By Jessica Dahlberg
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – It would be illegal to hold competitions in which dogs hunt foxes or coyotes in an enclosed area under a bill that recently won approval from the Senate and has moved to the House for consideration.
Senate Bill 1280, which cleared the Senate on a 24-16 vote, targets 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 scaled back the legislation.
The 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, states 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.
The bill also would limit the number of dogs allowed in the enclosure to five per acre.
“Stopping the staged competitions will alleviate the problems associated with fox penning,” said Robin Starr, Richmond SPCA’s chief executive officer.
Supporters of the bill say 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,” Starr said.
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,” said William Barcroft, owner of Beechland Foxhound Training Preserve.
The bill’s supporters also are 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.”
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries 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.
“They have food available to them 24 hours a day,” Barcroft said. “There is a safe house every 20 acres that we have fenced in, and the dogs cannot get to it.”
People who have fox pens said they believe the sport provides a great way to train hounds, spend time with the family and raise money for charities.
“If they do away with the competition hunt, they are going to do away with a lot of charitable fox-pen fields,” Barcroft 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 him.
SB 1280 has been assigned to the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources. That panel’s Subcommittee on Natural Resources will hold a hearing on the bill at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday [Feb. 12] in House Room 3 at the state Capitol. If the subcommittee approves the bill, it will be heard by the full House committee.
Under the bill, a first-time violator would be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500. A third offense would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
On the Web
To monitor or comment on Senate Bill 1280, visit the Richmond Sunlight website: