AT THE launch of a report into the re-homing of hunting hounds at Westminster last week, veterinary surgeon and welfare expert Rachel Casey stated that hounds remaining in their kennel routine is best for their welfare, writes Nick Mays.
The report by the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, which was launched by anti-hunting MP Ian Cawsey, does nothing to challenge the findings of the Government's own inquiry, the Burns Report, which concluded that: "where homing had been tried it had failed because the hounds would not settle and invariably returned to their hunt kennels".
Darren Hughes of the Countryside Alliance, said: "Despite the protestations in the foreword of this report it is clearly an attempt to ease the consciences of those who continue to push for a ban on hunting. All the key issues were looked at in much greater depth during the Burns Inquiry and its conclusions were clear. "Any suggestion that a large number of hounds could be re-employed in drag hunting was also dismissed, as it was by the Burns Inquiry, with the report showing that at best this would only provide a home for 1 in 20 hounds.
"Much of the detail is confused and inaccurate, but the report does confirm that large scale re-homing of hounds would be impractical without seriously compromising their welfare.
Hounds would need to be kennelled in a pack environment, and given the opportunity to hunt, in order to have the 'freedom to express normal behaviour'. We've always said that the re-homing of hounds is impractical, rather than impossible, but very few people would be able to offer such facilities." Many segments of the report gave been found to be inaccurate – sometimes laughably so.
Howlers include the interesting fact that Harriers are foxhound/beagle crosses and that Lurchers don't hunt foxes. In pushing the case for ‘conversion’ of existing foxhunts to draghunts, the reports’ authors make much of the glowing example of one Scottish foxhunt which allegedly converted successfully to draghunting after the Scottish Parliament banned hunting. However, according to pro-hunters the ‘Kingdom Draghounds’ were, never foxhounds in the first place and besides, hunting in Scotland continues using the many loopholes in the flawed Scottish legislation, which allows dogs to pursue a ‘flushed’ fox. The report makes a quick, sideways mention that some farmers might not allow draghunts on their land as it proves of no advantage to them in hunting foxes.
On the subject of the rehoming of hunting hounds, the report is optimistic, to say the least and rather vague on the actual details. The authors are forced to admit that in many cases, hounds would not take to rehoming in the domestic environment: "Should rehoming be unsuccessful, they [the hounds] are likely to be returned to rescue organisations, in which case their welfare may be compromised through restricted exercise and social isolation. "A contingency plan should be in place to deal with hounds and dogs that are not successfully rehomed. In addition, the process of rehoming in the first instance should be as careful as possible to minimise the chance that large numbers of dogs will be in this situation." The ‘contingency plan’ is not outlined, but some observers have taken this to indicate one possible outcome for the dog: euthanasia.
The report states: "Many of these animal rescue organisations have expressed a willingness to take part in rehoming small numbers of hounds providing that they have the facilities and capacity to do so." This clearly indicates that large numbers of foxhounds could not be dealt with by rescue organisations who are already busy attempting to care for and rehome domestic pet dogs.
On the actual costs of rehoming, the Group suggested above that "DEFRA consider providing and funding a central clearing house to coordinate the process of rehoming ex-hunting dogs in the event of a ban. There will obviously be additional costs to a rehoming process, which will vary from location to location. Rescue organisations normally provide these services out of their own resources. However, given the additional burden that participating in the rehoming process for ex-hunting dogs could incur, the Group feels that DEFRA should consider offering ex-gratia payments to approved animal rescue providers."
However, DEFRA have remained stonily silent on any such funding options, ex-gratia or otherwise. OUR DOGS will publish further extracts from the report beginning in next week’s issue.