Monday, Mar. 4, 2024

A Wave Of Restrictions May Affect The Future Of Foxhunting


Knowledge, awareness and vigilance are the keys to keeping the hounds running.


Across the nation there seems to be an increasing number of proposals addressing the way in which people control, breed and treat their animals. At first glance, this seems laudable. The welfare of
our beloved companions is in good hands. But is it?
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Knowledge, awareness and vigilance are the keys to keeping the hounds running.

Across the nation there seems to be an increasing number of proposals addressing the way in which people control, breed and treat their animals. At first glance, this seems laudable. The welfare of
our beloved companions is in good hands. But is it?

All of those who use animals in sport, whether horses or hounds, need to pay attention. The restrictions, which come in the form of policies, ordinances, regulations and legislation—at the state or local level—may ultimately have the effect of curtailing sport, foremost hunting with hounds. Eventually all animals used in sports, including horses, could be targeted.

There are a variety of proposals and policies that affect hunting with hounds, including spay/ neuter programs, kenneling requirements, leash laws, zoning laws and tethering bans. Even proposals aimed at eliminating aggravated cruelty to animals, something that sounds generally desirable, can affect hunting with hounds depending on how it is written.

You may hear in the news of a proposed law cracking down on puppy mills, and think to yourself, “Ah, yes, that’s a step in the right direction.” But what if that law causes your local hunt to disband their pack, since they can’t afford to keep their hounds in accordance with the new kenneling requirements, despite the fact that the hounds have received exemplary care for years?

Don’t think that just because you’re an animal lover, and provide your dogs with the best of care on your own farm, that increasing local ordinances won’t affect you. It’s best to be prepared and stay abreast of any proposed legislation.

At The State Level

As Patti Strand, the director of the National Animal Interest Alliance, a leading animal welfare organization, points out, “Only 15 percent of the public lives in a rural area—we’re an urban society. So, anything we do to utilize dogs for anything but pets looks bizarre and cruel to the majority of the public.”
The main threat comes from activist groups that adhere to the animal rights
movement.

“Ten years ago in Oregon, the groups with an animal rights agenda used focus groups to zero in on what messages needed to be developed. They used high-tech marketing techniques, polling, etc, to develop messages that targeted the specific audiences they wanted to reach. We’re sitting ducks. This is a propaganda war,” Strand said.

The goal of the animal rights movement is “to get money, to gain political power and to displace animal owners who do not share their philosophy,” Strand added. “Animal rights groups are good at divide and conquer as a tactic. For example, they drove catch-and-release fishermen to separate from the fishermen who take the fish home; biomedical researchers from product testing groups; hobby breeders from commercial breeders and pet owners from hunting dogs,” Strand said.

The NAIA was instrumental in defeating, at least for 2007, the California Healthy Pet Act, a mandatory state spay/neuter bill backed by the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The bill essentially would have “stripped pet owners of their rights and sharply reduced both the quantity and quality of purpose-bred dogs and cats, including those bred for assistance to the disabled and for search and rescue,” according to the NAIA.

On the East Coast, another state-level initiative looms that can affect hunting with hounds. In December 2006, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture proposed a series of regulations detailing new kenneling requirements ostensibly aimed at puppy mills.

The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance points out that the main concern is that these rules might affect sport breeders as well. According to Rob Sexton, the Sportsmen’s Alliance Vice President for Governmental Affairs, “the goal here is to apply commercial standards of welfare to all kennels, even the hobbyist. It shows the underlying impetus to accomplish underlying animal rights goals. In Pennsylvania, this is the most thorough and aggregate attack on sporting dog hunters.”

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The Sportsmen’s Alliance points out that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States drafted the “costly, unnecessarily restrictive, contradictory and burdensome” regulations.

“We are slowly gaining traction. The ASPCA showed puppy mill tapes and gained momentum. Since then we have relentlessly pounded people with the broader impact,” Sexton said. While the Sportsmen’s Alliance agrees that puppy mills should be eliminated, “we just don’t think every sporting dog and hobby breeder should be eliminated at the same time,” said Sexton.

The Sportsmen’s Alliance pointed out that there are many other areas being targeted: animal fighting bills (defined as anytime one animal is pitted against another, which could possibly be applied to the concept of foxhunting), animal cruelty bills and animal care.

Sexton said that hunting exemptions don’t always include field trials, chase season and training season.
“The biggest way to ban hunting without banning hunting is to make it too expensive and harass it out of business,” Sexton said. Sportsmen’s Alliance has participated in legislative activities in California, Iowa, Connecticut, Maine, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, South Carolina and New York.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is conducting a periodic review of its regulations governing wildlife and hunting. While the Commonwealth has had the American Foxhound as one of its symbols since 1966, the regulatory activity is causing anxiety among some foxhunters.

According to Julia Dixon, statewide media relations coordinator for the VDGIF, the issues being examined grew out of deer hunting with hounds in the Piedmont area, not mounted hunters. “There is a lot of misinformation that suggests the end of hound hunting action this year. This is just the beginning of the process. The work that comes out of the process would be used in the next cycle, 2009, if the answer is regulatory,” Dixon said. “The issues being examined include landowner rights, trespassing, right to retrieve hounds—and there are a lot of stakeholder groups. The uproar is primarily related to deer hunting with hounds, where there is a lot of conflict. We need to determine if it’s a problem or is it an education process. It is our goal to continue the tradition of hound hunting in Virginia,” Dixon said.

