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Fox pens stir heated debate
SoVaNow.com / February 11, 2013Blood sport or hallowed tradition? At the General Assembly, fox penning is a hot topic.
Senate Bill 1280, introduced by Fairfax Democrat David Marsden and approved last week by the full Senate on a 24-16 vote, would ban new fox pens and gradually phase out the 37 pens that now operate in Virginia, primarily in Southside.
Fox pens are typically small, family-run enclosures, at least 100 acres in size but usually closer to 200 acres, where foxhounds are trained to follow the scent of foxes and pursue their quarry. Enthusiasts say the facilities are useful in teaching foxhounds to lead the hunt and not to kill their prey; opponents claim thousands of foxes die each year at the facilities, which they say violate the spirit of ethical hunting by failing to give pursued animals a fair chance to escape.
The issue has stirred at passions at the General Assembly. On the same day the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources panel killed a controversial uranium mining bill, the panel also heard a debate across the hall on the fox penning bill — drawing a bigger crowd than the one that showed up for uranium.
The Senate ag panel reported Marsden’s bill out of committee by the slimmest of margins, 8-7.
The Senate bill now heads over to the House of Delegates, where the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources will consider it. A member of the subcommittee that is set to initally hear the bill, Del. James Edmunds, said this week he would vote against it and “[h]opefully the bill will be defeated and the proud tradition of fox penning in Virginia can be passed on to our children and grandchildren.”
Foes of fox penning say there’s nothing about fox pens that should inspire pride. Laura Donahue, Virginia state director for The Humane Society of the United States, calls fox penning “truly Virginia’s last legal bloodsport,” and the Wildlife Center of Virginia, an animal health and conservation group, has called for a moratorium on the issuance of new fox pen permits and no more stocking of foxes at existing facilities until a complete regulatory review is completed.
Opponents note that the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in 2007 temporarily shut down most of Virginia’s fox pens for violating permit requirements. Game officials are considering new rules this spring to tighten control over fox pens.
Marsden’s bill would cease all new permits, bar competitive hunts at existing facilities and restrict the transfer of existing permits to spouses only — a step that eventually would lead the disappearance of fox pens.
Advocates say fox penning is already well-regulated, and they argue that opponents are distorting the truth about a Virginia hunting tradition.
Fox penning — a type of foxhound training — allows hunters to condition their dogs without letting them loose on others’ property, and contrary to the assertions of animal welfare advocates, the pens are not the slaughtering grounds where foxes have no chance of survival.
Among the persons who spoke before the Senate panel is David Buchanan of Chase City, owner of one of five existing fox pens in Mecklenburg County. (Halifax County does not have any fox pens, but Pittsylvania has two). Buchanan decries what he describes as falsehoods and half-truths being bandied about in the fox penning debate, and called on legislators to educate themselves about fox pens before voting to ban them.
“How can members of the General Assembly vote on an issue involving fox pens without ever seeing one or witnessing a competition?” he asked. Buchanan added: “I could even accept their voting to ban fox pens if I knew that they were educated and making an informed vote. But they’re not. Most of those opposing fox pens are only listening to what’s being told them by people on one side of the issue.”
Fox pens first came into existence in the 1980s, according to Buchanan, and were developed in response to people complaining about dogs and foxhunters traipsing across their land. As more people posted their property with anti-hunting signs, foxhunters had fewer areas open to hunt. Thus was born the fox pen.
The term “fox pen” may suggest a small enclosure, but by law the fenced preserves must have at least 100 acres; the typical pen has 200 acres. The land is undisturbed and filled with trees, berries and other foods essential to the fox living wild.
Additional feeding stations, enclosed to keep out dogs, are scattered throughout the preserve. They sustain the fox during lean months.
All fox pens are subject to licensing and regulation by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The regulations call for pens to be inspected annually, and for owners to vaccinate their fox against rabies and have them regularly inspected and treated by licensed veterinarians.
DGIF officials say that the pens can only be stocked with fox trapped in Virginia.
Existing state regulations calls for each pen to have at least one “dog-proof escape area for every 20 acres” of preserve. The area can be either natural or man-made, such as an underground tunnel, a log, or clay pipe with barriers — as long as they allow fox ingress to the site while blocking out the dogs.
If a fox living in a pen is injured, the owner must immediately remove it and seek medical treatment. Injured foxes are not allowed inside, under state regulations.
Buchanan disputes the claim by fox pen opponents that the facilities exist for the sole purpose of allowing dogs to kill fox and coyote. The purpose of the pen “is to train the dogs to hunt, not to kill a fox. It would be too expensive to maintain a fox pen if every time the dogs were allowed inside, a fox was killed. Most fox pen owners don’t want the fox killed,” he said.
“These foxes are smart. If they don’t want to be chased, they know where or how to hide. I’ve even seem them climb trees to get away from the dogs,” said Buchanan.
Coyotes are protected under separate regulations, he added.
Buchanan believes DGIF, which is reviewing existing regulations, is in the best position to decide what should be done with fox pens: “If we don’t wait for the study to be completed, we’ve wasted a lot of taxpayer money for nothing.”
Fox penning advocates point to another reason to keep the industry alive: the contribution it makes to the Virginia economy.
Roy Neighbors, who works for Bartlett & Co., one of the largest suppliers of feed for dog and fox pen owners, says those opposing fox pens don’t understand the negative economic impact that a total ban would have.
Neighbors said foxhunters and pen owners contribute millions of dollars to Virginia’s economy. Preserves are supported by dog owners, hunters, hunt clubs, veterinarians and others who enjoy the sport, he said. It contributes revenue in a variety of ways, from licensing to veterinary bills to feed and permit purchases. It all adds up to a considerable amount, he said.
Neighbors said Bartlett Mills currently does about $3 million in business in feed — $2 million of that for fox and dogs. He said the majority of that business comes from dog owners who have trained foxhounds.
If fox pens are shut down, he estimated he will lose two-thirds of his feed business.
In Emporia, where large field trial competitions are held two to three times each year, the manager of the local Days Inn said dog owners and fox penning enthusiasts make up at least half of his customer base during the competitions. Individuals associated with foxhound field trials are the single largest group that patronize his hotel, and he relies on them and the money they bring for his business.
CommentsBuchanan does not reveal the "whole" story. He does not say how the past 12 years his neighbors have endured under much duress the constant and non stop howling and barking of his paid customers dogs have violated personal property rights of all adjoining landowners.
How several realtors refused to list property of an adjoining landowner because they did not want to become involved.
Also did not disclose neighbor going to his house crying and pleading to please stop the noise because of their lack of sleep due to the overnight noise of his"customers" dogs.
Plus the foxes can be heard being ripped apart alive in the early morning hours after being chased non stop for 12 hours. He is pathetic in my personal opinion...and by the way...he is NOT "like a good neighbor".
- By Debra bertok on 05 / 28 / 13
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