Pack hunters struggle to explain how setting dogs on wildlife differs from dogfighting

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  May/June 2013:

RICHMOND,  MADISON––Since dogfighting is a felony in all 50 U.S. states,  why is allowing a dog to kill or injure other animals outside of a fighting pit not subject to criminal penalties in any state?

Why is introducing dogs into enclosures to chase coyotes and foxes not only legal but licensed in several states?  Why does the pretense persist in law that the mauling deaths of coyotes and foxes in chase pens is accidental?

Since dogfighting is also a federally recognized felony,  why has USDA Wildlife Services trapper Jamie Olson,  of Wyoming,  not been prosecuted for setting his dogs on a trapped coyote,  more than seven months after Olson’s own photos of the incident surfaced on his Facebook page?  Images reportedly showing Olson setting dogs on a bobcat and a raccoon surfaced later.

Why is hunting coyotes,  foxes,  and even wolves with dogs not recognized as a form of dogfighting?  How does hunting raccoons,  bears,  and pumas with dogs significantly differ from setting dogs on cornered or tethered animals in baiting scenarios that are explicitly illegal?

Such questions are increasingly raised in public forums,  while houndsmen find themselves on the defensive not only in California,  Oregon,  and Washington,  where hunting bears and pumas with dogs was banned by referendum in the 1990s,  but in traditionally pro-hunting states including Virginia and Wisconsin.

The Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries is not expected to ban chase pens as result of a scheduled June 13,  2013 hearing about proposed new chase pen regulations,  in absence of a legislative mandate to implement a ban.  But the agency will hear testimony seeking a ban.

“Coyote and fox penning is cruel and inhumane,  violates the concept of fair chase,  and parallels dog fighting.  At least 3,600 foxes have died in pens across Virginia in the last three years alone,”  summarized Animal Welfare Institute president Cathy Liss in an alert to membership about the hearing. Added Project Coyote founder Camilla Fox,  “Every year,  thousands of wild canids are traded and sold to penning operations,  both legally and illegally— after being trapped in the wild.  In 2012,  the Virginia legislature considered bills from the Senate and House of Delegates proposing to ban penning, but unfortunately the bills died in committee.”

The new regulations proposed by the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries would “merely establish standards that will allow much of the cruelty to continue. They can also be waived at the discretion of the VDGIF director.  Although the regulations would prohibit the use of coyotes in penning facilities,”  Fox summarized,  “they do not offer the same protection to foxes,  who can still be chased and torn apart by the dogs.”

Chase pens are also permitted in West Virginia,  Indiana,  and all of the former Confederate states,  but legislation seeking to ban chase pens has been introduced unsuccessfully in recent years in Florida and North Carolina.

Opponents of pack hunting on April 9,  2013 won a significant,  if symbolic victory when attendees at the annual spring caucuses of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress voted 2,631 to 2,494 in favor of legislation to prohibit hunting wolves with dogs.

Any Wisconsin resident may attend the Wisconsin Conservation Congress spring caucuses,  whose role is strictly advisory,  but the caucuses are historically dominated by hunters.  Thus the tilt against hunting wolves with dogs was an upset.

The Wisconsin Conservation Congress delegates voted even more decisively,  13,898 to 3,876,  in favor of a regulatory package proposed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to restrict training dogs to hunt wolves to daylight hours during the wolf season and the month of March,  require wolf-hunting dogs to be tattooed or wear an identification collar,  and limit hunters to using six dogs at a time.

USDA Wildlife Services earlier moved to quell online furor over the Olson photos by issuing new guidelines for employees about how to handle dogs in their work.

Wildlife Services allows the use of dogs “to track, detect,  and disperse animals,  and as live decoys to lure coyotes within rifle range,”  explained Tom Knudsen of the Sacramento Bee.  “A 2004 agency directive said such activities ‘must be in compliance with state and local laws’ and ‘dogs must be controllable at all times.’  The new directive,  dated March 1,  2013,  is more explicit.”

The new directive stipulates,  “Wildlife Services personnel shall not allow their trained dogs to have physical contact or in any way attack,  bite,  or kill animals who are restrained in a trap or any other device. If a trained dog makes contact with a restrained animal,  Wildlife Services personnel must immediately intervene.”

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