The New York State Houndsmen Conservation Association, “dedicated to protecting hound hunting rights at the state level” sent out a notice to members about an animal cruelty bill introduced by legislators in New York City. The legislation would expand the scope of the crime “aggravated cruelty to animals” to include wildlife. Even though there is a hunting exemption, a complaint could be filed saying that the game was taken in a cruel and inhumane manner to the animal, thereby putting hound hunting in jeopardy, according to the group.

On The Local Front

The local level also is an area where restrictions that affect hunting can be implemented. Louisville, Ky., has a spay/neuter ordinance stating, “unaltered dogs that are impounded for any reason must be spayed or neutered before being returned to their owner.”

Spay/neuter ordinances are spreading. Rockingham, Vt., is considering requiring all pet owners to sterilize their cats and dogs. The Animal Rescue and Protection Society  is spearheading the move. One hunt in New York State ran up against such a policy this year. Two dog hounds went missing when walking out one mid-winter morning. When they couldn’t be found after a thorough and prolonged search, it was
presumed they drowned crossing a snow-covered pond.

Both were keen hunters, one a stallion, and a considerable loss. More than two months later, a neighbor called to say she had been at a feed store that day where there was a pet adoption clinic and two foxhounds were there. The full story will never be known, but the animal control officer who had previously notified the kennel if hounds were picked up, did not.

And, because the county ASPCA policy required neutering before adoption, they couldn’t simply
be adopted. The hunt ended up paying all kenneling fees and fines due to a violation of the local
leash law. The hounds cost around $1,600 to retrieve. And even then, it was luck that brought them back together.

What Can Be Done?

“The biggest problem is the confusion; activists use this, they give their organizations names like the Humane Society of the United States,” Masters of Fox Hounds Association Executive Director Dennis Foster said.

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“It’s very, very hard to combat. Animal rights groups are smarter in many ways. They created groups that appeal emotionally. For example, FARM [Farm Animal Rights Movement] is against eating farm animals. The HSUS receives $125 million a year in donations. It is the best at hiding its agenda, which is a pet-less, meatless society,” Foster said. “We need to open minds and get people to think about issues.”

According to Foster, foxhunters can “(1) join an organization like the MFHA, NAIA or the Sportsmen’s Alliance because we are the leaders in hound issues. (2) Learn the difference between an animal rights and
an animal welfare organization—spend the money to join the animal welfare groups. (3) Find out who and what groups are and talk to friends and neighbors about it.”

Sexton, of the Sportsmen’s Alliance, said “spend time to develop relationships with local officials and stay organized.” Being aware of pending legislation is the key to ensuring that it doesn’t inadvertently affect hounds and hunting. As a constituency, foxhunters can be a powerful voice.

“The media is roused by animal rights,” Foster said. “They go to animal rights groups for information about animal welfare issues. Controversy makes money. We [the MFHA] are not a rich organization, and our members are not rich. Most are middle income. But, 98 percent of foxhunters vote at all levels.”



Animal Welfare vs. Animal Rights—There Is A Difference

Animal welfare is the belief that we have an obligation to treat animals humanely but in a utilitarian manner—animals provide us with food, are used for work and for recreation and sport. People with a rural background see animals as a more complex and pervasive element of their lives. For example, when a farmer shoots a coyote to protect his chickens, the idea that the coyote’s fur must be thrown away (due to anti-fur regulations) may seem not only arbitrary and wasteful, but also disrespectful to the coyote.

Animal rights today has its roots in the phrase “speciesism,” coined by a psychologist to describe discrimination by humans against animals. It was embraced by philosopher Peter Singer in a book he published in the 1970s. He argues that speciesism is similar to racism and sexism, in that they all deny moral and legal rights to one group in favor of another. He called for an end to it.

Animal rights groups were formed around this idea. Other leaders of the movement believe that animals have moral rights and that people should cease using them for any purpose, not just those associated with pain and suffering.



Where To Go For Information

Masters of Foxhounds Association of America
    P.O. Box 363
    Millwood, VA 22646
    (540) 955-5680
    www.mfha.com
The MFHA, established in 1907, is a non-profit corporation that sets and maintains rules and guidelines for its members. These include animal care and good sportsmanship.

National Animal Interest Alliance
    P.O. Box 66579
    Portland, OR 97290-6579
    (503) 761-1139
    www.naiaonline.org
The NAIA promotes the welfare of animals, to strengthen the human-animal bond and safeguard the rights of responsible animal owners. A related organization, www.naiatrust.org was created to focus more resources on influencing legislation and defending the victims of animal and environmental extremism.

U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance
    National Headquarters
    801 Kingsmill Parkway
    Columbus, OH 43229
    (614) 888-4868
    www.ussportsmen.org
The U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance protects and advances America’s heritage of hunting, fishing and trapping. It protects against legal and legislative attacks by animal rights movement, wins public support for outdoor sports, ensures the future of this heritage in involving families in the outdoor experience, and promotes the sportsman’s stewardship role in the scientific management of America’s fish and wildlife.

Donna Ross

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