Friday’s editorial urges our state leaders once again to put an end to the abhorrent practice of bear baying, among other persistent animal cruelties:
A year and a half ago, the state was shocked by the videos of bear baying events in South Carolina released by animal activists. Leaders, residents and animal lovers around the state reacted with outrage, amazed that such a barbaric practice was still legal. Today, we’re still amazed that it is.
Those blissfully ignorant of the bloodthirsty affair – we can’t bring ourselves to call it sport – are often appalled by the details: The competitions, defended by practitioners as the best way to train dogs to hunt bears, involve securing a bear – often defanged and declawed – and loosing dogs to test their courage and ability to get the bear to bay, or stand up. Dogs are supposed to be pulled away before any contact occurs with the terrified bear, but the videos taken by the Humane Society of the United States in 2010 showed that bites often occurred. At one event, nearly 300 dogs menaced one chained bear for four hours.
Politicians were quick to act after the outcry prompted by the videos. At least three bills were soon offered in the state legislature, two in the Senate and one in the House, all of which would end the odious practice. All three were quickly assigned to committees about a year ago and haven’t seen the light of day since. That’s simply deplorable.
Meanwhile, the Humane Society’s annual ranking of states on their animal protection laws, released last month, put South Carolina at 48th in the nation this year, lower than last year’s 38th. We’re going the wrong way. At least something may soon be done about that. Key to that ranking, beyond the state’s lax or nonexistent laws governing puppy mills, equine protection and wildlife abuse, is South Carolina’s persistently weak response to cockfighting. Our state is one of the last in the nation to still classify the blood sport as a misdemeanor rather than a felony. A bill to change that, by Rep. G. Murrell Smith of Sumter, was working its way through the House Judiciary Committee this week. With luck, it will be voted upon this session. But there’s much yet to do.
Besides the exemption still available for bear baying, state law also specifically condones fox pens and “coon on a log” contests. In fox pens, a number of which are located in Horry County, hunting dogs are set loose in an enclosed area to chase down foxes kept for that purpose. In early 2010, when a new fox pen was being debated in the area, Horry County Councilman Harold Worley made his own aversion to the competitions clear, and we’re happy to agree:
“I can’t see the difference between cockfighting and taking a fox and breaking one of its legs and throwing it in a pen and allowing it to be hunted. It’s wrong, and it should be outlawed … in Mt. Vernon, Little River … and in the United States,” he said. “I get my dander up about it. I don’t think you, me or anybody else has a right to do this. You can’t mistreat animals.”
To be clear, while the legs of some foxes are broken by the steel traps often used to catch them for the pens, not all are. Still, without any means of escape, the competition is hardly sporting. Coon on a log contests are little better. In these events, a raccoon is chained to a log in the middle of a body of water and hounds race to see which can be first to reach the animal and pull it off the log.
Most hunters we know would rightfully abhor these bloodthirsty cruelties. The prolonged torment of a captive animal for pleasure or money stands squarely in contrast to the honor, principles and respect for nature that hunters hold dear.
In August 2010, a sponsor of one of the bills to outlaw bear baying, Sen Joel Lourie, said that “South Carolina cannot have the distinction of being the only state where you can chain up a bear and sic dogs on it for sport.”
Eighteen months later, after the momentary outrage faded, nothing has changed. Perhaps it’s time to get angry once more.