Clarification: Robin Starr says she has not appeared before the General Assembly to oppose all hunting activities. Other than fox penning, she has not lobbied against hunting. A comment to the contrary has been removed from Kirby Burch’s rebuttal.
Should Virginia ban fox penning, the sport in which dogs chase foxes in fenced-in land?
If no foxes are killed, why are more needed?
Robertson Starr is the chief executive officer of the Richmond SPCA, a non-profit, no-kill humane society that saves the lives of approximately 3,500 companion animals annually and advocates for the well being of all animals.
Kirby Burch uses the favored rhetorical tools of someone trying to support an argument that cannot succeed on its merits with ethical and thoughtful people.
He uses a non-threatening word (“preserves”) to describe fox pens where foxes are not preserved but rather are chased down, mauled and often killed by dogs. He attempts to mislead by saying there are “escape structures” when there is no possibility of escape from the secure enclosures, only inadequate hiding places that foxes must leave to find food. He uses arguments without evidentiary support; e.g., the allegation that the foxes caught and put into the pens were being a nuisance elsewhere and would otherwise have been destroyed.
He claims fox penning is just a way to train hounds when it actually is shunned by traditional mounted fox hunters and banned in states where hunting is common. If it were true that no foxes are killed, then Virginia pens would not have restocked with 5,000 caught foxes in the last four years.
A time-honored tactic of fallacious argument is the use of a straw man. Burch’s straw man is the Humane Society of the United States, which he attacks so as to avoid addressing the dreadful moral issues of fox pens. The HSUS, which advocates none of the extreme positions that he alleges it does, is far from alone in its opposition to fox pens. Actually, ethical hunters, the vast majority of Virginia voters (confirmed in a 2012 Mason-Dixon poll) and numerous humane organizations, such as my own, strongly oppose fox penning and believe it to be an indefensible form of animal fighting. HumaneWatch, whose website he recommends to support his position, is one of several related entities to which a complaint was filed with the IRS alleging possible federal tax code violations, according to a Bloomberg report. See tinyurl.com/foxpens.
Sportsmen value wildlife and pay to support it
Burch, a founding member of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance, is a lifelong Virginia sportsman and conservationist and has served as the director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and as the deputy director of the Virginia Department of Forestry.
It is remarkable that Robin Starr should call attention to the Northern American Model of Wildlife Conservation. This model is a response to the land owner or “lord” in Europe who owned the wildlife on the manor. Americans realized that wildlife should be held in trust for all the people. Sportsmen put a value on wildlife, and when allowed to hunt, fish and trap on the land, the fees they pay support conservation.
Bill Cochran, dean of Virginia’s outdoor writers, recently came under attack when he accurately stated that the Humane Society of the United States was the largest anti-hunting group in the United States. Animal-rights proponents want you to believe that they are saving animals’ lives or preventing heinous crimes, but nature is not a Disney fantasy. The red and gray foxes of Virginia are not endangered by fox preserves, hunters or trappers. Through their license fees and the excise taxes paid on firearms and hunting equipment, Virginia’s sportsmen pay the professional wildlife biologists to keep a close eye on the health of the resources that we love.
Wildlife populations reached their lowest ebb around 1900. The whitetail deer, the black bear and the wild turkey existed only in isolated pockets in Virginia. About that time, Teddy Roosevelt began to lead the effort to adopt the Northern American Model of Wildlife Conservation. The impact of this change led to today’s bountiful populations of deer, bear and turkey along with numerous other game and non-game species here in Virginia and across the continent. The judgment of the professionals at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries should be supported by the public, the legislature and Gov. Bob McDonnell.