Greyhounds set to be unleashed in the inner-north

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Melbourne’s unofficial greyhound capital – the inner-northern suburbs – may finally get an off-leash area for the racers-turned-pets, but some owners say it’s time for an end to breed-specific rules which prevent their pets from running in normal dog parks.

Moonee Valley City Council on Tuesday night voted to push ahead with planning and consulting on a possible off-leash area specifically for greyhounds after five potential sites were identified in the municipality.

Natasha Birimac would be keen to take her greyhound, Jayce, to an off-leash park.Credit: Wayne Taylor

In Victoria, pet greyhounds are banned from being off-leash in public spaces, including in council off-leash areas. The exception is at greyhound-only sites, but across the state there are just six of these, forcing owners to drive significant distances and pay fees to use them.

Only three of these facilities are in metropolitan Melbourne – Cranbourne, Broadmeadows and Park Orchards all have dirt practice racing lines known as slipping tracks. There is also a privately owned dog park in Heatherton that holds greyhound-only sessions for paying members.

Moonee Valley Council resolved consider creating a greyhound-only off-leash area, supporting a motion put forward by councillor Cam Nation in October.

Greyhound-only facilities in Victoria

  • Melbourne Greyhounds, The Meadows slipping track, paid access
  • Manningham Slipping Track at Stintons Reserve, Park Orchards, paid access
  • Cranbourne Greyhound Racing Club slipping tracks, partially paid access
  • Ballarat Greyhounds slipping track, paid access
  • Greyhound Racing Victoria Bendigo slipping track, paid access
  • Warragul Greyhound Club slipping track, paid access
  • Doggy Play Park, Heatherton, runs some greyhound-only sessions, paid access

Greyhounds are becoming increasingly popular pets as people seek to rescue former racing dogs. There are 188 greyhounds registered in Moonee Valley Council, while Merri-Bek has 450, Darebin has 276, Maribyrnong has 232 and the City of Melbourne 186.

The council expects to spend $100,000 for the feasibility and design of a greyhound-only zone, with an aim to construct it in 2024-25. The plan passed unanimously. Councillor Ava Adams noted strong demand in the community would make it a “very popular attraction”.

Julia Cockram, director of greyhound rehoming charity Gumtree Greys, said the inner northern suburbs were her organisation’s peak locations for adoptions.

The inner north is known for having a young, socially conscious demographic, and Cockram said greyhounds were particularly popular with Millennials and Gen Zs, many of whom live in smaller homes or apartments, which suit the breed.

She welcomed the possibility an off-leash zone for greyhounds in Moonee Valley Council, noting the dogs need to socialise and explore as other breeds do.

“If Moonee Valley opens this park there will be queues – people love their greyhounds and will travel from all over to use it,” she said.

“They have the right to have the enrichment of being able to move freely without restraint around other dogs, to sniff the grass, sniff the trees.”

With state government guidance, Moonee Valley Council will consider building either a greyhound-only slipping track or park, with strict limits of muzzled dogs to minimise the risk of collisions and injuries.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Nation said a park was the preferred option.

“[Slipping tracks] are predominantly for coursing and training greyhounds, and most of the people who adopt a retired greyhound are against greyhound racing, so it’s sort of counterintuitive to have to go to a place where they torture dogs to race them to let your pet exercise and therefore take out a membership,” Nation said.

Cockram was opposed to dirt slipping tracks because of the connection to racing. She also said muzzling was unnecessary; since 2019, retired racing greyhounds were no longer legally required to be muzzled in public.

She hoped to see a fenced, green space established.

“It’s not just about exercising them. They need mental stimulation,” she said. “Just to have a big dirt area with nothing in it is just a complete waste of time.“

While she said introducing off-leash areas for greyhounds was a good first step, Cockram urged the Victorian government to follow neighbouring states, who have ditched the legal requirement for greyhounds to be restrained at standard off-leash dog parks.

She said breed-specific rules perpetuated the myth that greyhounds were dangerous when, as with any dog, they just needed training.

Unlike pit bull terriers, greyhounds are not classed a restricted dog breed, and retired racers go through assessments before they can be adopted.

“I don’t believe greyhound owners in Victoria are any less responsible than every other dog owner; they will ensure their dog is under effective control when off leash,” she said.

The state government has been contacted for comment.

Brunswick resident Natasha Birimac said her five-year-old greyhound Jayce loved exploring at his own pace and deserved to be able to roam free regularly like other dogs.

Birimac, 28, said she deliberately avoided taking him to slipping tracks because they were often connected to the racing industry and Jayce didn’t want to mindlessly race, but she would regularly drive to a greyhound off-leash zone at Moonee Valley if it were a fenced green park.

“Imagine if in every suburb, rescue organisations could say ‘yes, there’s a place to take them off-leash’. It would make them more desirable as pets,” she said.

Birimac said breed-specific rules created a perception that greyhounds were untrainable and less adoptable.

“It’s not taking each dog as a dog. What’s needed throughout the whole dog-owning community is training – letting your dog off leash shouldn’t be an automatic freedom.”

North Melbourne resident Leyla Kadi, 21, said she was “not chuffed” with current options for taking her two-year-old greyhound Oscar for a run.

Kadi said it would be popular, given “the sheer amount of greyhounds around – and us greyhound parents are crazy”.

Moonee Valley Council was contacted for comment.

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