016 the Stewards wrote to Mr Miggins about their review of the evidence before the inquiry and requested further information in relation to one of the charges by 23 August 2016. Once the Stewards receive this information from Mr Miggins, they will make a decision in relation to the charges and this decision will be published on the GRNSW website.”
When Dr Bryant received the inconclusive reply from GRNSW, he tendered his resignation.
The investigation remains open.
“When I left Greyhound Racing NSW, my view of the industry was that it was a very cruel and corrupt industry,” Bryant told the ABC’s 7.30 program. “I expected to see changes and in the time I was with Greyhound Racing NSW, I didn’t see any changes. There is no commitment to animal welfare that I witnessed. There were many requests to euthanase dogs that I regarded as being unnecessary. People would request you to put a dog down because it was old and not performing well, because it had an injury and they said, “Oh, it’s not gonna be any good anymore.” You know, a good one costs you as much as a bad one and the way you make a profit is you get rid of the bad ones and just keep the good ones.”
Bryant now works for the Department of Agriculture. On 7 July this year, he was at the airport in Rockhampton, where he’d been auditing an abattoir, when he heard the news that Premier Mike Baird had banned greyhound racing in NSW.
“We were in the Qantas Club, I was with the other auditors, and you can get little bottles of wine, so we cracked out a couple and had a toast.”
Dr Bryant’s face relaxes. “It made it seem like I’d done something worthwhile.”