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No Escape

A Florida family fights to end the brutal practice of wildlife penning

All Animals magazine, Nov/Dec 2009

Coyote trapped in a pen from Nov-Dec 09 All Animals

Georgia Department of Natural Resources

by Ruthanne Johnson

For Christin Tank and her husband, their 2005 purchase of a house on 4 acres in Holt, Fla., seemed like a dream. Tank’s parents would build another home on the property, and the adjoining tract of undeveloped woodland promised the quiet country life they all craved. Even when the neighboring land was leased to a hunting operation two years later, they weren’t overly worried.

“I remember people going in and out and doing lots of work on the electrical fencing,” says Tank. “We were told they had coyotes and foxes and that they would be exercising their dogs a couple of times a week on these animals.” The operators assured her that the coyotes and foxes were fed and cared for like pets.

But within a few months, Tank knew something was terribly wrong. What she discovered turned her family into accidental activists, determined to stop a grisly blood sport in their state.

In August 2008, Tank was alone at her parents’ house when the quiet morning gave way to a din of barking and growling. Behind the fence of the neighboring property, seven dogs had pinned a coyote on his back. “They were literally ripping him apart,” Tank says.

She screamed and banged on the fence, hoping to stop the attack. Eventually, two men drove up, pulled the dogs away, and tossed the coyote’s limp form in the back of the truck.

“I was crying and told them that this is not what I was told it was, that this is wrong and I have children who should not have to witness this,” Tank says. But over the next several months, the maulings continued.

In wildlife pen competitions, as many as 600 hounds are set loose to chase down wild animals in escape-proof enclosures; dogs are judged on their speed, aggression, and persistence, says Casey Pheiffer, manager of The HSUS’s Wildlife Abuse Campaign. Following the establishment in 1980 of the first known pen in Georgia, she says, “these operations began to grow before wildlife agencies really knew what they were about.”

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