I recently received an e-mail about a new book that aims to bring attention to the subject of ‘hare coursing’, a vicious blood-sport whose innocent-sounding name belies the horrific nature of the activity.
“Hare coursing consists of terrorizing hares (better known as Jack Rabbits in North America) by setting trained and ‘blooded*’ greyhounds in pursuit of them in a large, wired-off enclosure… The so-called ‘sport’ revolves around forcing captive hares to run for their lives in the enclosures, each hare being pursued by two greyhounds.”
* Coursing clubs scour the countryside in search of hares for their baiting sessions, using large nets to capture the animals. Many hares are injured while being netted, which makes them unsuitable for coursing. These injured hares are commonly used in a training method called ‘blooding’, a viciously cruel practice in which hares and rabbits, and occasionally cats, are fed live to greyhounds to give them a taste for blood.
The above quote is an excerpt from ‘Ban Hare Coursing’, a website produced by John Fitzgerald, a free-lance journalist and writer from Ireland who authored the book, ‘Bad Hare Days’. Fitzgerald has been involved in Ireland’s anti-hare coursing movement for almost thirty years.
A review of Fitzgerald’s book contains the following excerpt:
“In Ireland the ‘humble hare’ has been the subject of great controversy. After years of an abusive sport, which resulted in its child-like death screams being heard regularly throughout Ireland, a result was achieved… But the hare’s troubles were – and are – far from over. Though it can no longer be torn apart by greyhounds, now muzzled, it can still be mauled, injured, and tossed about like a rag doll on the coursing field… The gentle hare… has now become an endangered species in Ireland, and this book reinforces its right to be protected.”
Hare coursing is not restricted to Ireland though. According to Wikipedia,
“Since 2005, hare coursing has been banned in [England] but continues elsewhere in the world as a regulated and judged, competitive sport, especially in Ireland and Spain, as well as in Russia and the Western United States… Until the 1970s, there was a dearth of scientific evidence on the welfare impact of coursing. The first thorough study was carried out in 1977–79 by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), albeit that it said that it was ‘not easy to draw conclusions from these reports’”
Not easy to draw conclusions from these reports? What reports does one need to come to the conclusion that this barbaric practice serves no necessary purpose and should be outlawed due to its cruelty alone?
“Though the dogs at official coursing events are muzzled, they still routinely kill or injure the hares. It is a regular sight to see hares being tossed into the air by the competing dogs. Because it is a brittle boned creature, the hare cannot recover from the wounds and bone breakages inflicted. At pre-coursing ‘trials’ (dress rehearsals for the official events) at which no rules apply and the public is kept away, un-muzzled greyhounds are unleashed against hares, resulting in live tug-of-war spectacles in which the animals are literally torn asunder.”
According to Fitzgerald, there are seventy-eight coursing clubs in Ireland, and approximately 10,000 hares are coursed each year. Seventy-five percent of the Irish people oppose hare coursing and want it banned, as has already occurred in Britain. However, not only does it continue, but clubs actually promote hare coursing as a ‘tourist attraction’.
As stated on the Ban Hare Coursing website, “Gamblers, greyhound owners, hunters, and other coursing fans laugh and applaud as the hares are forced to perform for their amusement.”
As horrific as this is, it is only one of many signs that indicate how horribly confused we are about what animals really are. One reader recently sent me a comment blatantly stating her belief that ‘animals are here to be used’. This is a very common attitude toward non-human animals, but as far as I’m concerned, it is the exact opposite of the truth.
I was contemplating this prejudice this morning while I was out on the deck, watching our little rescued rabbit, Poof, hopping around, doing his thing. I’m sure that wild hares are quite different to this fluffy little guy, but I imagine they’re probably pretty similar inside. Poof runs around us in circles and does twirls in the air when he’s excited. He loves his daily treats – a handful of oats puts him in absolute bliss, and a tiny spoonful of papaya-banana smoothie takes him to nirvana. Poof’s previous owners, neighbors of ours, couldn’t possibly know these things about him. If they did, perhaps they would have thought twice about taking him to the pound when they finally moved.
Our previous rabbit friend, Dapper, was rescued from a tiny cage that was hanging on a forty-five degree angle, in the middle of a junkyard. When we let him inside the house to play, Dapper used to run straight into the kitchen. Sometimes he was so excited to get to the fridge that he skated across the shiny tile floor like Bambi’s Thumper on the frozen pond.
There is no doubt in my mind that animals want and deserve not just to live, but to enjoy their lives, free from the persecution of their most vicious enemy – humans. This is not just true for Poof or Dapper, but for every rabbit and hare, as well as every other sentient being.
If animals are meant to be used by humans for any reason at all, it would only be for the purpose of our learning how to love, by learning how to see them clearly. Many people have no problem understanding this in relation to their dogs or cats, or other animals who our society considers ‘pets’. But these same people are unwilling to acknowledge that the same is true with other animals, including the ones we currently use for ‘sport’ or food.
When we insist on using animals for food, entertainment, clothing, or any other purpose, we have no choice but to keep these animals at an emotional distance. A change in diet, along with other simple lifestyle changes, makes such cold-heartedness unnecessary, and we are able to allow all animals into our circle of compassion. This makes it possible for us to see their loveable qualities, which can enrich our lives in ways that are deeply healing.
If we are simply willing to break through our prejudice and see animals as they really are, we have an opportunity to learn how to love life itself, because it is through the magnificence and mystery of our fellow animals that we can connect with the wonders of the natural world and the mysterious forces of creation that have blessed us with such wonderful friends and teachers.
I strongly believe the day will come when humankind will break through the delusion we are currently under, in relation to animals. It will happen one step at a time, with one person at a time recognizing that just like little Poof, and just like dogs and cats, all animals are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Image: Irish Council Against Blood Sports