Should Virginia ban fox penning, the sport in which dogs chase foxes in fenced-in land?
Barbaric fox penning bears no relationship to hunting
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.
The barbaric practice of fox penning, which Virginia currently permits through the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, is logically indistinguishable from animal fighting. Outside the ranks of its participants, few Virginians are aware of this cruel activity in which dogs, often numbering in the hundreds, are released into fenced enclosures in competitions to pursue and torment captive foxes, frequently mauling and killing them. The fox penners have self-reported that, in just four years, nearly 5,000 foxes have been trapped in the wild and imprisoned in these enclosures in which they must constantly run in fear. There is no means of escape for the foxes from these pens, only a few ineffective hiding places in which the foxes cannot remain without starving.
Nothing about this brutal setting of animal upon animal constitutes hunting by any rational analysis. Humans have no participation in the chase, which is by no means fair, nor any role in killing the prey. This practice bears no relationship whatsoever to traditional mounted fox hunting and has more in common with the repugnant blood sport of bear baiting.
In fact, fox penning has no relationship to any hunting tradition and has existed only since the 1980s. Fox penning is not recognized in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which emphasizes wildlife as a public resource, and contributes nothing to wildlife management. Its proponents claim baselessly that fox penning provides essential hunting dog training and that the foxes enjoy the chase. In reality, fox penning is not permitted in many states where hunting is popular and common. Virginia is one of a minority of states that permits it, although Virginia bans the penning of any other wild animals. A 2012 poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research shows that Virginia voters overwhelmingly oppose the abuses of fox pens by more than 8 to 1, and a majority support legislation to prohibit the practice.
Fox penners, unable to defend this cruelty through rational dialog, have engaged in a pattern of threats and ad hominem attacks on anyone who dares challenge the ethics of this barbarism. In fact, speaking at a recent public DGIF Board meeting, Kirby Burch insensitively compared the numerous organizations and people who oppose fox penning to Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust, a historic reference that was deeply offensive to any morally thoughtful person.
Virginia’s long tradition of hunting has an ethical code recognizing that no sport exists if the animal being hunted has no means of escape. Virginia voters have made clear that they care deeply about treating animals with compassion and look to the DGIF Board and to our elected representatives to uphold Virginia’s honor by protecting defenseless animals from this brutality.
Fox preserve training is not animal fighting
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.
The easiest way to provide an answer to the proposal to ban fox preserves is to examine the facts. Called pens by some people, who are hoping to convince others that the wily fox has nowhere to run or hide, in truth, fox preserves must be a minimum of 100 acres. The largest preserve in Virginia covers 1.5 square miles. By regulation, there must be an escape structure in every 20 acres. Because the foxes cost the preserve owner a great deal of money to own and care for, all the preserves that I have seen have far more escape structures than required.
Preserves’ owners pay the expenses of trappers to relocate to the preserves the foxes they have caught other places where they were being nuisances. These foxes, which would otherwise have been destroyed, are allowed to get to know their new home before any dogs are brought onto the property. Without these preserves, every fox caught would be destroyed.
It is said that this is not hunting, and this is mostly correct. The purpose of these preserves is to allow fox hunters to train their dogs and to hold field trials. The purpose is not to catch and kill foxes. These preserves serve as a training ground for hounds, safely away from roads and on land that is well-suited for this activity.
Animal rights advocates allege that hunters stand around and watch this “blood sport” as dogs tear the foxes apart. Nothing could be further from the truth and reveals their ignorance about the preserves. During a field trial, in which the hunters use water-based ink to put numbers on their dogs to identify the fastest and surest dogs in a chase, only judges are allowed into the preserve while the trial is under way. I am frequently asked to judge these trials. I have never seen a fox caught and, frankly, I have never spoken to another judge who has.
The fox hound training preserves were authorized by the Virginia General Assembly in the 1980s and have been closely regulated by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries ever since. DGIF Executive Director Bob Duncan, in testimony before the Senate Agriculture Committee in February 2012, stated emphatically that the fox preserves training was not animal fighting, as alleged by animal rights advocates.
The Humane Society of the United States, a radical animal rights lobbying group based in Washington, D.C., is using the attack on fox preserves to spearhead a broad-based political agenda that opposes all hunting, raising of animals for food and the use of animals for medical research. I urge you to go to www.humanewatch.org to learn more about the animal rights agenda and to support the continuation of the fox hound training preserves in Virginia.