By Jessica Dahlberg
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – A House subcommittee Tuesday killed a bill that would have made it illegal to hold competitions in which dogs hunt foxes or coyotes in an enclosed area.
The Natural Resources Subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources took the action of a voice vote. The subcommittee recommended that Senate Bill 1280 be “passed by indefinitely,” meaning the bill is dead for this legislative session.
The subcommittee met at 7:30 a.m. in the Capitol. Opponents of SB 1280 had packed the room.
“I got there at five minutes past 7 totally expecting to get into the room, but it was filled up,” said William Barcroft, owner of Beechland Foxhound Training Preserve in Surry County in Southeast Virginia. “We had a good turnout . . . I was happy it was killed.”
SB 1280, which last week cleared the Senate on a 24-16 vote, targeted a sport known as fox penning in which hunters use foxes in large enclosures to train dogs.
As originally introduced by Sen. David Marsden, D-Burke, the bill would have made it illegal to erect or maintain a fox pen. However, the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee scaled back the legislation.
The Senate committee approved a substitute bill aimed at stopping competitions involving fox penning but still allowing hunters to use pens to train their dogs.
The substitute, which the Senate passed on Feb. 5, stated that it would be unlawful to “stage or participate in any competition where any fox or coyote is pursued by dogs and the fox or coyote is in an enclosure” or to “give or accept any prize, money, compensation, ranking, or other award relating to the participation” in such a contest.
As a result, the bill would have prohibited fox-penning events that raise money for charity, Barcroft said. “If they do away with the competition hunt, they are going to do away with a lot of charitable fox-pen fields,” he said.
In 2012, Barcroft’s training preserve held a charitable hunt for a man who needed a liver transplant. Barcroft said he raised $1,500 for the man.
The bill also would have limited the number of dogs allowed in the enclosure to five per acre.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) has a permit application for people who want to have fox pens. The application states that foxhound training preserves must provide an environment that provides food, water and cover for the foxes. Barcroft said he adheres to those standards at his training preserve.
“Everything we do is regulated by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries,” Barcroft said. “I do everything I am supposed to do. Otherwise, they would shut the pen down.”
Even though the bill is dead, the game department will hold public hearings in March to listen to public comment and concerns about the regulation of fox pens, said Lee Walker, the agency’s outreach director.
Supporters of the bill said one of the big issues with fox penning is the spread of rabies. The Virginia Department of Health ranks foxes third in the state with 52 confirmed rabies cases for 2012. Raccoons have the highest number of cases at 256.
“Confining foxes to a pen makes it easier for them to transmit rabies to other animals, humans and dogs,” said Robin Starr, Richmond SPCA’s chief executive officer.
However, opponents of SB 1280 do not think rabies runs rampant in fox pens.
“I’ve been messing with foxes since 2005, and I have yet to see a rabid fox,” Barcroft said.
The bill’s supporters are also concerned about the welfare of the foxes.
“It is a terribly unnatural environment for them,” Starr said. “They spend their entire life running from hounds. It’s a dreadful life for the foxes.”
People who have fox pens said they believe the sport provides a great way to train hounds and spend time with the family.
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.