Letter to the editor: Legislature must clamp down on hounding activities

Raccoon hounders can run their hounds in the middle of the night during “training” season, which started June 1st. The torment of animals by released uncontrolled hounds lasts throughout much of the year. Summer is also a time when people, dogs, and other animals are using the woods. Hounds are loud and routinely wake up homeowners who have no control of the dogs or the hounders running on their property, often treeing and killing animals with no consequences on other people’s “protected” and posted land. This is also baby season. Raccoon, bear, bobcat, and fox cubs are regularly mauled by hounds since they cannot outrun them. The argument that hounds are supposed to surround the animal but not kill or maul it to death is fictitious and anyone who believes it is naïve.

Animals, including infants and cubs, are routinely mauled to death by hounds — to the glee of hounders who post this on social media and to their hounding/hunting chat groups, where they brag to each other about their kills.

Many wild animals are left orphaned because of hounding. The onus and responsibility then falls to rehabbers or good Samaritans who try to help these animals with no help or financial reimbursement from Fish and Wildlife. Instead, Fish and Wildlife heads and legislators cater to hounders and trappers, and so often penalize and punish those who try to help these animals, including homeowners who ‘interfere’ with trying to get hounders off their property.

Mother animals, including bears, raccoons, foxes, bobcats, and coyotes are teaching their babies how to be their species — how to hunt, forage, sleep, build nests, stay away from humans, and so on — and each year this is interfered with by hounders and those who terrorize wildlife and property owners for fun. Why? Because they can.

There is a bill H. 323 to ban bear and coyote hounding that will be coming up in 2024. Senator Christopher Bray of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy catered to Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Chris Herrick on S. 281 to ban coyote hounding with a back door meeting that continued to allow the hounding of coyotes, but mandated ‘shock’ collars be placed on the dogs. News flash: GPS collars for hunting dogs already have a shock option. This accommodation for hounders came after hours of testimony from people who were traumatized and taunted by hounders on their property and from a myriad of biologists, veterinarians, scientists, and homeowners who explained how hounding was a public safety risk, harmful to wildlife, cruel to animals, and irresponsible.

There has been no justice for the couple and their pup who were attacked in Ripton in 2019 by a pack of dogs or for the woman whose dog was attacked by hounds on a walk (revealed only upon a public records request). This woman and her dog were chased for two miles in Fairlee. Her dog was viciously attacked over ten times and seriously injured by hunting hounds. The hounder did not appear to round up his dogs until well after the ordeal. The hounder was not fined, nor were there any consequences imposed on him by Fish and Wildlife. 

In 2019, hunting hounds plowed through posted property of an animal sanctuary. The hounders were down the road and out of sight, firing their guns. The animals on this sanctuary subsequently were then afraid to leave the barn. There were no consequences for the hounders. The examples go on and on.

Remarkably, attacking people and dogs with hunting hounds is legal in Vermont. There are no rules, so no consequences or repercussions. I’m not sure why dog owners have more requirements placed on them than hounders who intentionally release packs of dogs, off leash, to run after animals. There is no order, control, or organization to hounding. Shock collars do not add to control or legitimize hounding. GPS collars are not control mechanisms. Just like a GPS in the car does not control the vehicle or a tracker on someone else’s car does not control that driver or their destination, a GPS collar does not control a dog running off leash or out of sight.

When hounding is allowed at night, hounders have even less control. Hounders have no control over multiple dogs, in a frenzy, running off leash and chasing animals in the dark.

Hunting hounds are poorly treated, abused and neglected. They are thrown in dog boxes and kept chained or kenneled 24/7 year-round. And instead of addressing responsible or decent treatment of dogs or respect to wild animals who are already subjected to habitat loss, rodenticides, hunting, and car strikes, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources decided to legally add shock collars to the mix. As if the hounds aren’t already abused enough.

I’d like to remind Senator Bray and legislators that shock collars will be banned in England by February 2024. Shock collars are illegal in Wales, Austria, Norway, The Netherlands, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Portugal, Slovenia, and Sweden. There are reasons for this. As a behaviorist who has worked 20 years resolving aggression in dogs, I can assure you that shock is the last thing to add to a group of dogs in a frenzy with a high prey drive. The logistics of using the shock collars with a pack of dogs off-leash makes it impossible for control. The dogs don’t know what the shock means. Hounders can only use the collars if they see what their dogs are doing.

Enough. Legislators need to step up to the plate. The public and homeowners need to contact their legislators demanding change. Homeowners should not be having to pay hundreds of dollars to post their land that hounders can simply ignore. Dogs should not be abused and used to savagely rip apart wildlife or intentionally released to run off-leash in the middle of the night. 

The Governor, who is pro-hounding, trapping, and anti-animal welfare and environmental protection needs to be voted out of office. Only if Vermonters demand and require action from their legislators will there be change. The heads of Fish and Wildlife and hounders had decades of having a free-for-all, running themselves, and abusing wildlife and residents. It needs to change. Regulations need to be enacted and there needs to be consequences for irresponsible, outrageous behavior.

Alana Stevenson


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