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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will consider on
Wednesday what to do about fox pens — fenced enclosures in which packs
of dogs chase foxes and coyotes. The penned wildlife are often torn
apart, or chased until they drop in their tracks.
The people who run these pens call it old-fashioned fun – competition
to see whose dogs can stick to their captive prey the best.
Fun? In truth, this is one of the last of the true animal blood sports
that has not been outlawed, and it's time commissioners lift Florida
out of the dark ages and into the 21st century. Florida needs to
prohibit fox pens. And the temptation to try to transform barbarity
into something civilized with "regulations" should be avoided.
In November 2009, the FWC arrested 12 people connected with multiple fox pens for illegally possessing foxes and coyotes. This investigation followed years of pens chronically violating permit requirements. It is rare for pens to submit the required records of animal acquisitions, and inspections often turn up animals with no documentation.
Stocked animals are a dangerous game, too. Pens constantly need to bring in fresh foxes and coyotes to replace dead ones. And there's not a much better way to spread rabies than to ship foxes and coyotes in the back of trucks, then put the terrified animals in unnaturally dense numbers in a fenced area. The state learned this the hard way when in 1995 a Texas strain of rabies occurred in a pen.
Some pens spent just as much time operating without a permit than with one. This month, one pen operator even had the audacity to continue to advertise multi-day competitions, even after the FWC denied renewal of the pen's permit due to repeated violations.
One of the supposed animal protective regulations requires at least a way for the wiliest of prey animals to escape the dogs. But inspections have even shown these escape routes deliberately blocked.
No, regulations cannot turn fox pens into something acceptable – not when animals are made to pay with their suffering for entertainment.
Jennifer Hobgood is Florida state director for The Humane Society of the United States. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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