Anti-hounding advocates 'take fight to Legislature'

BRATTLEBORO — In recent years, numerous incidents in Vermont have chased the practice of hounding out of the shadows and into the light.

Along with hunting and trapping, hounding is a sacred cow. Its advocates reverently refer to it as a longstanding “tradition.” Its opponents argue that just because it's been practiced for hundreds of years doesn't make it right.

And so, the controversy continues to chase its own tail.

When hounding, GPS-collared dogs are released from confinement to track the scent of a bear, coyote, raccoon, or other prey. That animal is often chased for miles while hounders remotely track their dogs from the comfort of their vehicles.

Once it appears the prey has been cornered, the hounders then locate and retrieve their dogs. This can take considerable time, depending upon the terrain and distance traveled.

Hounds in pursuit can violate private property rights (they “can't read signs”) and imperil people's domestic animals and livestock.

When challenged by landowners, some hounders have engaged in aggressive behavior. Once the dogs' prey drive is activated, it is impossible to control them. Often, they chase animals out of the woods and across fields and into roads, putting both animals and motorists at risk. A hapless deer, moose or even a hiker can become a target.

In 2019, a couple and their leashed puppy were attacked on public land by a pack of bear hounds for 45 minutes before help arrived.

Companion dogs caught in the woods running deer could be shot by law enforcement. Yet, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department gives hounders a pass, claiming hounding is a significant tool for population management and nuisance control, although hounds are rarely used for those purposes.

In fact, VTFWD actively encourages hounding and hunting but does far less to educate the public on preventing behaviors that lure wildlife too close to humans, thereby triggering complaints that are subsequently used to justify hounding.

A fleeing bear or raccoon can try and climb a tree if they're lucky. However, coyotes and foxes are cornered and mauled by hounds since there is no escape.

This scenario seriously begs the distinction between hounding and dog fighting, not to mention the matter of fair chase hunting.

Bear hound training season begins when bears are at their most vulnerable, having recently emerged from hibernation with cubs to care for. Between hound training (when bears can't be shot) and the actual hunting season (when they can), bear hounding lasts half the year.

Coyote hounding is completely unregulated, running all year long and requiring no permits for hounds. With growing concern for the welfare of wildlife and the popularity of hunting on the decline, it is imperative to revisit Vermont's wildlife management practices.

Because Vermont's current Fish & Wildlife body does not represent most wildlife advocates, we will take our case to the Legislature, where there is a chance for democracy.

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