Hunting in enclosures sparks controversy

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By Kathleen Laufenberg <>  * DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER * May 13, 2010

While we're glued to the latest updates on the monster oil spill that threatens our shores and aquatic life, there's another wildlife controversy unfolding in our backyard.

It's about using dogs to hunt foxes and coyotes inside large fenced enclosures, and fox hunters and animal lovers feel equally passionate about it. Both sides packed a large conference room at the Tallahassee Holiday Inn on Graves Road last week, when the state held a public meeting on whether hunters should be allowed to let their dogs loose on wild foxes and coyotes – hunted for their fur – inside such areas.

Hunters say they need to do it to teach their dogs to hunt. They say the foxes and coyotes – at the meeting, they used the terms "the game" and "the stuff" – often aren't hurt.

Others who spoke at the meeting, such as Jen Hobgood, the national Humane Society's Florida director, and Tallahassee wildlife rehabilitators Sandy Beck, of St. Francis Wildlife, and Noni Beck, of Goose Creek Wildlife, say the foxes and coyotes often are torn apart by the dog packs. The practice is cruel, they say, and the state should prohibit it.

I couldn't agree with them more.

As I write this, the state continues to have a temporary moratorium (in place since September) on issuing new permits to operate such enclosures. On June 23 and 24, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meets in Orlando to discuss, and possibly decide what do about, the 14 fox hunting pens in our state. The commission could resume regulating them as before, draft new regulations for them or ban them.

Permitting such hunting pens may be tricky, as dog hunting in fox and coyote enclosures "is not a typical form of hunting and should not be associated with raccoon hunting with dogs, waterfowl hunting with dogs, deer dog hunting, etc.," according to a commission staff report. The enclosed hunting areas, which vary from about 100 acres to 840 acres, are all required to have escape areas for the foxes and coyotes. These escape spots vary widely, too, sometimes apparently consisting of abandoned appliances.

As I sat in last week's meeting, though, my thoughts kept drifting back to the last fox I'd seen, just a few days before. He was a little gray fellow, only a few weeks old, at the St. Francis Wildlife Hospital in Gadsden County. Amy Darling, an animal-technician, held him in her hands as she fed him with a syringe. His eyes weren't open yet, but he was so excited to eat that she hesitated to bottle-feed him – worried he might choke himself.

When released, that fox will face obstacles such as loss of habitat and rabies that will make it tough for him to successfully eke out a life and create a family. He shouldn't have to face being hunted inside a fenced enclosure as bait. That's a waste – and shameful.

Florida can do better.

You can do something about it here:

For the cats,

Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL  33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457

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