Today’s guest blog is written by Edward Clark, president and co-founder of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
What are foxhound training facilities or fox pens?
These so-called training facilities, or fox pens, as they are more commonly known, are parcels of land ranging from 34.5 to 840 acres in size. Foxes are live-trapped from the wild, across the state, transported to the pens, and stocked into these enclosures at densities determined by the owners. The pens are entirely fenced to create an escape-proof enclosure into which foxes are released, ostensibly for the purposes of training foxhounds to follow the scent of foxes and pursue this quarry. For a fee paid to the fox pen operator, hounds are allowed inside the facility to pursue these foxes.
These facilities ignore rules and put lives at risk
Here in Va., the DGIF, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Division of Wildlife Services and the Va. Department of Health, has made wildlife disease control, especially the control of zoonotic diseases like rabies, a very high priority. Foxes are 1 of 5 species that have been identified as high-risk rabies vector species. Strict regulations have been enacted, including absolute prohibitions on relocation of these high risk species by nuisance wildlife trappers. There are also very tight restrictions on where these species can be released by wildlife rehabilitators, practitioners who are specifically trained to deal with sick and injured wildlife. The Va. Department of Health considers any human exposure to a rabies vector species to be a potentially life-threatening situation.
All wildlife rehabilitators who care for even 1 fox or other high-risk animal must be receive pre-exposure rabies vaccines and provide proof of regular proof of current immunity in order to get their permits renewed. No one, other than vaccinated personnel, is allowed to see, let alone handle foxes undergoing rehabilitation. In the event that the rehabilitator or any member of the public is bitten by one of these animals, or even someone’s dog is bitten, the fox is immediately euthanized and submitted for rabies testing. If the fox is not available for testing, the exposed person receives post-exposer vaccinations just to be safe. A dog that is bitten by a fox must be quarantined if the fox cannot be tested. If 1 fox in a cage full of the foxes is determined to have rabies, all must be euthanized on the assumption that the disease has spread.
This one activity flies in the face of every rule, every regulation, and all of the safety procedures that are in effect for protection of both humans and wildlife, in every other field of endeavor that involves high-risk species like foxes. How this has gone on so long simply defies the imagination.
In fox pens, there is no requirement to control disease or minimize the risks to humans, hounds or wildlife
Unvaccinated trappers live trap foxes from anywhere in Va. for relocation across the state. Trappers hold these foxes in captivity for up to a week with no regulation on where they can be held or who can have access to animals. There is no requirement for what minimal cage sizes must be. There is no requirement to report bites to themselves or other people during this period. Then, money changes hands, and the foxes are transferred (not sold) to the pen operators.There is no quarantine procedure in place to assure that new foxes are not introducing an infectious disease or parasites to every other fox in the pen. There is no veterinary involvement whatsoever. It is an epidemiological crap shoot—viral Russian roulette. Once new foxes are introduced to the main enclosure, it must be assumed that every other fox in the pen will be exposed to any disease present. And yet, there is no requirement for even minimal steps to control disease or minimize the risks to humans, hounds or wildlife. This situation is simply absurd.
Either the safety concerns reflected in law and regulation in every other aspect of dealing with rabies vector species are meaningless, or the activities surrounding foxhound training facilities are simply out of control.
Supporters won’t tell you they’re breaking the law
Supporters of this industry will likely tell you that their trade association has published a “best management practices” document which recommends the use of drugs like Ivermectin to control internal parasites and mange in the foxes. Others will tell you that they even vaccinate foxes in their enclosures for rabies.
There must be a moratorium on new facilities, live trapping and stocking new foxes
Please click here to see the Wildlife Center of Virginia's policy considerations and recommendations related to fox pens.
Until all of these issues can be addressed with full input and review by not only the DGIF, but the Va. Department of Health, the United States Department of Agriculture and all agencies with some jurisdiction over the issues created by foxhound training preserves, there must be a moratorium on new facilities and a moratorium on the live trapping of foxes as well as the stocking of new foxes into existing enclosures. To do less would suggest that the financial interest of these 37 operations is more important than the health and safety of the public, the hounds and hounds men who visit the facilities, and indeed the trappers and operators themselves.
Editor's note: Mr. Clark testified before the Va. Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources in support of SB1280 on Thursday, Jan. 31, calling upon the Va. General Assembly and the Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries to, at the minimum, enact an immediate and indefinite moratorium on the issuance of new permits for foxhound training facilities, and an immediate and indefinite moratorium on the restocking of existing facilities until a complete regulatory review and rulemaking can be conducted.
Edward Clark is the president of the Wildlife Center of Virginia. The Wildlife Center is one of the world’s leading teaching and research hospitals for wildlife and conservation medicine and cares for nearly 3,000 wild animals each year. The organization is recognized as an international leader in the field of wildlife disease surveillance and research. To read the biographies of our regular 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.