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Animal Rights Activists And Hunting Dogs

by Robert (Bob) Kane

The January theft of a 46 Beagle pack in Kent, England and the British House of Commons’ vote to ban hunting with hounds received substantial publicity. Although the group which claimed to have stolen the hounds, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), is also very active in the U.S., other less radical, more politically astute animal rights (AR) activists represent a greater threat to American hunters and especially hunting dog owners.

Groups as diverse as the Humane Society of the U.S., Fund for Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Doris Day Animal League all continue to advance agendas which jeopardize hunting dog owners’ ability to enjoy their sport. The frequently legitimate concern over some animal welfare circumstance has been distorted by these groups for their own purposes, which has the unfortunate attendant effect of misleading much of the general population. By and large such groups insist on attributing “rights” to all animals which approach those associated with human beings.

AR groups that feel animals shouldn’t be hunted or killed also object to pet or animal ownership as well, any animal: no dog, no horse and no cat. The hunting dog owner is an easy, attractive target. The animals rights, anti-hunting activists see us as the most vulnerable, visible segment in the sporting world. If they can stop us from hunting, they feel they’ve not only saved a bird, rabbit or a deer, they’ve likely “liberated” a dog.

In last November’s election, AR activists gained two more U.S. Senate votes. A previous HSUS/FFA engineered Oregon ban on using dogs for cat hunting has cougars roaming rural school yards. Their 2000 referendum efforts to further restrict hunting and trapping were successful in Washington, but failed in South Dakota, Oregon and Virginia. They were more successful in late January when they persuaded Iowa’s governor to veto a bill permitting that state’s citizens to hunt doves. Nationwide AR efforts include a DDAL lawsuit to force the US Department of Agriculture to license anyone selling a hunting dog, and the most dangerous of all, an AR inspired effort to ban field trialers, dog testers and organized dog training from Pittman-Robertson Act funded state game lands.

The Pittman-Robertson Act (P-R) federally taxes firearms and ammunition purchases for the benefit of state wildlife restoration. Passed in 1937, the P-R has redistributed nearly $5 billion in sportsmen’s moneys through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to states for game lands’ acquisition and development. For much of the 63 year life of the Pittman-Robertson Program, hunting and its associated past-time of hunting dog training coexisted and complemented one another, unchallenged. Field trialing and dog testing employ limited P-R resources and dog owners' opportunities to enjoy the fruits of their excise tax and license fee investments were unquestioned.

In the late-1990’s, the USFWS’s Mid-west regional office began an assault on organized hunting dog events, claiming they conflicted with the P-R program’s wildlife restoration goals. This assault appeared to coincide with the appointment of AR officials at USFWS’s higher levels and the positive consideration of an anti-hunting group’s national application for P-R funding. By the spring of 1999, Minnesota had banned field trials and dog tests from P-R funded state lands, while Illinois had its P-R funding rescinded at four areas that permitted dog events and was forced to ban all field trials at another. Michigan likewise closed four state areas and Indiana and Missouri had been put on notice that they had “field trialing problems.”

An ad hoc volunteer hunting dog owners’ group was formed in early 2000 to combat these attacks. The group included hunters from across the country owning nearly every breed of hunting dog. The fight eventually moved to Washington, DC as we sought legislative redress. Our economic analysis, demonstrating that field trialers contribute more to the P-R than any other group, didn't impress those with closed minds. The fight was a nasty one.

Surveys and analyses countered USFWS allegations that field trials were run for the benefit of puppy mill professionals’ sales rather than dog training or hunting. Other opponent’s calumnies included animal abuse, environmental damage, threats to non-game species, conflicts with hunters, other user conflicts, civil rights guideline violations, disturbing nesting and/or breeding wildlife and building or attempting to build improper structures including permanent concession and grandstands on P-R lands. None of these spurious charges were backed up with any written material or proof, but their cumulative effect was damaging.

Fortunately, we had the support of many U.S. hunting dog groups and a few courageous legislators. In late December 2000 a bill became law that, for the first time, established that hunting dog field trialing and similar activities were to be consider on a parity with hunting and fishing on P-R funded lands. That struggle’s details are recorded at http://www.radiks.net/~swagle/dogowners_vs_usfws.html

The fundamental tool used in that effort was state sportsmen’s groups formed specifically to influence key US Senators on two votes. We won an important legislative skirmish in a long war. That key legislation was a limited, one year P-R amendment. It must be renewed, expanded and improved in the current Congress.

Many of us who were active in that struggle recognize that the battle over hunting dog owners’ enjoyment of their traditional sport will be a prolonged one and  state efforts begun last year need to be expanded and better organized. The fledgling Virginia Hunting Dog Owners’ Association's (VHDOA) primary aim will be advancing, promoting and supporting issues, positions and legislators that further the interests of hunting dog owners.

In my view there are plenty of competent groups dedicated to wildlife habitat restoration. Obviously the same can be said regarding protecting gun owners' second amendment rights. Everyone has a “lobbying” or advocacy group: counties, local school boards, teachers’ unions, state agencies, doctors, dentists, gun owners and animal rightists all attempt to influence public opinion and legislative votes. It’s time that hunting dog owners made similar efforts.

For every effective outdoors or sportsman’s advocacy group, there are two or three ineffective ones. The major difference between such groups is the strength of their grassroots organizations; that strength is nearly totally a function of leadership responsiveness and good communications. Based on last year’s experience, I believe that proper Internet use is a significant playing field leveler. An advocacy group doesn’t have to raise huge amounts of money to be effective. Money, especially campaign donations, remains very important however. The major AR groups recently reported assets of $145 million.

VHDOA will be a volunteer, truly nonpartisan group. No one will be paid and we hope to enlist others’ help while covering only costs. Hunters’ rights votes aren’t determined by party affiliation; neither will be our legislator support. We will only join with those who, and support efforts that, most effectively advance hunting dog owners’ interests.

While we made significant progress in protecting hunting dog owners’ access to Pittman-Robertson Act funded state game lands, two major stark realities are apparent:

1) Our elected representatives don’t know enough about the ongoing threats to our hunting tradition and heritage; what they’re unaware of they can’t help protect against, and
2) No other organized group operating in the political arena either cares about these issues or is sufficiently effective to protect our interests.

The last two years of fighting the animal rights forces on the federal and state levels have convinced me that their assault on our hunting rights is gaining ground. The situation in Michigan’s eased, but worsened in Missouri. Mid-west USFWS is pushing a restrictive rule proposal that they want to see extended nationwide. Over forty AR groups have scheduled their second annual national meeting for June to coordinate their political and publicity efforts.

It’s also clear that a small percentage of the millions of hunting dog owners can make a difference. We can protect our sport. Get involved. Help establish a proactive hunting dog association in your state. Learn your legislators' phone numbers and check their voting records. Be vocal, organized and dedicated. Where possible, join with groups having complementary interests, but don’t hesitate to strike out in favor of hunting dog owners’ unique interests. Your children’s and grandchildren's hunting legacies depend on you.

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).