EXCLUSIVE: Champion Australian racing dogs are being sneakily transported to China, against the industry’s own rules. With the export of local dogs seen as big business in Asia, this deep dive into the murky world of greyhound racing is presented by Matilda Duncan.
True Crime News Weekly can reveal an investigation by Greyhound Racing Victoria has been underway for months after greyhound industry regulators failed to prevent two record-breaking racing dogs being exported directly to China within the space of a month last year, despite their claims that the industry has worked to “prevent and denounce” the trafficking of racing greyhounds to Asia.
Sending a racing greyhound to China is a breach of racing industry rules as dictated by Greyhounds Australasia, but is not illegal under any Australian law.
One of the dogs exported was Canya Cruise, who was sent directly from Melbourne to China on June 1 last year as a “companion animal”, according to federal government records, just 3 days after running a race at Melbourne’s Meadows greyhound racetrack on May 29.
The second dog followed a month later on July 1, according to the same federal government records, a 4-year-old named Turbo Thomas. The greyhound was shipped from Melbourne to China as a “pet” just 3 weeks after he’d been entered into a race at Victoria’s Shepparton racetrack, but scratched from the line-up at the last minute.
Prior to being sent away to their uncertain fates in China, both dogs had garnered plenty of attention within the gambling industry. By the age of 2 years and 10 months old, Canya Cruise had generated $137,000 in prizemoney for his owners after breaking track records in Queensland and Western Australia during 2020 and 2021. Turbo Thomas had set a new Australasian record in early 2020 after a long winning streak at racetracks throughout New South Wales, winning his owner Trent Anderson $55,000 in prizemoney.
Canya Cruise after with WA trainers Krystal and Stevan Shinners after winning the Good Friday Cup in WA, April 2021 (Image: Supplied)
THE MELBOURNE PLUMBERS
Public racing records show the two dogs were linked to two greyhound industry owners in Victoria in the weeks before they were exported, with both Canya Cruise and Turbo Thomas changing hands to the same trainer, Vince Tullio, five weeks before their respective departures to China.
Tullio is also a plumber and a prominent greyhound owner, housing 100 dogs at his greyhound racing business ‘V.T Lodge’ in Pearcedale, according to industry publications.
Tullio was disqualified from racing last October after Greyhound Racing Victoria found him to have breached two Greyhounds Australasia rules, but he declared his intentions last month to challenge the decision in the Supreme Court.
Prior to their departure both dogs were sold to the same Victorian greyhound owner, Damien Senn. The pair have been depicted as ‘close friends’ by racing industry media, and Senn has previously owned dogs bred and trained by Tullio. Senn’s LinkedIn profile suggests they have also been associated in a professional capacity, with Senn listing employment as a plumber for Tullio’s plumbing and roofing company, V.T Group Australia Pty Ltd.
Having cycled through 8 business names over as many years, V.T Group Australia now appears to encompass Tullio’s plumbing, drainage and roofing business operations and his V.T Lodge greyhound racing business, according to federal tax records.
Senn’s purchase of Canya Cruise for an “undisclosed sum” was documented in an article published by Greyhound Racing Victoria in May last year, a fortnight after the dog had moved to Victoria—just 3 weeks before the dog left the country.
Senn did not respond to multiple requests for comment from True Crime News Weekly.
Tullio told True Crime News Weekly Senn was not an employee of his, before claiming not to have his phone number or up-to-date email address. “He’s definitely not an employee, so I wouldn’t be including that,” Tullio wrote via message.
Both dogs purchased by Senn are now listed on a Chinese greyhound racing industry breeding website.
When asked by True Crime News Weekly how Canya Cruise ended up listed on a Chinese breeding website, Tullio initially claimed the dog was “not in China”, but rather was “happily in Sydney”.
Tullio was asked to provide any evidence he had to prove Canya Cruise was in Sydney but declined to do so.
“The dog is not in China … the Chinese do this so they can make money!!” Tullio wrote last week. “Half the things on there [sic] websites are misleading … the dog is happily in Sydney.”
Asked if this meant Australian dogs were listed on breeding websites as a means of deception, Tullio agreed. “Exactly … we have the best dogs, so why not advertise the best … no one ever over there would no where the sperm comes from!! Where’s [sic] there’s a dollar to be exploiting people will do anything … that is life unfortunately,” he wrote.
