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August 20, 2012

Stop the Hounding of California’s Wildlife

Today, the Los Angeles Times reports on the HSUS-backed bill to stop the inhumane, unsporting, and high-tech practice of hound hunting of black bears and bobcats—where trophy hunters release as many as 20 dogs, often fitted with radio transmitters on their collars, to chase, attack, and corner a panting animal who may in the end be shot from a tree branch. That bill, S.B. 1221, which has passed the state Senate and two Assembly committees, is slated for a vote on the Assembly floor as soon as this week. Every California voter should call his or her Assemblymember in support of S.B. 1221 today.

There’s no question that the final act of the hunt—where the hunter, following the signal emitting the hounds’ collars on a handheld directional antenna, shoots the animal at point-blank range—makes a mockery of any notion of sportsmanship or fair chase. It’s more of a high-tech killing than it is a fair-chase hunt.

Spokesmen from the trophy hunting lobby claim that it’s actually humane to shoot the cornered animal, since the hunter can just about guarantee a killing shot. That’s the same, weak rationale for shooting any kind of animal in a fenced enclosure in a captive hunt, or any animal that is lured to bait.

Bear

That’s bad enough. But what’s worse, in my mind, is the run-up to that final, pathetic act.

What’s truly inhumane about high-tech hounding is the lengthy chase and the animal fight that often ensues between the bear and the pack of dogs.

Hound hunters are allowed in the field with their dogs many months of the year, including much of the autumn. The fall is a critical time in the bears’ annual life cycle, where they feed constantly to build fat reserves for their long period of dormancy, or hibernation through the winter. But the houndsmen can chase the bears for hours on end, every day during the season, denying them time to feed and causing them to expend huge amounts of energy as they flee the dogs.

There are no time limits on how long a bear can be chased. Studies in professional wildlife management journals shows that typical chases last for more than three hours, and sometimes go as long as twelve hours. The bears, with their large mass and heavy coats, overheat—and researchers note that this lengthy chase can even cause brain-stem damage. Bears can also become separated from their cubs during a lengthy chase that can cover miles.

After some period of being chased, the quarry will sometimes turn and fight the dogs, and an animal fighting situation ensues. In a state that outlaws dogfighting and cockfighting, there should be no green light given for fights between dogs and bears. The bear may be bigger, but he or she can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of dogs turned loose and attacking him or her.

The hunters claim that this amounts to “catch-and-release” hunting; they chase the bear or bobcat time and again without shooting the quarry. To me, it’s more like constant harassment and cruelty, with the bears and bobcats getting no respite.

Just about all of us, at one time or another, have felt fear when encountering an aggressive dog, even if it’s just lasted for a minute. Put yourself in the position of a bear. Imagine being chased and attacked by 20 dogs over a twelve-hour period. What fear and anguish the creature must feel.

Is that not obviously and demonstrably inhumane, even if there’s not a shot fired?

Lawmakers can rightly reject hounding because the kill is so unfair. But what makes hounding so inhumane is the use of the dogs and the chasing and fighting that is part of the process.

And all for what? For a bear head and hide, and for bragging rights.

Californians outlawed trophy hunting of mountain lions four decades ago, and they’ve affirmed that in two statewide votes, partly because lion hunting happens with packs of dogs. It’s time to pass S.B. 1221 and outlaw hounding of bears, as Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and so many other states have done.

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