August 23, 2010
A Bear's Suffering as Captive Bait
by Liz Bergstrom
Imagine a black bear who might have lived out her life in the woods of South Carolina, most likely raising litters of cubs and denning each winter in a secluded den.
Instead, she might have been born in captivity or captured from the wild as a cub, then hand-raised so that she would be more docile and trusting. This bear is led on a leash like a dog, but she is a naturally timid, wild animal.
She eats "people food" or dog kibble, when she should be foraging for grubs and berries in the wild. Sadly, she isn't even able to eat a natural diet because her owner cut or removed some of her teeth.
But this animal is not simply a captive bear. She is exploited for profit and entertainment in a cruel underground practice participants call "bear baying," but that is more akin to the violent bear baiting competitions staged in the 16th and 17th centuries.
A Barbaric Spectacle
Bear baiting events involve just one bear, but sometimes hundreds of dogs. The bear is tied to a stake with a short rope, with her back against a fence or wall so that she can't escape.
Then, up to three hound dogs at a time are released to corner the bear and "bay" her, as if they were chasing her in the wild. But this couldn't be farther from the wild.
So that she can't fight back against the oncoming dogs, her claws as well as some of her teeth have been cut or removed.
Not only is she collared and tethered to the ground, but she is fenced in and surrounded by crowds of spectators who cheer as the dogs jump on her and bite her. She is trapped and virtually defenseless.
In the distressing video footage taken of a bear baiting event by an undercover HSUS investigator, you can see this bear cornered by dogs. She backs up against the wall in obvious fear. She can't get away. She cowers and defensively swats at the dogs, desperately trying to protect herself from the loud barking and the snapping teeth.
But there is no respite for her. After a timed trial, while participants vie for their dogs to score the most points and win a trophy, another round of dogs is released into the pen. And another. And another. In one event, the dogs hounded the bear for four hours. All the while, she is given no water, rest, or shelter from the hot sun.
This is how the bear spends much of her life. But this is no life for a bear, or for any animal. Deprived of her natural habitat and needs, terrified by waves of barking dogs who bite her face and neck, she is exploited for profit and entertainment in a sick spectacle.
Not Alone in Her Suffering
Sadly, there are a number of bears living this tortured existence. Across South Carolina, other bears are being used for bear baiting competition. The state Department of Natural Resources condones the practice, turning a blind eye to its cruelty and even standing by when one of the bears escaped.
The agency has issued permits allowing bears to be kept in captivity, but does nothing to regulate bear baiting events or inspect how bears are treated there. It's impossible to know exactly how many bears are being used for this barbaric practice, or how many events take place, because of the state's lack of oversight.
These archaic, inhumane events only occur publicly in South Carolina. No other state in the country is known to allow live bears to be used for this practice.
Meanwhile, these bears live in prolonged fear and pain as dogs corner them and attack them, over and over again.
Liz Bergstrom is public relations specialist for The Humane Society of the United States.