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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ban Cruel Fox Pens: Virginia’s Last Form of Animal Fighting

It’s the South’s last legal blood sport, and in Virginia, it’s under serious examination. It’s time for legislators to get serious about ridding this country of fox penning. 

In this practice, foxes, and sometimes coyotes, are trapped live in the wild with steel-jawed leghold traps and transported miles in cramped cages in the back of pickup trucks. Dealers sell foxes to pen operators for cash, and then the stressed wildlife are released into a large fenced enclosure for dogs to chase down, incessantly night and day. During fox pen competitions, hundreds of dogs may be released as judges stand around the pen scoring dog packs as they run down foxes. The lucky few will survive for a while; the sick and weak animals will immediately be ripped apart by dogs. 

FoxRight now Virginia policymakers are taking a workmanlike approach to addressing the problem of fox pens in Virginia. This past session, legislation to prohibit the practice was considered for the first time in recent history. The measure drew the most people to a legislative hearing of any bill heard this session. In a major step forward, last week the board overseeing the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries directed its staff to make a regulation policy recommendation for the future of fox pens. 

At the meeting, board members listened attentively as a fox pen neighbor tearfully told them that her kids cannot sleep at night due to the audible assault of dogs chasing down foxes. Another constituent held up his ten years’ worth of hunting licenses and earnestly told the board members that this fenced game is a black-eye to all hunters. One by one, citizens took time out of their Wednesday morning to testify and truly reflect the sentiments of the Virginia voters who want fox penning banned by a more than an 8 to 1 margin.

Banning fox and coyote pens is a choice that should be obvious for any legislator and wildlife manager. The defenses put forward for this practice can’t stand the light of day: There are no firearms used, so it’s not any form of hunting. And the idea of capturing live animals from the wild, transporting them across state lines, and selling them for commercial profit violates the very ethic of wildlife management. In truth, most people can’t believe that in a state like Virginia, which has one of the best laws against animal fighting in the country, this type of staged animal combat is still legal.

And the evidence for the cruelty is overwhelming. In the last few years, more than 5,000 foxes were stolen live from the wild and thrown into Virginia fox pens. Information requests reveal a shocking amount of wildlife department staff time pulling wild bears, mauled by dogs, out of pens. And when law enforcement investigated these facilities, they temporarily shut down 70 percent of them for illegal activity.

No responsible policymaker can look at the cruelty and resource waste of these facilities and not make the right choice to ban them. Our task is now to spend the coming months showing decisionmakers and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell the huge support they have to prohibit these facilities. If you are a Virginia resident, please contact them today and also upload a picture of your pet to join the dog campaign asking Gov. McDonnell to ban fox pens.  

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