Condon: A Caring Society Empathizes With Wildlife

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When will the South stop setting records for moral imbecility?

By MARLENE CONDON | TIMES-DISPATCH COLUMNIST
Published: August 23, 2010

[print_link]  In 2000, Virginia passed a constitutional amendment stating, “the people have a right to hunt, fish, and harvest game, subject to such regulations as the General Assembly may prescribe by general law.” This amendment does not grant citizens the right to harass, terrorize, and harm our wildlife for human entertainment — and the Department of Game & Inland Fisheries should not grant citizens that right either. But that is exactly the situation in Virginia.

The DGIF allows hunters, by permit, to trap and transport foxes to foxhound penning “preserves” for the sole purpose of letting dogs chase them. The foxes serve as live bait — lures used by hunters to train their hounds. It’s no game. Should the dogs catch a fox, they will kill it.  PHOTO: (left) Fox hunting was primarily imported to Virginia and the South by the pretentious gentry and nobles that settled that region as a result of political defeats in England. Today —when many members of the upper middle class have embraced the ‘sport”—this snobbish depravity is shared by even wider numbers of cretins.

Seventeen states allow this activity, which illustrates a lack of compassion for innocent creatures that feel emotion and pain. It’s obvious that our wildlife needs to be included under animal-protection laws that now are focused on preventing cruelty, neglect, and exploitation of domesticated animals only.

The unpleasantness begins for a fox when it’s caught by a trapper employing a foothold trap. Although modern traps have been modified so that desperately panicked creatures are less likely to chew off a foot to escape, these pitiable animals may struggle so much that they still get injured (bone fractures, swelling, cuts, hemorrhaging). Once exhausted, they face hours of waiting without food or water. In time, the animal’s clamped paw goes numb from a lack of blood flow.

When the fox is placed in the preserve, it finds itself inside an enclosure that will probably include double strands of barbed wire at the top and electric wire along the bottom of the perimeter fencing and all gates. This prison is where the fox is doomed to serve a life sentence for committing the crime of residing in Virginia.

Unlike grazing animals that are not much bothered by being inside an enclosure as long as sufficient food is available, predatory animals are biologically programmed to run free, covering vast areas to find their prey. They suffer anxiety when their roaming is restricted.

Indeed, a fox that finds a hole in the fence will immediately use it to escape to freedom. Although these penned animals are fed by humans, they are obviously well aware of and undoubtedly distressed by their incarceration.

Captive females coming into heat in spring will be impregnated by captive males. Human callousness is apparent when baying hounds are released to chase foxes carrying young.

Should a fox manage to give birth despite the stress of being hounded, she and her mate will find it difficult to take proper care of their young. And if one or the other is caught and killed by dogs — as does happen — the pups are unlikely to survive. PHOTO (right) Disemboweled fox, the usual fate for the victims of this barbaric pastime.

The DGIF attempts to minimize mortality by requiring each penning facility (which must be at least 100 contiguous acres in size) to provide a dog-proof escape area at a rate of one for every 20 acres of enclosure. Whether that number is sufficient isn’t clear because the number of foxes that can be released into an enclosure is unlimited. And during foxhound trials, there may be far too many dogs inside the enclosure to allow a fox to get to a protective area.

Overcrowding foxes inside a pen results in mental stress because foxes are not biologically programmed to be in one another’s company. It’s also an invitation for disease outbreaks — Mother Nature’s way of returning populations to sustainable levels.

If states such as Virginia supported their wildlife agencies with tax dollars instead of hunting license fees, it would reduce pressure on state biologists to manage game to satisfy the whims of hunters rather than the welfare of wildlife. Additionally, state boards that oversee wildlife agencies should have knowledgeable non-hunters appointed to them. In Virginia, there is no representation for conservationists, birders, and other non-hunting constituents on the board of the DGIF.

A caring society empathizes with wildlife — it doesn’t pen foxes or other kinds of animals (coyotes in some states) to sic dogs upon them. Exploiting wildlife simply for human pleasure (listening to howling dogs chase critters) can never be justified.

Virginia did not outlaw dog and chicken fighting — Southern “traditions” that were considered acceptable — until people spoke out against such inhumane activities. If you are distressed by Virginia’s treatment of foxes, you should contact the DGIF and your state legislators to condemn the practice of penning these little canines.



Marlene Condon is a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in numerous publications. Contact her at marlenecondon@aol.com.

http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/2010/aug/23/ed-condon23-ar-466731/

•••••BONUS FEATURE

September 03, 2010

“Right to Hunt” State Constitution Amendments Called Unnecessary by Animal-Rights Groups

Many states either already have or are planning to add “right to hunt” amendments to their state constitutions. But according to animal-rights groups, the measures are unnecessary.

From this story in the Miami Herald:
Lifelong hunter Bill Haycraft of Kentucky sees his treasured outdoors heritage under siege and in need of constitutional protection from animal rights advocates. He’s one of many hunters backing a “right-to-hunt” amendment that’s expected to be on his state’s 2012 ballot. Kentucky is just the latest in a long line of states that have passed or are considering right-to-hunt measures to head off a feared hunting ban. Animal rights activists, however, say it’s all unnecessary. “It’s a solution in search of a problem,” said Michael Markarian, chief operating officer for The Humane Society of the United States. “These measures don’t accomplish anything.”

Hunting advocates in at least five states, responding to pressure from outdoors enthusiasts like Haycraft and the gun lobby, are pushing for constitutional protections for hunting. the National Rifle Association wants to get the pre-emptive amendment in place quickly, before animal rights groups can persuade a majority of Americans that hunting is bad. Arkansas, Arizona, South Carolina and Tennessee have right-to-hunt referendums on the ballot this year, and Kentucky, inspired by the other states, is poised to follow in 2012. Such constitutional guarantees are already in place in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. All of those states, except Vermont, have adopted the constitutional amendments over the past 15 years. Vermont’s amendment dates back to 1777.

That’s all well and good, of course, but here’s a Friday question to mull: is the anti-hunting movement really the biggest challenge facing hunting in America? It’s certainly a convenient and easily-understood bogeyman, but honestly, is it much of a threat when balanced against ever-shrinking habitat, the industrialization and degradation of public lands, precipitously declining new hunter recruitment and the conflicts over what many see as the slow but inexorable trend toward the privatization of wildlife resources? Your thoughts?

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