Is U.S. Safe From Foxhunting Debate?

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"We don't agree that they [foxes] are vermin," said Dewhurst. "We do accept that there are foxes that are a problem." In those instances, other ways of controlling problem foxes that are deemed more humane are advocated, such as employing skilled shooters.

Foxes are occasionally killed in U.S. hunts, although this is the exception. "Foxes gone to ground are healthy, and the few that do get killed are probably sick," said Foster, adding that this encourages healthier populations.

U.S. Hunt History in Brief

Organized foxhunts in the U.S. have existed since colonial times, and until the 1960s were identical to those in England, said Foster.

Red foxes were imported from England because the native grey fox climbs trees, making the hunt exceedingly difficult. Some red foxes migrated from Canada; also, many groups hunt other quarry including coyotes. Quarry may be culled where it is regarded as a threat to livestock, but it must be done in a humane manner. Population control of the red fox, however, has never been an issue in the U.S.

"They are not vermin here," said Foster. Foxhunting in the U.S. and Canada is regulated by the MFHA, which "put the emphasis on the chase because we didn't need to cull the foxes," he said.

Banning the Hunt

Drawbacks to a ban in England include the impact on those who might lose their jobs as a result, the necessity of putting down a large number of foxhounds, and the loss of a 300-year-old tradition.

"We estimate that somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 full-time equivalent jobs presently depend on hunting, although the number of people involved may be significantly higher," stated the 2000 Burns Report, the result of a government-initiated inquiry into hunting with dogs. "The hunts argue that the majority of the present 20,000 or so hounds would have to be put down."

In March, the British government announced that it would take six months to consult with all parties before introducing new legislation regarding the future of foxhunting. The three options being considered include imposing a complete ban on foxhunting, maintaining the status quo, and establishing licensing laws that restrict the hunt to specific purposes, such as culling large populations.

Whatever the outcome in England, it's certain the debate will continue for some time after any legislative decision has been made there. For foxhunting in the U.S., the "chase" may or may not be the saving grace.

More About Foxhunting

Masters of Foxhounds Association of America

Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Foxman (pro-foxhunting discourse)

BBC news coverage of the debate

Guardian Unlimited news coverage of the debate

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