I am happy to report that the state of Virginia, where I reside and hunt, has closed down 6 "fox pens" where live fox are chased by hounds inside large fenced enclosures.
Supporters say the facilities, which are required to have an escape for the foxes, provide a safe way to train hunting dogs. But animal welfare groups and other opponents argue the pens are cruel to the foxes, which are sometimes killed, and say they don't have a true element of fair chase like a hunt in the wild.
Some compare fox penning to dog fighting. Herring's office said the practice sometimes deviates from a training exercise to include gambling or competitions to see whose dog can catch the confined fox.
Some 29 legal and permitted fox pens still exist in Virginia, ranging in size from a minimum of 100 acres to 600 or 700 acres.
Back in 2012, I wrote about fox penning in Virginia and was happy to quote Lt. Col. Dennis Foster, executive director of the Master of Foxhounds Association and Foundation (headquartered in Virginia):
The bond between man and dog has existed for thousands of years. Forged initially from mutually beneficial survival activities, the link has evolved into a satisfying symbiosis involving food, love, protection, care, and, sometimes, sport, including, from time immemorial, hunting and chasing game. But when does "sport" cross the line and become cruelty? Right at the gate of the fox pen.
The foxhound is the Virginia state dog, a noble breed born and bred for one thing: to chase foxes. Watching a fox hunt over free and open countryside with riders on galloping horses and hounds baying is a beautiful thing. Ol' Reynard is often crafty enough to find a tree stump, a hole, or a small nook in which to hide, and hounds return without prey, tongues lolling, happy just for the chase.
In years past, some people would train foxhounds on public lands, with a permit. This evolved into a different sport, foxhound field trials, in which the numbered dogs would be judged by their ability to find and chase the fox.
But public lands have begun disallowing this use, and in the last few decades another practice has grown: Private acreage is fenced, foxes are trapped and placed inside, and the hounds are released. Although the practice is regulated by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and hiding places are mandated, the deck is ultimately stacked against the fox, which generally ends up at the mercy of a pack of exhilarated dogs. This cannot be called "sport."
Lt. Col. Dennis Foster, executive director of the Master of Foxhounds Association and Foundation, draws a firm line between fox-hunting and fox-penning. "We don't consider [fox-penning] a sport," he said. "We forbid our hunts" to hold meets at fox pens. He points out that in fox-hunting, "chasing them is the point, not killing them."
Legislation in the General Assembly would ban fox-penning in the state. In fairness to the fox, that's a good idea.
As I noted in 2013, "Penning is not hunting and it is not part of our tradition -- it is the opposite of that."
In 2010 I wrote:
These things are not part of Virginia fox hunting history.
We didn't need them in 1800, 1850, 1900, 1950, and we don't need them now when we have more fox in the state than ever before.
As soon as these fox pens are legislated out of business, the happier I will be, as they give a black eye to hunting with dogs in general, and hunting with hounds in particular.
Fox pens are for people who are more interested in contest hunting than real hunting.
... These big pens were invented in the 1980s, and they have been a public relations problem from Day One. It's more than time to kick them to the curb.