The Virginia General Assembly passed a much amended and significantly watered down version of Senator Dave Marsden’s Senate Bill 42 last week. That is the bill that would prohibit fox penning in Virginia. As anyone who reads this blog or our Facebook page knows, the Richmond SPCA has worked very hard over many years to help end the brutal and unethical practice of fox penning in our state. Fox penning does not involve fair chase, or fair anything else, and it is not by any stretch of the imagination actual hunting but, rather, is animal fighting.
We all are deeply in the debt of Senator Marsden who has relentlessly and courageously pursued an end to fox penning in our state for all the right reasons. His bill seemed to be dead for another year when it was tabled by the House Agriculture Committee this 2014 session after having passed the Senate. It looked like the result was going to be much the same as last year. But then, a quiet effort began between a group of the penners and their lawyer on one side and the Attorney General’s Office on the other side to find a compromise bill that could pass the General Assembly. It is important to know that the Attorney General’s Office had given the penners reason to worry about their future when, earlier in the session, their lawyers took the positions that the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries had never had the statutory authority to license the pens and that fox penning is indistinguishable from animal fighting which is a felony in Virginia.
A compromise was hammered out by the aforementioned parties with little involvement from anyone else. It provides for a moratorium on the issuance of any more licenses for more fox pens, that the current 36 pens will be phased out at the end of 40 years (yep, you read that right) and that the pens cannot be stocked collectively with any more than 900 foxes a year. The compromise bill passed the House and then passed the Senate and is now sitting on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature, which I imagine will happen.
I have been asked many times now what we think of this outcome to our years of efforts to end the abhorrent practice of fox penning. I guess I am reminded of the statement of Otto von Bismarck that “politics is the art of the possible.” It does not make us happy in the least but it is better than the alternative of fox penning continuing unchecked. We are happy that no more licenses for pens will be issued. We are happy that the existing pens will be phased out ultimately. But, 40 years is much too long for a cruel practice to continue in our state – that is actually longer than they have already been in existence. Allowing 900 more foxes to be trapped and ushered to their certain suffering and death annually is far too much. But, the alternative, at least for the short term, was no limitation on the licensing of or the continuation of fox penning and weak enforcement of the few regulations that exist by the DGIF.
It is a tough compromise for sure and its making did not sufficiently involve the stakeholders, of which we were one, who have worked long and hard on this issue. I would have hoped for more for the protection of the animals. However, I am modestly consoled by the fact that the General Assembly has now made it clear that fox penning is a practice that we do not want in our state and that it must and will be stopped. It can no longer be claimed that fox penning is a form of hunting or that it is ethical. If it were either of those things, they would not have voted to end it. The penners have gotten more deference than they ever deserved but it is now unarguable that their practices are abhorrent to our state. We are grateful for that and we are very grateful to Senator Marsden and the Humane Society of the United States without whose determination nothing would have ever happened to protect 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 both your first and last name to be used as your screen name.