02/11/2013 09:59 am ET Updated Apr 13, 2013

Fox Penning in Virginia

Virginia has some of the best animal protection laws in the country, so most Virginians are shocked to learn that an obscure, extremely cruel practice known as "fox penning" is legal in the Commonwealth. In this blood sport, foxes are taken from the wild and released in an enclosure so dogs can chase them down, all for people's entertainment and a little competition. The dogs are scored on how relentlessly they pursue the foxes, but all too often the foxes are left with nowhere to turn.

According to pen operators' own reports, compiled by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, these helpless foxes are killed by dogs with enough frequency that Virginia's 37 pens have stocked more than 6,000 foxes in just the past five years. All of these foxes have been captured from the wild and forced to run for their lives in pens as small as 100 acres. Even in large pens, the unnatural concentration of foxes puts all the animals at serious risk of contracting diseases like rabies.

As if the outrageous fundamentals of fox pens weren't heinous enough, these pens have come to be associated with criminal activity. In 2007, Virginia wildlife officials shut down 75 percent of pens for illegal activity -- a cockfighting operation was discovered by DGIF officials in one pen. And in 2008, after a year-long investigation, an out-of-state fox pen trapper was arrested for smuggling animals, who he stuffed into the back of his truck, into Virginia -- by the dozen -- to sell to fox pens. Unfortunately since then, the pens have reopened, allowed to operate in the shadows with little public scrutiny.

But things are changing in major ways.

Last year -- for the first time -- lawmakers introduced legislation in the Virginia General Assembly to put an end to the tired tradition of fox pens. In the spring, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries will consider additional regulations on this practice.

In January 2013, as the Virginia Assembly came back to session, Virginia Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Burke, once again introduced legislation to crack down on fox pens. Senate Bill 1280 would prohibit staged competitions within fox pens and limit the number dogs released into pens at one time. This landmark legislation has advanced through the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee and the full Senate with bipartisan support.

This action by decision makers has spotlighted the cruelties associated with fox pens throughout the state, and they're not holding up under inspection. As more and more Virginia citizens learn that this blood sport is happening throughout the state, they're demanding change. A broad coalition of Virginians, including animal protection advocates, wildlife rehabilitators and hunters, have joined together to call for an end the barbarity of fox pens.

Fox penning violates the concept of fair chase, flouts the tenets of sound wildlife management, puts public health at risk through the spread of disease and shamelessly pits animals against each other for entertainment. Contact your Virginia state representative today and tell them that fox penning has no place in our state's future.