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January 19, 2010

A Grieving Dog Owner Ponders Fox Pens

The Humane Society of the United States

Casey Pheiffer's beloved dog Toby

The HSUS

by Casey Pheiffer

Sixteen years of summers throwing soggy tennis balls into Weems Creek. Countless Saturday afternoons watching football with 60 pounds of black and white fur stretched across my lap. It couldn't last forever, and my dog Toby left us while my hand rested on top of his head.

That night I lay in bed, sad to the bone and restless from emotion, until my thoughts finally turned to the animals we help at The HSUS. I work to protect foxes and coyotes from abusive practices, and often thought during Toby's last months that, unlike with the nameless thousands of foxes and coyotes I work for, I could hold him and give him care that alleviated his pain.

At The HSUS we strive to defend all animals, whether they are companions to humans or not. The creatures we protect aren't necessarily loved as Toby was. Many animals receive no care, let alone love, from those with power over them. Some of these animals are even despised and tortured.

Strong words, I know. But I have no benign words to say about animals in fox and coyote pens, an issue on which I've spent a lot of time.

Not even a dog's life

Like dogfighters, participants in fox and coyote penning count on our ignorance of their activities or, worse, our complacence.

Wildlife traffickers trap foxes and coyotes, throw them in the beds of their rattletrap trucks, drive them perhaps hundreds of miles, and then release them in enclosures where dogs bred for their single-mindedness often rip them apart.

Once inside that electrified fence they're not even called foxes and coyotes; they're just "game" in a game where judges score the dogs on their ability to chase down wildlife. If 600 dogs are released during a trial and the pen doesn't run well enough, participants move on to the next pen. Business depends on the ground being thick with quarry.

Just one pen over a few years may stock thousands of foxes and coyotes to keep up with the kill rate. During the first part of running season, operators count on a portion of the fresh fox stock succumbing immediately to the dog pack. And the coyotes? Well, cutting the tails off the coyotes only keeps the dogs from catching them the first couple of times.

For the few who survive the initial chase, life consists of wet, moldy dog food, pain from open wounds, and exhaustion until the next race.

Going on

The similarities between foxes and coyotes and dogs like my Toby are apparent to anyone who considers them. To know that these animals, by the thousands, spend the end of their lives as bait in blood sport...well, that's what keeps me up at night—and could rob sleep from anyone who learns about fox and coyote pens.

Toby may be physically gone, although never forgotten. He died on a day my family was together and could say goodbye to him. The grief that is the hardest to process is that which comes from knowing that his fellow creatures still need protection, and change never comes quickly enough. That motivates me in the morning, even after a sleepless night.

Casey Pheiffer is campaign manager for the Wildlife Abuse campaign at The Humane Society of the United States.

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