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Wednesday, June 19, 2013
The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has tightened regulations that govern foxhound training enclosures in Virginia, but this hot issue is far from over.
Animal-rights activists made it clear during a public hearing in Richmond that they aren't interested in regulations. They want an outright ban on enclosures, which they say promote activities more akin to dog fighting than hunting.
Even several hunters spoke in opposition to the facilities where live trapped wild foxes are released behind fences to be pursued by hounds. Eric Fagerholm of Monclair said the practice goes against everything his grandfather taught him about ethical hunting and sportsmanship.
Members and supporters of the Virginia Foxhound Training Preserve Owners Association defended the nearly 40 operations in the state, saying they provide humane facilities where hound lovers can train dogs apart from the hazards of highways and without intruding on private property.
"I don't know of anyone who will go away happy," said Leon Turner, a DGIF board member from Fincastle. He joined fellow board members in unanimous approval of the regulations. "I think some good will come out of this. There surely will be changes to it down the road."
Laura Donahew hopes not too far down the road. She is the Virginia director of the Humane Society of the United States, a well-heeled organization that paints all hunting with a harsh brush.
"These regulations fall vastly short," she said.
Donahew predicted that there would be growing contempt for enclosures, calling them "a black eye on hunting."
Houndsman Watkins Abbitt of Appomattox, who served 26 years in the Virginia General Assembly, said organized opposition to the enclosures is being advanced by people who are on a fund-raising mission. They have little knowledge of foxes or enclosures, he said.
"No fox pen owner wants a fox to be killed," he said.
Opponents of enclosures said they were insulted when a board member asked for a show of hands of people who had visited an enclosure. Few hands went up.
Most hunters never have used an enclosure, nor do they have plans to do so. Some quietly question if the facilities always meet fair-chase standards, but they support their use out of concern that the animal-right's people are attacking enclosures as a weak link in their effort to ban all hunting. If successful on this issue, the fear is they will be back to attack other forms of hunting.
Here's a summary of the new regulations which will be enforced beginning July 1:
The regulations drew over 5,000 comments during several months when public input was solicited. At the Richmond hearing, concerns about rabies in foxes were raised by animal-right's advocates.
One speaker recommended that hounds inside enclosures be muzzled so as not to harm foxes. Another recommended using a scented dragline so hounds could be trained without the chance of sacrificing foxes.
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