Ontario is backtracking on plans to phase out facilities where dogs learn how to hunt captive coyotes, foxes and rabbits in large pens.
The provincial government is proposing amendments to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act that would allow new “train and trial” facilities to obtain licences and allow the transfer of existing licences to new owners. Animal rights advocates say the training exercises are “unethical and inhumane” because they cause extreme and unnecessary distress, suffering and death to wild animals.
“Penned dog hunting is cruel and vicious, which is why no other province allows hunters to chase and kill terrified, caged animals with dogs,” lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice, said in a statement to Canada’s National Observer.
In 1997, the Ontario government decided to stop granting licences for new train and trial areas and gradually phase out existing operations as owners retired or left the business. At that time, there were 50 to 60 train and trial areas in Ontario; now there are only 24.
Labchuk said most Canadians oppose hunting animals for entertainment, adding: “It’s especially troubling when coyotes, foxes, hares and other animals have no way to escape.” Ontario is ignoring public opinion and instead catering to a handful of sport hunters who want to participate in this “horrific bloodsport,” she said.
Pro-hunting groups like the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters say the term “penned hunting” is misleading and is not part of the activities at train and trial areas.
“There is absolutely no wildlife being ‘torn to pieces’ by dogs,” said Kirsten Snoek, wildlife biologist at the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. “It is not endorsing abuse of wildlife, but rather a means to create responsible dogs and hunters in the pursuit of various legal and ethical hunting activities and sporting competitions.”
The dogs do not capture any wildlife within a train and trial area, nor do dog handlers or hunters carry firearms, Snoek said.
“There are strict regulations in place for training and trialing area licence-holders to ensure that they install escape routes, cover and other means of safety precautions for the wildlife within the enclosure. Additionally, these areas are very large in size, filled with dense brush cover and have food and water provided to the wildlife,” she added.
Animal rights advocates say the training exercises are “unethical and inhumane” because they cause extreme and unnecessary distress, suffering and death to wild animals. #PennedHunting #Ontario #AnimalRights
Labchuk said the coyotes in these enclosed areas don’t always survive, and even when they do, “being chased mercilessly by packs of dogs is clearly terrifying and stressful for them, especially since they have nowhere to go to escape the torment.” She said it would be far better to end this practice altogether.
The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and the Humane Society also opposes the continued operation of train and trial facilities.
“The Ontario SPCA and Humane Society opposes the use of animals in activities, contests, or events that have a high probability of causing death, injury, distress or illness,” said Alison Cross, vice-president of marketing and communications for the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society.
Changing the provincial rules to allow more train and trial facilities could pave the way for activities that “by their nature, provided the opportunity for ‘canned hunts’ of wildlife under the guise of a trial and train licence.”
“A canned hunt is a trophy hunt that doesn't allow a ‘fair chase,’ typically by keeping game animals in a confined area, such as in a fenced ranch/farm,” Cross said.
Animals being used in the training have a “significant increased risk of injury or death of animals due to their confinement. This is unacceptable and should not be allowed, much less expanded,” Cross added.
The evolution of attitudes towards animal rights worldwide has led to bans of so-called sports where animals are killed or likely to suffer harm, such as bullfighting and fox hunting.
In Canada, humane societies are pushing for the end of some rodeo events, such as calf-roping and chuckwagon races, in which teams of horses and their riders race around a track pulling a wagon. The City of Vancouver banned rodeo events altogether in 2006 after criticism from animal rights groups led by the Vancouver Humane Society, an animal protection organization.
The government of Ontario invited public response to its planned train and trial amendments this spring, with the window for comment closing in mid-May. The province says all comments received will be considered before a decision is made. If the amendment is approved, the ministry will open a one-time, 90-day application period for new train and trial licences, as well allowing the transfer of existing licences.
“The purpose of train and trial facilities are to help professionals train dogs to only track specific wildlife, exercise the dogs in the off-season, and run trialing competitions,” reads a statement from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry sent to Canada’s National Observer. “These facilities must be operated responsibly and meet strict regulatory requirements under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, including meeting care standards for wildlife.”
Those assurances don’t wash with Animal Alliance of Canada and Coyote Watch Canada. In a joint statement, they said, “Under this government, coyotes and foxes are ‘throw-away’ species that can be violated for entertainment and live bait. There is no place in the 21st century for this kind of blatant animal cruelty.”
Dogs can be trained to track using other methods — like scenting and luring with inanimate tools — that do not involve wildlife, the statement said.
This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.