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June 25, 2012

Time to Call Off the Hounds in California

Last week, I wrote about the U.S. Senate passing an amendment to fortify the federal law against animal fighting, during consideration of the farm bill. If we are serious about eliminating all forms of animal fighting, as we should be, then a California Assembly committee should pass S.B. 1221―a bill to ban the inhumane and unsporting practice of hounding bears and bobcats―tomorrow. That practice inevitably leads to battles between dogs and their quarry. The state Senate approved the bill last month, and it’s now time for the Assembly to focus on the problem and eliminate an unacceptable practice in the leading humane state in the nation.

Hound puppy
The HSUS
HSUS's Jennifer Fearing took in this hound puppy
and four others bred for hounding in California.

Many states, including Colorado, Montana, and Oregon, maintain major bear hunting programs, but they outlaw the use of packs of dogs to hunt the animals because of concerns about hunting ethics and inhumane treatment of animals. The dogs in this form of hunting are used to stack the odds even more in favor of the hunter, with the dogs eventually driving the animal up a tree to set up an easy shot for the houndsmen.

We know it’s inhumane for the dogs to chase the bears for miles and exhaust them, and, in the end, for the houndsmen to shoot the frightened and exhausted bear out of a tree. 

But what about what happens during the chase and before the final act of shooting an animal off of a tree limb? Well, that’s where animal fighting comes in.

The dogs lock on to whatever wildlife they find and then give chase. If it’s a bear, they’re coming up against a powerful creature, with the tools and muscle to fight back. Eventually, most bears, realizing they are badly outnumbered by a pack of 12 or 15 dogs, will climb a tree to escape the dogs. But before that happens, the dogs may overtake the bear and a bloody fight may ensue. In other cases, the harassed bear may simply stand his ground and fight the dogs.

There’s no pit and there are no spectators or wagers on the outcome. But it’s an animal fight nonetheless, with all the combat, blood, flesh wounds, and trauma associated with animal fights.

And all for what? So a hunter can claim a trophy of a predator―an animal not generally used for the pot? 

Given that major hunting states have outlawed hounding and still conduct successful seasons, what possible rationale can one offer for its continuation, other than allegiance to tradition and their own warped sense of good fun?

California has stronger laws to protect animals than any other state. Voters there have outlawed trophy hunting of mountain lions, the use of steel-jawed traps to catch fur-bearing animals, stopped horse slaughter, and even voted to phase out extreme confinement of animals on factory farms. Lawmakers have passed dozens of laws, especially in recent years, related to dogfighting, cockfighting, shark finning, and other forms of abuse.

It’s time to pass S.B. 1221, to put a plug in a gaping hole in the state’s animal protection policies. If you are a Californian, call your Assemblymember and urge him or her to favor S.B. 1221 to stop unstaged fights between animals in the woods.

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