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May 2, 2006 > Bringing down a blood sport

Bringing down a blood sport

by Nancy Lyon

It's the truth that an animal's strongest advocate may be you... and right now in California, the state of compassion and enlightenment, you are being put to the test. As a progressive state, we have laws banning barbarisms such as dog fighting, cockfighting and bullfighting, so a media story came as a shock to a lot of us that a blood sport like the open field live-coursing of hare, rabbit and fox by dogs is tolerated and alive to this day.

What is live or open field coursing and what does it involve? Racing three at a time, dogs, many of them sight hounds bred for their prey drive and speed - greyhounds, salukis, whippets, wolfhounds - gather in an open field with their handlers, trainers and avid spectators for the chase and kill. Forming a straight line to the rear, they try to flush out jackrabbits. When one bolts, the handlers can't release their dogs until the hunt master makes the "Tally-ho!" call and the race is on.  Points are awarded for aggressively pursuing the rabbit, for each time they make it turn and for killing it. Points are given for speed, agility and aggression. Occasionally the rabbit is fortunate to escape but more often than not they do not die quickly and they die horribly - literally torn apart while alive. It's a bloody scene.

Three months ago, an ABC 7 I-TEAM reporter Dan Noyes uncovered such an event in Solano County and the story rocked the sensibilities of Californians. After viewing the grisly event, Noyes in his interview with coursing participants stated "That's got to be a tough way to die for a rabbit." In reply, the vice-president of the National Open Field Coursing Association, founded in 1964, the umbrella group for 12 clubs covering much of California stated, "Well, I wouldn't want to die that way myself." To human participants, it is apparently not about killing the rabbit; it's about the sickening rush of the chase.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States stated "It's great to have field trials. It's great to have dogs running around. We celebrate that, we love that, we think that's super. But they shouldn't be chasing live animals and tearing them apart." There are tournaments where dogs chase artificial lures on a pulley and provide a fun and humane activity for everyone.

For such an act of barbarism to still be practiced and to be specifically allowed under law by the California Department of Fish and Game is unthinkable to many people of conscience. The "sport," hugely popular in England where thousands of people would turn out for a single event, was banned last year along with fox hunting. And in this country, many states prohibit the "sport" as cruel and inhumane - but not California.

Response to the gory media coverage brought an instant outcry for change that has resulted in a ban in Solano County, including the Vacaville City Council last month unanimously passing a resolution supporting a statewide ban on Open Field Coursing. On viewing the event video, a revolted Assemblymember, Lori Hancock, sponsored California Assembly Bill 2110 which addresses the harassment of wildlife and makes a person who knowingly engages in a competition in which dogs are, by the use of live rabbits, hares or foxes, assessed as to skill in hunting, guilty of a misdemeanor. It does not prohibit hunting with dogs or training dogs for hunting.

The respected advocacy and rescue organization, Greyhound Welfare Foundation, in a letter on its position on live-lure coursing sent the following to Assembly member Hancock:

"Our adoption process includes a screening procedure to ensure that the greyhounds will live in a humane environment for the remainder of their lives. The use of greyhounds as coursing dogs in no way fits this criteria. Open-field coursing is not only deadly to jackrabbits; it is also extremely dangerous for the dogs that participate in the hunts. Greyhounds that are used for open-field coursing are by in large bred for that purpose or come from sources within the greyhound racing industry that have little concern for commonly held humane standards.

"The vast majority of greyhounds are by nature gentle, sweet and loving dogs that are well suited to life as a member of the family. This quality was recognized even centuries ago when the survival of mankind depended on the greyhound's coursing abilities. Sadly, in modern times, the greyhound's speed and unique athletic talents are exploited solely for the purpose of greed and human entertainment as exemplified by their unnecessary use in greyhound racing and coursing events."

A.B. 2110 passed the Assembly Committee on Public Safety on April 4 and will soon be considered by the Assembly Committee on Appropriations on May 10. The State Appropriations Committee focuses on financial matters and blood sport advocates are urging supporters to contact committee members emphasizing funding issues. You, as a citizen, have the power to influence your legislators. Let's make it about the real costs to the animals and to our humanity.

The blood sport advocates who oppose AB 2110 are organized, and, because time is short, it is strongly urged that the humane community leave a phone message of support on the following State Appropriations Committee numbers:

Judy Chu, Committee Chair (916) 319-2049, fax (916) 319-2149; Sharon Runner, Vice-Chair (916) 319-2036; Committee phone (916) 319-2081.

"The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity."
- George Bernard Shaw

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