WASHINGTON -- Dog fighting is illegal because it's considered cruel. Now Virginia is banning another animal to animal competition some find inappropriate.
At least it will eventually.
A ban outlawing foxhound training preserves takes effect July 1, 2054 for companies already in business as of January 2014.
Commonly called "fox penning" the practice is to put wild foxes in hundred-plus acre pens so dogs can find and chase them while the foxes try to run to protective enclosures.
"I support hunting, but this isn't hunting. This is using animals for entertainment where they're killed by dogs not by people. This is animals being killed by other animals," says the sponsor of the bill, Virginia State Senator David W. Marsden (D-Fairfax).
Marsden quotes statistics from a Virginia Tech study saying "about 50 percent of the foxes died from dogs within a matter of weeks. Of all the rest only 10 percent survived an 18 month study."
There are dozens of foxhound training preserves in Virginia, most in the southwest portion of the state.
Now that Marsden's bill has been signed by the governor it's a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia to create enclosures for pursuing, hunting, or killing a fox or coyote with dogs.
Existing training preserves have until 2054. Virginia's preserves are the most strictly regulated in the nation in order to reduce the number of foxes killed by the practice.
"That's what the big issue is. I don't think anybody wants to see the hounds catch the foxes - including the people who are training their dogs," says Mike Fies, Furbearer Project Leader, Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries.
"That's not the goal of the chase. The goal is to chase the foxes and train the hounds and not to kill the fox. That's not in the best interest of anybody," says Fies.
Regulations that took affect in June of 2013 work to protect the foxes from being killed by limiting the number of dogs allowed in the pens at one time. They also establish acclimation time frames to allow foxes to become familiar with the pens and protective enclosures before dogs are released.
All the fox pens in Virginia combined use about a thousand foxes a year on average says Fies.
That's about four percent of what wildlife regulators call the total "harvest" of foxes in the state and less than one percent of the state's total fox population.
"That represents a very minuscule number in relation to the total population and to also the total harvest by other hunters who either shoot them or trap them for fur," says Fies.
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