Opening Statements

New law in Virginia will ban controversial fox-penning sport

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In Virginia, where the official state dog is the American foxhound, fox hunting is a long-standing tradition. And, in certain areas of the state, so is fox penning. For the uninitiated, fox penning involves stocking captured wild foxes in pens and then using them in staged competitions or for training exercises.

But under new legislation enacted earlier this year, Virginia’s 36 state-licensed fox-penning facilities will eventually go out of business. Animal rights activists have been pushing to stop the practice, which some claim is barbaric. And the new law has exposed the great divide in the state between its urban and rural cultures.

The law, which was hailed as a compromise, allows existing state-licensed foxhound training preserves to operate for up to 40 more years, but it places a moratorium on any new facilities. It also sets an annual statewide cap of 900 confined foxes per year. Animal rights activists had pushed for an immediate ban on the practice.

Laura Donahue, Virginia state director for the Humane Society of the United States, says her organization would like to see fox-penning facilities shuttered as soon as possible. “Absolutely, fox penning is animal cruelty,” says Donahue. “In Virginia, we call fox penning our state’s last legal blood sport.”

Kirby Burch, vice chairman of the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance, sees it differently. “Urban people don’t appreciate rural customs. Hunters and people who have hunting dogs are painted as barbarians. These customs aren’t barbaric. They are based upon camaraderie, a sense of community and a love of the outdoors.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Outfoxed: New law in Virginia will ban controversial sport.”

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