On Thursday morning, I spoke, along with many other opponents of the cruel practice of fox penning, at a meeting of the Board of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The DGIF has never actually put the issue of fox pens on the Board’s agenda in 2012 even though they were asked to look into the matter during the last session of the General Assembly. Since this was the last meeting of the year, people concerned about the cruel practice of fox penning came to speak to the Board and ask them to place a moratorium on the issuance of fox pen licenses and to begin to change the regulations that permit this practice in Virginia. At the Thursday morning meeting, there were more than twice as many public speakers opposed to fox penning as there were speakers who support this cruel behavior. After the public comment period was over, the Board decided to have the staff of the DGIF solicit more public comments and come up with recommendations regarding possible new or changed regulations on the subject during the coming year. This will not change the fact that a bill will be introduced again during this coming session of the General Assembly to have the legislature institute a moratorium on the issuance of more fox pen licenses.
While a moratorium would be a good thing and better than the current situation, the best approach would be for our state to simply outlaw the unethical practice of fox penning which has already been outlawed in Florida. Fox penning is simply not hunting and bears no relationship to mounted fox hunting or any other form of traditional hunting which honors the ethics of fair chase.
Any reasonable person would actually think that fox penning would fall under the terms of our felony animal fighting law here in Virginia. The abhorrent practice of catching live wild foxes, releasing them in an enclosure where there is no escape and then setting large numbers of hounds on them to chase them until they are caught and often torn apart limb by limb is bizarrely one that is currently licensed by Virginia through the DGIF. And, yet, it is impossible for anyone to articulate why this practice does not fall within the precise terms of the Virginia felony animal fighting statute.
The most remarkable moment of the public comments made before the DGIF Board on Thursday morning occurred after the large group of fox penning opponents had finished. Kirby Burch who is the president of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance and a loud defender of fox penning went on a tirade about how this issue was being pushed entirely by the Humane Society of the United States (ignoring entirely that I and a large number of other speakers not associated with the HSUS had just finished speaking against it). He urged that no compromise whatsoever on the issue should be tolerated and then likened those who oppose fox penning to Adolf Hitler – I am really not making this up. Mr. Burch apparently is not familiar with Godwin’s Law which is a well circulated Internet adage that once someone makes a reference to Hitler in support of an argument he has lost all credibility and has lost the argument.
After the public comments were finished and the proposal for the DGIF staff to come up with recommendations had been passed, Scott Reed the Chairman of the DGIF Board urged that both sides in the matter seek to find a reasonable solution and to treat each other respectfully. I agree with him completely and note that it is the advocates of fox penning, not the opponents who are engaging in irresponsible rhetoric likening people of good intentions and compassion for animals to Hitler and labeling them as terrorists. Such hyperbolic and incendiary language is unacceptable and leads to no positive outcomes for anyone. Certainly not for the animals.
Robin Robertson Starr is the chief executive officer of the Richmond SPCA. To read her biography or that of our other bloggers, please click here. Before posting a comment, please review our comment guidelines. Please note that our comment policy requires a first and last name to be used as your screen name.