This essay by Marlene A. Condon originally appeared in The Roanoke Times on Nov. 14, 2012. Condon is a naturalist, author and photographer who resides in Crozet, and her essay appears on our blog with her permission.
There is no universally agreed upon definition for what comprises "sport." But everyone recognizes that for an activity to be sporting, there should be fair treatment of others in the game or contest.
Some hunters (such as Cochran) and pen operators (such as Jennifer Hackett, an officer of the Virginia Foxhound Training Preserve Owners Association) may argue that penned foxes are treated fairly. They say that there are hiding places for the foxes inside the pens into which these animals can escape the dogs pursuing them.
But these folks are overlooking the fact that foxes are being terrorized solely for the purposes of human recreation. Although operators of pens often claim that foxes enjoy a good chase, everyone knows that an animal aware that it's running for its life is utterly terrified, just as a human would be in such circumstances.
Killing animals for food is one thing. Participating in a game in which the foxes are thought of as nothing more than playthings to be chased is inhumane.
Why? Because it illustrates an utter disrespect for living organisms that experience the same feelings of fear, pain, joy and sadness as humans do.
For years, wildlife biologists and many outdoors-men have denied that other kinds of life could experience emotions akin to those felt by humans. Fishermen would even go so far as to claim that fish with severe hook-inflicted wounds felt no pain.
This denial of basic biological functioning was perhaps a way for wildlife biologists and fishermen to avoid acknowledging their insensitive treatment of wild animals. By claiming animals don't experience emotions, these folks could pursue their vocation or hobby without guilt.
But anyone who spends a great deal of time around animals, be they wildlife or pets, can plainly see that animals do indeed experience emotions. You can't deny that dogs wag their tails and jump around excitedly because they are happy to see you, or that they whimper when they injure themselves because they are feeling pain. And many of us have had dogs so terrified by thunder claps that they try to hide under furniture.
These emotions also hold true for wildlife. I've heard the plaintive chirps of Carolina wrens and Eastern Phoebes that told me before I'd checked their nest sites that they'd lost their chicks to predators. The sadness in the sounds they were making was totally unmistakable; otherwise, I could not have surmised what had taken place.
I've heard the frightened cries of a young raccoon kit as it ran around in circles in my front yard. The sounds were so clearly that of a terrified animal that it demanded my immediate attention from inside the house.
And as I looked out the window, I witnessed a truly touching illustration of a mother's devotion to her young as the kit's mother immediately appeared to carry her baby back to her den, some 30 feet above the ground, straight up.
The reality is that emotions assist survival and ensure perpetuation of life – animal as well as human. Yet there are people who insist that catching foxes in leghold traps (a barbarous activity in and of itself) and then imprisoning them (or other kinds of animals - coyotes in some states) to sic dogs upon them isn't animal abuse.
Some hunters, operators of pens and apparently the board that rules the Department of Game & Inland Fisheries believe there's nothing wrong with treating foxes as insensate toys. Otherwise the board would put an end to penning because it does possess the power to outlaw it.
State government officials should cringe at the thought of supporting the exploitation and abhorrent treatment of these little canines. But then again, Virginia legislators did nothing to outlaw dog and chicken fighting – Southern "traditions" that had been considered acceptable – until Virginians made clear that they embraced higher standards of animal welfare for our state.
If you're distressed by the inhumane activity of fox penning and consider it intolerable, please contact the DGIF, your state legislators and the governor to condemn this practice.
If you've ever felt fear, never mind true terror, you know that it's not a feeling one wants to experience again and again and again – as foxes in pens must do.
Please speak out today on behalf of these animals that are powerless to speak for themselves.
Editor's note: A poll on the website of The Roanoke Times asks "Should Virginia ban fox penning, the sport in which dogs chase foxes in fenced-in land?" Please click here to vote "yes" and give a voice to the animals who suffer due to the cruel practice of fox penning.
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