On Wednesday, culminating a more than yearlong effort, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) outlawed fox and coyote pens, the gruesome practice of releasing a fox or coyote inside a pen to be chased and often torn apart by dogs. The Humane Society of the United States has long been campaigning to end this abusive practice, and we have made a major advance with the new policy in Florida that will save countless foxes and coyotes from this form of staged animal combat.
The process of "penning" begins with the trapping of wild foxes and coyotes. The animals are then packed into cramped cages and sometimes trucked long distances without food or water. When they reach their destination they are released one by one, bewildered, into an enclosure and forced to run for their lives. Dogs may chase the fenced-in wildlife for hours, to the point of exhaustion, but no matter the size of the enclosure there is no escape.
Judges score dogs on how relentlessly they pursue the captive animals. The "winner" is the dog who can stick to the prey the most often. The loser? The fox or coyote who is ripped to shreds or mauled to death.
In Florida, the Maines family spent more than a year painfully witnessing what went on in the fox pen next door to their house. They took photographs of dogs attacking a cornered coyote on Christmas Eve, and listened to the eerie sound of dogs killing animals in the murky depths of the pen. They then took their story to the Fish and Wildlife commissioners, sometimes driving 10 hours to testify about their heartbreak. They made a website, spoke to their legislators, purchased billboards, and quickly built a grassroots movement 3,000 people strong.
Backing up their story was the tireless work of FWC staff, who spent months investigating the illegal black market of trafficking foxes and coyotes and arrested 12 people for illegally buying dozens of animals to replace those killed by dogs.
Thousands of HSUS members also got involved. Some attended their first FWC meeting, others wrote letters to the editor, and the most dedicated traveled to shake their state representative's hand for the first time and ask for help.
Through it all, the FWC commissioners listened with rapt attention and they inspired constituents with their interest in forging a solution to stop the cruelty within pens. In the end, they refused to continue the practice with useless regulation, summing it up perfectly when stating that they just couldn't figure out how to find the right way to do a wrong practice.
In their unanimous decision, the Commission stopped a callous and cruel practice. They showed how hunters and non-hunters should be working together to ban every single fox pen in the country and showed the power of what happens when the good in all of us unites to stop the worst of what we can do to animals.
Now the other states that allow fox pens need to fall in line.
This post originally appeared on Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.