Like many coyote fathers, Luke is helping his life mate Lily rear their pups. Today he has left their den in southern Indiana to hunt for food to feed his family. After hours of hunting, he finally sees a dead deer that can nourish his family. As he draws closer to it, he suddenly feels a hot penetrating pain in his left leg. When he looks over at his leg, he sees his blood oozing around the sharp jaws of a strange steel creature gripping his leg.

Hundreds of miles away in Virginia, Sally, a red fox, gathers berries for her babies, known as kits. As she runs back to her den with the berries, she too feels a sudden intense pain in her leg from the same type of steel animal gripping Luke’s leg. Though in different states, Luke and Sally struggle against the searing pain from the steel jaws that have gnawed into their legs for hours.

They then begin to panic as they hear human footsteps coming towards them. In Indiana, the source of the footsteps uses a catch pole to subdue Luke as he resists. He is then forced into a cage next to other injured coyotes—some still alive, some dead—in the back of a truck. He and the other coyotes are taken to a bigger dog cage-like enclosure. There he feels scared being with strange coyotes, in a foreign place hundreds of miles away from his den, with the smell of blood and death.

The following afternoon, Luke hears a cacophony of baying from underfed and steroid injected dogs coming towards him. He begins to run despite being wounded, exhausted from the trauma of his recent experience, and from outrunning a different group of dogs earlier that day. Moments later, Luke feels searing pain as those dogs rip his flesh from his injured leg and the rest of his body. He thinks of Lily and their pups before his taking his last breath. Sally faces the same fate at a foxhound preserve in Virginia.

This glorified form of dog fighting—where dogs are pitted against their canine cousins—is known as fox and coyote penning (penning). This blood sport, where coyotes and foxes are trapped and sold to pens, has existed in the United States at least since the 1980s. Like dog fighting, dogs in coyote and fox pens are judged on how aggressively they pursue another canine—a fox or coyote. These pursuits, which train dogs to hunt coyotes and foxes in the wild, can continue for many days with dogs mauling and tearing apart live captive coyotes and foxes.

Proponents of this violent practice, say enclosures allow them to retrieve their dogs after a hunt, avoid having their dogs hit by traffic, control coyote and fox populations, and provides for good family fun. People who oppose penning acknowledge the inhumanity, deaths, mauling, spread of fatal diseases, and proliferation of illegal activity from it. They also recognize that penning does not control coyote and fox populations. Even many hunters see penning as an unethical practice that fails to follow moral codes of fair chase.

Fox and Coyote Penning Happening Near You

While penning mostly occurs in mid-western and southern states, it can happen anywhere that allows it or fails to prohibit it.1 There are laws that explicitly allow fox and coyote pens with various degrees of restrictions.  Such laws usually allow coyotes or foxes to be trapped and sold alive to pens, hunting preserves, or enclosures, where dogs can hunt them. There are also laws that may unintentionally allow penning because of loopholes.

Indiana is an example of a state that explicitly allows fox and coyote penning with few restrictions. There, a person with a permit can trap coyotes or foxes during hunting season,2 and sell them dead or alive.3 A person may also possess a coyote or fox they trap during trapping season, with a wild animal permit.4 If the person is so inclined, he or she can obtain a field trial permit, which allows dogs to chase or kill coyotes and foxes.

Like Indiana, fox penning is also legal in Virginia, but with more restrictions. For example, Virginia prohibits importing, buying, or selling foxes and coyotes. However, Virginia allows people to stock foxhound training preserves also known as fox pens, with live foxes obtained from a trapper. While it is illegal to sell foxes in Virginia, a foxhound preserve may reimburse a trapper for his or her “time and expenses” in trapping foxes used to stock the preserves.

Maryland is an example of a state with laws that may unintentionally allow penning. Maryland lets people possess coyotes or foxes with a permit. While Maryland has no regulations on fox or coyote pens, all a person needs is a valid hunting license to train their dogs to hunt game mammals, which includes foxes and coyotes. Maryland laws indicate that it is legal for those dogs to kill any coyote or fox during training, if done in open season for coyotes or foxes.

Developments in Banning Fox and Coyote Penning

Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly considered bills from the Senate and the House of Delegates that proposed to ban coyote and fox penning in Virginia. Last year, Indiana considered legislation that would have prohibited coyote and fox penning statewide. That bill died in committee. Last year the Indiana Natural Resources Commission (INRC) changed a rule it proposed in 2010 that set out to ban penning to a proposed rule that would continue to allow penning. This change of heart outraged and inspired Hoosiers and organizations like Project Coyote, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Inc. (ALDF), and the Animal Welfare Institute, to oppose that proposed rule, and seek other legal strategies to target penning. The proposed rule would require appropriate escape areas for foxes and coyotes in pens, limit the number of dogs released on a coyote or fox, limit the number of hours dogs can chase coyotes and foxes, prohibit coyotes and foxes from being imported, and prevent dogs from getting to coyote pups or fox kits. The INRC decided to delay further action on the proposed rule until December 31, 2012. Meanwhile, Project Coyote and other organizations continue working to ban penning in Indiana and to hold pen operators accountable for violating pen regulations.

In 2010, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) also considered similar restrictions to Indiana following a multi-state and multi-agency investigation that revealed illegal activities in Florida pens. After an initial temporary ban on coyote and fox penning in Florida, the FWC decided to permanently ban coyote and fox penning in Florida. This major victory came after Project Coyote and other organizations advocated banning penning completely in Florida.

What You Can Do to Ban Fox and Coyote Penning

Contact legislators of states where fox or coyote penning is legal to let them know that penning is bad for their citizens because it:

Is inhumane;

Spreads disease and parasites to humans, dogs, coyotes, foxes, and other wildlife;

Attracts illegal and illicit activity; and

Does not control coyote and fox populations.

You may also use your skills to help an organization like Project Coyote, which is working to end coyote and fox penning.

Stacey Evans is the legislative counsel and an attorney for a federal government agency in D.C. In Maryland, she is Chair-Elect of the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) Animal Law Section, Chair of the MSBA Animal Law Legislative Subcommittee, and a Board Executive Committee Member at the Baltimore Animal Rescue Care Shelter, Inc. She volunteers her legislative and legal skills at Project Coyote.

Originally reported by Stacey Evans in ABA Animal Law Committee Newsletter

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