Election update: Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans to overturn the U.K.’s ban on hound hunting of foxes is almost certainly dead in the water, with the Tories losing their majority in Parliament and requiring a partnership with one or more of the smaller parties to retain control of the government. The Labour Party, which is staunchly opposed to foxhunting, picked up nearly 30 seats, and the Liberals, also opposed to a repeal of the hunting ban, gained seats too. May didn’t have the votes to overturn the hunting ban prior to the election, and after losing so many seats, she’s got no pathway to overturn the ban, which will now almost certainly be retained.
On the day of the national election in the United Kingdom – where foxhunting has become a major point of difference between the major political parties – I got to thinking about my dog Lily and one of our neighborhood red foxes.
My beloved beagle mix Lily was just about to be euthanized in a rural Virginia shelter, and it took the intervention of a local rescue group to pull her out and save her life. She was four or five years old when we adopted her, and there’s no way to know what she endured and what the details of her backstory are. But discarded hunting dogs are way overrepresented in rural Virginia kennels and shelters, and she may very well have come from that world. Hunting hounds and beagles are often discarded and become homeless – either way, it’s no way to treat a canine companion. Many hound hunters exhibit a callousness toward the animals – an attitude I have witnessed up close in my many years of animal advocacy.
Lily has a safe home now and access to a great backyard, and she gets more than a few glimpses of a fox who occasionally visits my house in Maryland. I treasure each opportunity to get a glimpse of this wild creature. I not only admire her beauty, but also her resourcefulness in finding a way to survive in a landscape so thoroughly modified by humans, dodging cars that threaten every dash she makes to chase her prey and feed her kits. I would never think of hurting or killing her. Entirely the opposite, in fact.
Those two strands of thinking met as I contemplated the dreadful idea of Theresa May, the Conservative leader, to overturn the U.K.’s now-longstanding ban on hunting with dogs. I surely hope she doesn’t want to bring back other banned blood sports such as cockfighting and bull baiting.
It was the writer Oscar Wilde who described foxhunting as “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.” He had it about right. Chasing down predators with packs of dogs is inherently inhumane, with the chase ending when the dogs tear apart the quarry. That’s a de facto animal fighting situation when the fox turns to defend himself. And, to underscore Wilde, it is never done for human consumption, contrasting with other forms of hunting where the prey is consumed.
The Tories are expected to win the election, but the polls showed the margin between the parties had narrowed day by day, perhaps in part because May and her cohorts had trumpeted their support for a repeal of the ban on hunting with dogs (foxhunting occurs in the United States, but it’s mostly a drag hunt, where the animals chase a scent and not a living fox). Polling shows that more than 80 percent of Britons oppose foxhunting, and that means rural and urban residents oppose the hunt. The other major parties – Labour, Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish Nationalists – all oppose hunting with dogs, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn calling it “barbarous.” And our U.K. Humane Society International director Claire Bass tells me there is growing opposition to hunting with dogs among Conservative Members of Parliament. She says more than 20 Tories in the last Parliament stated their opposition to the repeal of the Hunting Act.
I’ve seen this same scenario in American politics. Politicians rise in defense of cruel practices even after the industries that once conducted the abuse have moved on. For instance, some state attorneys general and Congressmen are fighting to keep hens in battery cages even though the egg industry realizes those confinement systems have no future. Talk about a rearguard action – defending an enterprise that is already moribund or rapidly declining. Indeed, those are politicians looking backward and not forward, and they’re never the types you want in office, no matter what your priorities or concerns are.
We’re all anxiously awaiting the election results from the United Kingdom. The foxes would be well advised to pay attention too.