National Geographic News
A ban on foxhunting, proposed in England and recently passed by lawmakers in Scotland, reflects a majority view that killing animals for sport is a cruel and uncivilized pastime.
The age-old tradition, spread worldwide during Great Britain's empire-building days, has its U.S. counterpart. Foxhunting in the States is steeped in tradition from the motherland, but with one important difference: The purpose is to chase, but not kill, the fox.
While media coverage and political attention engendered by the foxhunting debate is at an all-time high in Great Britain"Furious Peers Lose Last Chance to Veto Hunt Ban," reads one of the U.K. Guardian Unlimited's headlinesin the United States it is not nearly as prominent. Foxhunters in the U.S., however, could experience fallout from whatever happens in England, said Joseph J. Keusch, a Master of Foxhounds in Virginia.
In the U.S. hounds are trained to pursue the fox until it goes to ground (finds cover in one of its holes). The hounds "mark" the spot by barking at the hole and are then rewarded and called away. Typically the fox is unharmed.
"There is not a single foxhunter out there that doesn't love animals. If you don't like your horse or the ride, you are not going to last long," Keusch said. "We are out there with our friends on horses and enjoying open spaces. We like nothing more than seeing a foxthat is the highlight, that is what we brag about." Keusch's Virginia hunt has had only two kills in the five years he's been a master.
"It's not like you shoot it and then find it some days later. Once the hounds get a fox, it's not going to get away," said Keusch. "If it does, it's not going to be injured. That is where the cruelty, I think, comes inwhen you see a deer with one leg shot off out in the field."
In England hunt objectives are significantly different. Hounds that have successfully tracked a fox are trained to pull it or dig it out of its hole, and the fox is killed. The holes may also be stopped up to prevent the fox from taking cover.
"England has a large number of sheep. Foxes definitely have a toll on young lambs, and the terrain is perfect to encourage overly large [fox] populations," said Lt. Col. Dennis Foster (Ret.), executive director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America (MFHA). One of the main arguments behind the pro-hunt movement in England is that foxhunters perform a social service by culling foxes.
Advocates for banning foxhunting in England argue that hunting and killing animals with packs of dogs is cruel and unnecessary. The United Kingdom Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is one of several organizations that have joined the political fray.
"As far as the RSPCA is concerned, it's a very black and white issue: Hunting is intrinsically cruel. We are opposed to it," said Lisa Dewhurst, Senior Press Officer. The RSPCA suggests that foxhunting be replaced by drag hunting, in which hounds are trained to follow a scented cloth dragged over the ground rather than a fox.
"Drag hunting is a very viable alternative that would allow hunts to retain the social side but without any of the cruelty," said Dewhurst.