Nearly 5,000 foxes were trapped and placed in large, wooded pens in Virginia over the past four years.
There, they were chased by hounds in an activity some call a wholesome training exercise and others call a blood sport.
The little-known practice is fox penning, also known as foxhound training. A bill by state Sen. David W. Marsden, D-Fairfax, would ban new fox pens and phase out current ones.
On Monday, Marsden called penning "an unconscionable practice" that results in foxes getting killed by dogs or dying after a stressful life in captivity.
"If a fox goes into one of these pens, it never comes out," Marsden said.
Few people actually see foxes getting killed. Under state rules, the brushy preserves are large -- 100 acres minimum -- and foxes must be given places to hide.
But opponents say foxes are added to pens in big numbers each year largely to replace ones killed by hounds. There are 37 pens in Virginia.
Pen owners say they add foxes mainly because others died naturally or learned to hide. They say foxhound training helps the economy and even raises money for charities.
"If the dogs kill a fox, that's not a well-trained dog. ... We are totally not about killing," said Madeline Abbitt, a General Assembly lobbyist representing the Virginia Foxhound Training Preserve Owners Association, a group of pen owners.
Marsden's bill would ban new fox pens, bar competitive hunts in existing pens and allow a pen permit to be transferred only to a spouse. That last provision would phase out pens over many years.
Marsden submitted a bill last session to ban fox penning. Before the Senate's conservation committee, Marsden presented an amended bill to regulate the practice more tightly. The committee carried the bill over for a year so state game officials could look into the issue.
Game officials are considering proposing rules this spring to tighten controls on penning.
Pen supporters held a news conference Tuesday. Opponents have scheduled a rally on the Capitol grounds for today.
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