Battle brewing over rabbit 'hounding', using live animals to train hunting dogsBy DAVE SOLOMON
New Hampshire Union Leader
June 14. 2018 9:12AM
CONCORD — The paddle-footed snowshoe hare has become the latest icon in the ongoing battle between New Hampshire’s hunting and trapping community and animal-rights activists.
First it was bear-baiting with chocolate in 2015, followed by an intense debate over the bobcat hunt in 2016. Animal rights groups won those battles and are now are pushing to end the practice of hare hounding, in which live-caught rabbits are released to be chased by hunting dogs in training exercises and competitions known as field trials.
The legislative committee charged with approving all administrative rules is scheduled to take up the issue when it meets Friday to consider a change to the hare hounding rules that have been in effect since 2007.
The Fish and Game Commission in May voted to increase the number of permits for live capture of snowshoe hares from six to 10, expand the area in which they can be trapped, and extend the season for trapping.
That vote activated organizations like Voices of Wildlife in N.H., which is urging a big turnout at Friday’s meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules (JLCAR), where the rule changes would have to be approved.
“During the public comment period of the Fish and Game biennial rulemaking it received over 60 comments opposing the snowshoe hare live capture rule and none in favor,” according to Voices of Wildlife. “At the May meeting when this rule was discussed and passed by the commissioners there was no mention of the public comments.”
Call to action
The call to action on the organization’s website states, “It’s disturbing enough that N.H. Fish and Game allows beagle dog hunt clubs to live capture snowshoe hare, keep them in captivity and use them in dog training. Now they want to expand this practice. We are asking JLCAR to oppose the readoption and expansion of the live capture snowshoe hare rule and we need you to write, too.”
Fish and Game commissioners and senior staff were at an off-site meeting Wednesday and unavailable for comment.
The rationale for the existing rule cites the state’s long-standing traditions:
“As part of the department’s responsibility to recognize, preserve and promote the state’s hunting heritage, these rules allow the continuance of a long-held tradition of hunting hare and rabbits with trained beagles by fostering responsible dog training and breeding and promoting interest in the hunting of snowshoe hares,” the rule reads.
Among those writing in opposition to the practice was veterinarian Barry Taylor of the Franklin Veterinary Clinic.
“These animals are individuals with lives that they cherish, and do not deserve to be treated as disposable playthings for humans and dogs to terrify literally to death,” he wrote on June 7. “As a veterinarian with 30 years experience in this state, I wish to go on record as being profoundly opposed to this practice.”
The opposition was so strong that state Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, chairman of the JLCAR, recommended on Tuesday that the proposed changes be withdrawn, so that the overall rule allowing the practice is not brought into the debate. “I told them they’d better withdraw it, because they are on the losing side of this,” he said.
If left unchanged, the current rule remains in effect until 2026.
Sport or cruelty?
There are five beagle clubs in the state that conduct hare field trials, according to opponents. During the field trials, the hares are chased by packs of beagles. The dogs are judged on their performance, with awards to the top performers.
Attempts to reach clubs, such as the White Mountain Beagle Club, were unsuccessful.
Attorney Peter Marsh, representing Voices of Wildlife, claims the rule allowing hare hounding violates existing state law and should be repealed in its entirety. In a May 18 letter to the JLCAR, he writes that the rule goes beyond the Fish and Game rule-making authority, conflicts with the state’s animal cruelty law and is contrary to the public interest.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the staff at JLCAR had not received any request from Fish and Game to withdraw the proposed rule changes, but that could well happen between now and Friday or at the meeting on Friday morning.
Whatever happens at JLCAR, this is a battle that could well find its way to the floor of the state legislature when lawmakers reconvene in January.