The Spectre of ‘OffFox’

This week’s note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive

This week was the fifth anniversary of the passage of the Hunting Act 2004. The hunters, or their spokespeople at least, are still for the most part in a state of collective denial. For them the Hunting Act should in their view never have happened, and they dearly hope that one day they will wake up and the Act will magically have gone away again.

Listening to the hunters’ spokespeople you realise what a massive quandary they are now in. According to them hunting is more popular than it was before the ban. That one fact makes a complete nonsense of their claims the Act needs to be repealed. If it is more popular now than before, why would they want to go backwards to a situation where hunting is less popular and less well supported?

Then there is the question of Parliament spending more time on hunting.  The hunters claim that they are obeying the law and that hunting is more popular than before, what possible justification can there be for spending time repealing the Hunting Act? The assertion that the law cannot be enforced is also rubbish; there have been over 70 convictions under the Hunting Act, several cautions and several guilty pleas.

The hunters claim that the countryside needs and wants them, despite all the polling and economic evidence to the contrary. In their claims they assert that they are the voice of the countryside, when they quite clearly are not when over 70% of rural residents support the ban and oppose repeal.

I find the hunters arguments in support of repeal nothing less than pathetic. They claim that the passage of the Act was an act of class prejudice. They seem quite unable to grasp the concept that what most people are against is cruelty and abuse for sport. The practice of setting dogs onto animals for sport is cruel and abusive. The call for repeal is all about turning the clock back and making it legal to set a dog or dogs onto an animal for sport.

The most frequent arguments by the hunters are based around their target animals being a pest. They seek to claim that their actions are necessary and that in some way provides an excuse for cruelty. They argue that the kill is quick and humane despite the evidence to the contrary.

Death by disembowelling clearly isn’t humane, and yet that is the reality of fox, mink and hare hunting with a pack of hounds. Death by short barrelled shotgun is equally questionable if the hunted animal has to be hunted over a considerable distance to a standstill before the coup de grace can be administered.

When confronted by the awkward truths of their own methods of killing, the hunters turn to examples about the proverbial fox in the chicken coop as if that would provide a justification for human cruelty to an animal. They conveniently ignore the non carnivorous diets of hares and deer and demonise them by claiming that they eat crops and trees. And now that the returning otters are effectively driving the mink out of their territories, some have begun to demand that the otter should no longer be a protected species because they eat fish.

The hunters latest claim is that the Hunting Act has done nothing for animal welfare. They completely ignore the fact that setting dogs onto an animal and chasing it for sport is a crime. They completely ignore the fact that they also claim that on the estimated 100,000 hunting days since the ban the hunts have been obeying the law. How can the Act have done nothing for animal welfare if they are obeying the law?

If on the other hand we look behind what the hunters and their spokespeople are saying and assume that they are lying when they say they are obeying the law and telling the truth when they say that the Act has done nothing for animal welfare, they can only be admitting that they are breaking the law and hunting illegally.

Every so often the hunters try the line that farmers can’t shoot straight and that foxes are being wounded but not killed. But they can’t produce any credible evidence to support that claim. As fast as the hunters may claim that the shooters can’t shoot to kill humanely, the big guns in the shooting lobby do their best to rubbish these claims lest they be believed and undermine the whole shooting industry which claims to kill humanely.

The core truth about hunting for sport is that it is all about using an animal as a live target for the gratification of the hunters. Whether the hunted animal gets away or not, it has in effect been abused for sport and, as Lord Burns put it, its welfare has been compromised. Hunting for sport is and always has been a ritualised form of animal abuse. The people who do it are now criminals, and we must work to keep it that way by campaigning to

The terrier men have turned into the hunting equivalent of rural ambulance chasers. They are to be seen accompanying most alleged trail hunts clearly in wait of a fox being accidentally found. When the ‘accident’ happens, the terrier men are called in and a terrier is used and if a fox is dug out and killed it is often thrown to the hounds. The use of a terrier below ground is fox baiting for sport. Dog on dog underground, there is either a fight below ground or the fox flees and is killed.

Terrier work should be called fox baiting, not terrier work, because it is in fact just an organised type of dog fighting where terriers are pitted against foxes for sport. The fact that the fox is allegedly a pest is no defence for a dog fight below ground. You have only to read copies of Earth Dog Running Dog, the terrier men’s magazine, to see what terrier work is really about.

We also have a new urban blood sport to cope with. Gangs in towns are using urban parks as venues for setting dogs onto urban foxes for sport. The dogs used are also often used for protection of those engaged in the drugs trade and on occasion also end up being used in organised dog fights. Some of these gangs have even used lifts as the latter day equivalent of a dog fighting or cock fighting pit, with the winner being declared when the lift doors open and only one participant in the fight staggers out often horribly injured but still alive.

Finally the moles in Whitehall are still sending in some interesting information that the hunters will do their best to deny. This weeks pearl was from a very senior shadow cabinet member who wrote and I quote, “We are currently considering what form repeal legislation should take and are assessing various proposals, including some form of regulation of hunting, so that the interests of animal welfare remain paramount”.

Note the use of the word paramount! Note that sport will not be paramount and also note that there will be regulation. This is no mandate or confirmation that there will be a simple repeal by way of a one line bill. It also raises the interesting spectre of a new quango, which will inevitably be called ‘OffFox’ staffed – the hunters hope – by hunters. So much for the bonfire of the quangos! No doubt the civil service appointments people will be pondering what the appointment procedures should be for ‘OffFox’, to ensure that the new quango is compliant with all the relevant legislation and is balanced in its composition. Watch this space with interest and wait to see whether application procedures are advertised in BBC Wildlife Magazine as well as in Horse and Hound.

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