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August 23, 2010

Uncovered in South Carolina: Bear Abuse for Show

Through the years, The HSUS has exposed and challenged many new forms of cruelty perpetrated against animals—like the depravity of Internet hunting, the vicious pastime of hog dog fighting, or the murderous and macabre “animal crush” video phenomenon. Today, we are exposing anew one of the earliest forms of cruelty targeted by 18th- and 19th- century humane advocates and one that we had believed was no longer practiced in our nation: bear baiting, or as it’s known now in its modern form, “bear baying.”

Around 1800, the first animal welfare campaigners in England focused on halting bull baiting and bear baiting with dogs—where a tethered bull or bear was set upon by dogs who attacked the animal. With the bears, the victim often had his or her teeth pulled, and claws filed down, rendering the animal without his or her primary defenses. It was a vestige of ancient animal fighting as a spectator sport—not unlike the staged fights in the Roman Colosseum many centuries earlier. The practice was banned in the United Kingdom in 1835, and New York became the first state to outlaw it in 1856. And until recently, we believed that the practice was thriving only in a few remote areas of Pakistan.

A tethered bear cowers at a South Carolina bear baying event investigated by The Humane Society of the United States
The HSUS
A tethered bear cowers at a South Carolina bear baying event.

Today, the Associated Press broke the story that this infamous practice is alive and well in South Carolina. An HSUS undercover investigator documented bear baying at several locations in rural areas, and it appears that South Carolina is the only state in the nation to allow this cruelty.

In this disturbing video, you’ll see a pack of three dogs rush the bear, barking, biting and lunging at her. Frightened, the bear rears up on her hind legs, and has to use her strength to fend off the dogs, swinging at them. She suffers bites and gashes, but the real trauma is the psychological trauma of a ceaseless set of attacks that last for hours. In fact, one bear was subjected to attacks for four hours as nearly 100 teams of dogs were set upon her in rapid succession. The bear—likely named Mandy, according to records—may endure this treatment every weekend throughout much of the year.

She is surrounded by throngs of onlookers, many who traveled hundreds of miles to take part in the spectacle.

The bear baying events investigated by The HSUS were organized by the American Plott Association and the National Plott Hound Association, groups affiliated with the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club. The HSUS has called on the AKC and UKC to intervene and stop these animal competitions.

The intent of bear baying is for dogs to compete at keeping a bear in place—or at bay—with the owners of the dogs who are rated highest on their ability to “bay” the bear receiving trophies or cash prizes. The result, however, resembles nothing more than a staged animal fight.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources issued permits for 26 bears to be kept confined in the state, many used for this purpose, restricted to small cages when they are not being beset with barking dogs.

The state should investigate and, if warranted, prosecute the people involved. And the DNR needs to immediately revoke the possession permit for Mandy and all other bears used for this cruel practice, and see that they are sent to a sanctuary.

If this practice is so repulsive and so obviously cruel that it was outlawed nearly two centuries ago in the United Kingdom, it certainly cannot withstand scrutiny today—where our nation works to adhere to the value that cruelty is wrong and humans are called to behave responsibly in their dealings with animals. There can be no excuse for this torment and cruelty, and not a single event like this should be staged anywhere again in our nation or in any civilized part of the world.

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