Responsible hunting with hounds benefits everyone
H. KIRBY BURCH TIMES-DISPATCH COLUMNIST
Published: January 25, 2009
Hunting with hounds is as old as Virginia. Our state dog is the American Foxhound. Twenty-five Virginia county boards of supervisors have passed resolutions supporting hunting with dogs.
Today this tradition is under attack by forces unconcerned with facts. Instead they resort to accusing hunters of inhumane treatment of their animals and the game they hunt. They repeat urban legends about undernourished and abandoned hounds, ignoring the truth about hunting and its benefits to the community and its contribution to keeping the natural order balanced.
Hunting with hounds accounts for approximately 65 percent of all deer hunting east of U.S. Route 29, the east of the Blue Ridge demarcation where using dogs for deer hunting is legal. Dog-based hunting adds about $250 million annually to Virginia's economy.
Many convenience stores in rural Virginia could not survive without the income from members of local hunt clubs that use hounds. Much of the rural open space that Virginians enjoy would not exist if hunters did not lease that land and provide owners with income, resource management, and, in many cases, maintenance of their interior roads.
Public safety is another benefit of Virginia's hunting-with-hounds tradition. Nationally, more than 200 people die annually in automobile crashes with wildlife, mostly deer, and many more people are injured. In 2006, 44,000 insurance damage claims were paid, averaging $2,800 each, and it is estimated that many more crashes were not reported. Without hunting, losses in property and life would rise tremendously. Virginia's black bear population has dramatically increased, and these larger animals present more danger.
Unmanaged wildlife populations devastate farms and suburban landscapes and lead to diseases -- deer ticks spread Lyme's; foxes and raccoons spread rabies. Hunting with hounds is the most effective way to control these populations -- and when hounds are used, wounded game is less likely to escape. Also, hunters provide thousands of pounds of meat to the needy through programs such as Hunters for the Hungry.
Rumors of dogs abandoned after hunting season are exaggerated. While there are a few unethical hunters, the overwhelming majority love their hounds and provide them excellent care. Hunters invest a lot of time and money in the care and training of their dogs. Most veterinarians observe that hounds used for hunting are far healthier than the average house pet that gets little exercise and is usually overweight.
Like any athlete who runs marathons, a hunting hound may look too thin to someone unfamiliar with the sport. Hounds are the marathon runners of the canine world. An unfit and overweight dog or person cannot complete a 5K run, much less a 26-mile marathon. And like some people, dogs run because they love it! This is just common sense to the majority of rural Virginians, and they wonder why anyone would consider limiting hunting with hounds.
Recently, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries tried to convince the public that there has been a dramatic increase of trespassing by hound hunters. A Freedom of Information request and contact with local police officials proved that this is not true: Trespassing complaints are declining. Hunters now use expensive radio-tracking collars to help find their dogs. These collars also enable hunters to track dogs that cross private property so that it is not necessary to physically enter that property unless the chase is stopped.
Unfortunately, the animal-rights groups in this country are dedicated to ending all hunting as well as the breeding of animals used for food, medical research, and entertainment. The largest and most vocal of these groups is the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). It has a $100 million budget and shares many of the same goals as the Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has many animal-rights goals.
While HSUS and PETA talk animal protection, their Web sites reveal the truth if you read carefully. HSUS owns no shelters and provides no hands-on care of animals. It has used the money it raises to sue egg, cattle, and poultry producers, as well as horse breeders and research facilities. It uses financial contributions to lobby for an end to circuses, rodeos, and even zoos. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs reported that in 2006, PETA killed 90.9 percent of the animals entrusted to it for rescue.
Wayne Pacelle, CEO of HSUS, revealed the radical nature of his organization over a decade ago when he said: "We have no ethical obligation to preserve the different breeds of domestic livestock produced through selective breeding -- one generation and out. We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding." (Animal People News, 5/1/1993)
Ethical hunters using hounds provide Virginians with wholesome family-oriented recreation and teach our youth about stewardship and citizenship. We should not allow animal rights fanatics to put an end to this important tradition.