Imagine being caught in a trap, taken away from your family, dumped in a strange place and given a few days to learn your way around before a pack of dogs is set loose to find, and likely, kill you.
Despite attempts to ban it, Virginia is still home to the cruel blood sport of “penning” – a practice that involves trapping foxes and coyotes in the wild, transporting them whether or not they’re injured and putting them in fenced enclosures where they’re forced to run for their lives and are often caught and brutally torn apart by hunting dogs who are chasing them for practice and competitions.
Last year bills that would have banned fox and coyote penning were introduced, but died in committee, despite being supported by 67 percent of Virginia voters. Now the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) is considering proposed regulations that would amend state regulations on penning, but animal advocates and organizations including the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Project Coyote are still fighting for a full ban.
Not only does this practice cause unnecessary suffering for wildlife, but it also opens the door to other problems, such as the black market for wild animals and the spread of diseases that can affect wildlife, pets and people, including canine parvovirus, canine coronavirus, canine herpesvirus and canine parainfluenza virus, along with a variety of parasites, according to AWI.
While the proposed regulations prohibit pen operators from buying foxes, it still allows them to “reimburse” trappers, perpetuating yet another inhumane act against wildlife.
Supporters continue to argue that it’s a good way to train dogs without trespassing and that foxes aren’t intentionally killed, but an estimated 3,600 fox have died in pens across Virginia in the last three years alone.
Under current state law, pens must be at least 100 acres with places for the foxes to hide. However, previous investigations have found that some pen owners intentionally block hiding spots, leaving penned animals with no place to escape.
A study that was discussed at a meeting in March also highlighted the fact that “88 percent of the tracked foxes — 49 of 56 — died over two penning seasons. Twenty-nine, or 52 percent, of the foxes died during trials, or competitions, indicating the deaths were ‘trial-related,’” reported the Richmond-Times Dispatch.
The VDGIF’s proposed regulations would ban the use of coyotes, limit hunting field trials to five days each week and get rid of cash prizes, but would allow the VDGIF director to waive regulations if they pose an “unreasonable burden” on a pen operator, which makes even having regulations kind of moot.
There is no way regulations will make this practice any more ethically defensible than dog fighting, and as AWI points out, with too few conservation police officers, Virginia doesn’t have the resources to enforce these proposed regulations anyway.
The VDGIF is accepting public comments on the proposed regulations until May 31. Please take a minute to speak up for wildlife and let game officials know that this practice needs to be banned by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or submitting a comment at www.dgif.virginia.gov.
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