Monday, February 15, 2010

Crazy Like a Dead Fox

Casual readers of the Pensacola News Journal may be puzzled by today's editorial. ["It's Time to Stop Issuing Permits for Fox Penning"]

'What the heck is fox penning?' many will be muttering. That's a clue they didn't read Jennifer Hobgood's op-ed earlier last week ["Fox Penning Must Be Banned"]. Hobgood provided a spare description which one supposes the editorial writer assumed you knew.

Fox pens are --
fenced enclosures in which packs of dogs chase foxes and coyotes. The penned wildlife are often torn apart, or chased until they drop in their tracks.
An even more graphic description can be found on the web site of the Human Society of the United States:
First, the coyotes and foxes are caught by the heavy steel jaws of a leghold trap and suffer excruciating pain and terror. The trap can tear the flesh, cut tendons and ligaments, and break bones. When the animals struggle to free themselves, they aggravate their injuries. A trapped animal may chew or twist the limb caught in the trap in an effort to escape.

Later, the animal is removed from the trap and packed into a cramped cage with other injured animals. The animals are routinely sold and transported across state lines to operators of pens. Untreated for their injuries, the coyotes and foxes are released into an enclosure.

In the pens, packs of hound dogs are released to pursue the animals. Exposure to repeated, prolonged and unavoidable pursuit result in stress for the coyotes and foxes. Death is another possibility, even with the presence of escape shelters. The penned coyotes and foxes often meet a cruel end when torn apart by packs of dogs.

Who knew? But here's the thing that shocked us: it isn't just a 'southern' thing. Among a dozen states that still permit this wanton cruelty, the Humane Society lists Wisconsin, Indiana, and Iowa.

The heartland!
With, apparently, no heart. We grew up there and, to our shame, we had no idea this sort of thing goes on.

This sorry business calls to mind Mark Twain's amusing travelogue about the long stage coach trip West he took in 1861. Abraham Lincoln had appointed Twain's brother, Orion Clemens, as Secretary of Nevada Territory. Twain decided to ride along, principally to avoid the Civil War. Along the way, he encountered desert coyotes for the first time.

Twain's description was more sympathetic to this "living, breathing allegory of Want" than to most of the humans he encountered. With good reason. The coyote, Twain wrote in a passage that could just as well apply to the modern-day (but slower) fox --
is always poor, out of luck and friendless. The meanest creatures despise him, and even the fleas would desert him for a velocipede. He is so spiritless and cowardly that even while his exposed teeth are pretending a threat, the rest of his face is apologizing for it. And he is so homely! -- so scrawny, and ribby, and coarse-haired, and pitiful.
* * *

But if you start a swift-footed dog after him, you will enjoy it ever so much -- especially if it is a dog that has a good opinion of himself, and has been brought up to think he knows something about speed.

The cayote will go swinging gently off on that deceitful trot of his, and every little while he will smile a fraudful smile over his shoulder that will fill that dog entirely full of encouragement and worldly ambition, and make him lay his head still lower to the ground, and stretch his neck further to the front, and pant more fiercely, and stick his tail out straighter behind, and move his furious legs with a yet wilder frenzy, and leave a broader and broader, and higher and denser cloud of desert sand smoking behind, and marking his long wake across the level plain! And all this time the dog is only a short twenty feet behind the cayote, and to save the soul of him he cannot understand why it is that he cannot get perceptibly closer; and he begins to get aggravated, and it makes him madder and madder to see how gently the cayote glides along and never pants or sweats or ceases to smile; and he grows still more and more incensed to see how shamefully he has been taken in by an entire stranger, and what an ignoble swindle that long, calm, soft-footed trot is; and next he notices that he is getting fagged, and that the cayote actually has to slacken speed a little to keep from running away from him -- and then that town-dog is mad in earnest, and he begins to strain and weep and swear, and paw the sand higher than ever, and reach for the cayote with concentrated and desperate energy.

This "spurt" finds him six feet behind the gliding enemy, and two miles from his friends. And then, in the instant that a wild new hope is lighting up his face, the cayote turns and smiles blandly upon him once more, and with a something about it which seems to say: "Well, I shall have to tear myself away from you, bub -- business is business, and it will not do for me to be fooling along this way all day" -- and forthwith there is a rushing sound, and the sudden splitting of a long crack through the atmosphere, and behold that dog is solitary and alone in the midst of a vast solitude!

It makes his head swim. He stops, and looks all around; climbs the nearest sand-mound, and gazes into the distance; shakes his head reflectively, and then, without a word, he turns and jogs along back to his train, and takes up a humble position under the hindmost wagon, and feels unspeakably mean, and looks ashamed, and hangs his tail at half-mast for a week.

And for as much as a year after that, whenever there is a great hue and cry after a cayote, that dog will merely glance in that direction without emotion, and apparently observe to himself, "I believe I do not wish any of the pie."
That was in a time when these pathetic animals, coyotes and foxes, were roaming free. Imagine today, sticking them in a fenced-in pen and siccing dogs after them.

It's a slaughter, plain and simple. Florida should outlaw it, period.

1 comment:

ross said...

Permits are issued for that? That's sick. And so are the people that do it.