Melbourne plumber and greyhound owner/trainer Vince Tullio (Images: Supplied)
Melbourne greyhound owner Damien Senn. Mr Senn is seen in the centre of the “Let’s Party”photo (Images: Supplied)
RACING DOGS EXPORTED AS ‘PETS’
Export documentation obtained from the federal Department of Agriculture under Freedom of Information law shows the two greyhounds were exported on as domestic animals: a “pet” and “companion animal”, rather than competition or breeding animals.
The microchip number, colourings, age and name listed on the two export forms from midway through last year—known as Notice of Intention to Export Live Animals (NOI) forms—match details listed for each dog in publicly available racing industry records and their racing identification cards from New South Wales.
Ports and dates of departure for the dogs listed on the export forms were also confirmed by the government.
The export forms were obtained by the Western Australian greyhound welfare advocacy group, Free the Hounds. The group have spent over two years researching Australian racing greyhound and reproductive material exports to China and elsewhere internationally—including Korea, Spain and South Africa—with a focus on dogs connected to prominent greyhound trainers and owners in WA. The group’s research has been led by the group’s President, Melissa Harrison, and conducted on a volunteer basis.
To export a racing greyhound internationally, owners are usually required to obtain a passport from Greyhounds Australasia, the international organisation with oversight of greyhound racing rules and welfare across Australia.
Documents show Canya Cruise and Turbo Thomas were exported to China under false pretences, variously under “pet” and “companion” (Images: Supplied)
Greyhounds Australasia blacklisted China from their list of ‘safe’ export countries in 2016 after widespread cruelty to Australian greyhounds was exposed across Asia. Though export numbers have since reduced, owners have continued trafficking greyhounds by circumventing racing industry processes: exporting without seeking a GA passport or sending dogs first to countries that are considered ‘safe’ by the industry, such as England, before having them rerouted elsewhere.
In response to a request for information about Federal Government export procedures to China, the Department of Agriculture provided links to information stating that in order to send a dog to China on a commercial basis, a permit would first need to be obtained from the Chinese Government and the dog is required to be held at an Australian Government-approved quarantine premises for 30 days prior to export.
Canya Cruise raced three days to his departure, and Turbo Thomas was entered in a race approximately three weeks prior to his departure.
According to the export protocols provided by the Department, which have been in place since 2004, dogs being flown to China as pets are exempt from the government requirement for an import permit and quarantine period, as long as the pet’s “owner” is accompanying the dog on the same flight, with a limit of one dog per person.
Export documentation shows both Canya Cruise and Turbo Thomas were listed as pets.
Canya Cruise at a Queensland track [Image: Supplied / Facebook, Racing Queensland]
Once in China, where gambling is illegal, greyhounds face life trapped within an underground greyhound racing circuit in a country with no animal welfare laws or protections.
There, as in Australia, they quickly lose their worth once no longer useful for racing or breeding.
Investigations over the past decade have exposed Australian racing greyhounds languishing in awful conditions throughout Macau and mainland China, while international greyhound rescue organisations working in China have stated that greyhounds continue to be one of the most common breeds to be found at meat markets.
According to long-time racing industry journalist Adam Dobbin – as he wrote last year – the ownership of racing greyhounds in China remains a secretive and “strictly private” process, where “owners are prepared to pay big money to procure and or import fast stock”, and “wagering can run into the tens of thousands of dollars for a single event”.
The Australian Government has for years refused to enact legislation to ban greyhound exports from Australia.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
True Crime News Weekly asked the numerous Australian greyhound racing authorities that had oversight of Canya Cruise and Turbo Thomas prior to their departure whether they had directly looked into the welfare of the two dogs since their arrival in China, or sought help from other agencies in order to do so.
Greyhounds Australasia, an international organisation with oversight of greyhound racing rules and authorities in Australia’s states and territories and ultimate responsibility for the welfare of racing dogs in Australia, did not respond at all. Though they provided general responses, neither Greyhound Racing Victoria nor NSW’s Greyhound Welfare Integrity Commission directly answered the questions posed of them.
Greyhound Racing Victoria told True Crime News Weekly the exports of Canya Cruise and Turbo Thomas are still under “active investigation”.
In a statement provided to True Crime News Weekly Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV) wrote it “is aware of this issue and it is under active investigation. Both greyhounds were retired to third party owners that are not registered with GRV. GRV cannot comment further on active investigations until they are concluded.”
“The export of all live animals from Australia, including greyhounds, is managed by the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment. GRV is not involved in any export approval processes.”
The GRV statement went on: “GRV continues to ask the Commonwealth Government to put in place processes, biosecurity requirements or national legislation that can prevent illegal greyhound exports to China, even via third countries.”
Contrary to GRV’s statement, greyhound exports to China are not “illegal” under Australian law.
Email records obtained by True Crime News Weekly suggest GRV’s investigation has been ongoing for at least 5 months, after GRV’s Intelligence Manager, Scott Elliott, was provided with the Department of Agriculture records documenting the two dog exports by Free the Hounds on September 28 of last year.
When contacted for clarification about the timing of their investigation, Greyhound Racing Victoria’s spokesperson, Andrew Holmes, claimed he didn’t know when the investigation had begun.
GRV chose not to make any public statements about their investigation into Canya Cruise and Turbo Thomas after receiving the export information from Free the Hounds in September, despite having confirmed the existence of another investigation to Murdoch’s News Corp a month earlier, in August, about other racing dogs allegedly exported to the U.K in breach of industry rules.
In response to a request for comment from True Crime News Weekly, a spokesperson for New South Wales’ Greyhound Welfare and Integrity Commission confirmed it was assisting Greyhound Racing Victoria with its investigation.
“Although the greyhounds you mention in your enquiry were registered in NSW for a period,” the statement read, “subsequent trainer/owner transfers saw them formally transferred interstate, and as a result, their registration and welfare is then monitored by the new state’s controlling bodies until they are retired outside of the industry.
“As the investigation is ongoing we are unable to provide further comment.”
NSW owner-trainer Trent Anderson with Turbo Thomas in January 2020 (Image: Supplied)
“MONEY TOO GOOD TO KNOCK BACK”
Owners and trainers of the two dogs prior to Tullio and Senn also claimed to True Crime News Weekly that they had no involvement in their export.
A Sunshine Coast property developer and long-time greyhound owner, Terrence Hines, and Stevan Shinners, a WA trainer and owner, both confirmed to True Crime News Weekly they had shared ownership of Canya Cruise as part of a gambling syndicate before selling him on to a connection in Victoria.
Terry Hines said he had nothing to do with the export of Canya Cruise. “I’d sold the dog on and then new owners, basically they’d organised for it to go to China. If I’d known that I wouldn’t have sold it,” he said.
Asked if he knew how Canya Cruise had ended up in China, Hines stated he didn’t want to interfere with any industry investigations. “I do know,” he said, “but it’s all hearsay, and but I don’t wanna compromise what they’re [Greyhound Racing Victoria are] doing.”
Hines had heard a second dog had been sent to China last year around the same time as Canya Cruise, he said, and believed the dogs were sent to China via Sydney somehow.
Shinners, who also trained Canya Cruise while he was in WA, told True Crime News Weekly he had “no idea” how Canya Cruise had ended up in China and that he “obviously wouldn’t have sold him if I’d known that was going to happen”.
“The money was too good to knock back,” Shinners said, acknowledging that he had “loved the dog” and was “sad to lose the dog”. He knew that Canya Cruise wasn’t going to win races in Victoria, he said, but for the syndicate, “money was the object”, so they sold him on to Victoria regardless.
“The money we were offered was really good,” Shinners said, “and we bought a few really good brood bitches for the long-term game.”
Turbo Thomas’ former owner Trent Anderson – well-known for having trained dogs for high-profile clients, including the AFL footballer Tony Lockett – told True Crime News Weekly he didn’t know anything about Turbo Thomas being sent to China.
Anderson did confirm that he had sold the dog to Damien Senn in Victoria, saying that the last he’d heard, “the dog was in Shepparton”.
“HAPPILY IN SYDNEY”
When questioned about the GRV investigation, Tullio confirmed he had been contacted by the racing authority “six to seven months ago”, countering his initial claim that he knew Canya Cruise to be “happily in Sydney”.
“Yes I have heard from them [GRV] but it was six to seven months ago … they are trying to find out what’s going on with them,” Tullio wrote, “but the problem is once the dogs are retired from racing they have no jurisdiction on what owners do with there [sic] dogs …”
“To be honest, i know u won’t agree with this,” he continued, “but I actually prefer to see dogs in china [sic] as I know they look after the stud dogs very well. I’m actually more concerned how dogs are looked after here in Melbourne and some leading trainers properties and can’t believe how they get away with it … I have bought this issue up that many times from them and they do nothing … it’s disgusting some of these properties,” he wrote.
Asked if he had ever sent a greyhound to China or elsewhere internationally, Tullio claimed he had not. “Never have,” he wrote, “wouldn’t even know how too [sic]”.
“All I know is he went to Sydney … after they leave our control, the new owners are allowed to do what ever [sic] they like…” he wrote.
Stevan Shinners (centre) with Canya Cruise at Cannington racetrack (Image: Greyhound-Data.com)