11th August 2016
We are told that it’s common practice for foxhounds belonging to registered Hunts to be killed off after a working life of six or seven years. Indeed, the Countryside Alliance estimated that 3000 foxhounds are destroyed in this way every year (1). That’s a lot of dead dogs but we suggest this figure is a gross underestimate of the true numbers of hounds which are bred by Hunts but become surplus to requirements.
For starters, the Countryside Alliance estimate only accounted for retiring foxhounds. No mention is made of the hundreds-if-not-thousands of puppies produced by Hunts in their annual quest to improve the performance of foxhounds by selective breeding. We don’t have any statistics on how many bitches are used, on average, as breeding stock per Hunt each year, but we do know that a bitch may produce ten or more puppies. Apparently seven is considered enough for one bitch so from the start excess puppies may be put down at birth (2).
LOOKING THE PART
Conformation is crucial too. The Foxhound Kennel Stud Book stipulates the desirable shape and structure of a hound from aesthetic and performance perspectives. Many aesthetic features are condemned; including curly tails, upper or lower jaws which protrude noticeably, elbows which stick out or a narrow back (3).
ABILITY TO HUNT
For a foxhound, performance means having a sharp sense of smell, stamina, a good bark and the right temperament for working in a pack. This is all observed and finely tuned during late summer and autumn hound exercise (formerly called, more honestly, Cub Hunting). By the time of the Opening Meets and the full season proper, only the best hounds will have made the grade. For example, ‘babblers’ (hounds which bark when they smell an animal other than fox and so mislead the others) and ‘skirters’ (hounds that cut corners instead of sticking precisely to a scent) are disruptive and seldom tolerated. As former Horse & Hound editor Michael Clayton writes in his 1989 Modern Guide to Foxhunting, “It may well be necessary to eliminate from the pack hounds notably guilty of these misdemeanours.”
Now consider that the 2015/16 season Hunting Special edition of Horse & Hound detailed 293 registered Hunts in England, Wales and Scotland which are breeding, drafting and retiring hounds to maintain their ‘sport’ year in year out – 186 registered packs of foxhounds, 17 harrier packs (chasing foxes and/or hares), 60 beagle packs (hare), 8 basset packs (hare), 19 mink hunts and 3 stag hunts.
The Countryside Alliance estimate of 3000 hounds killed at the end of their working lives was only based on about 200 Hunts registered with the Masters of Fox Hounds Association. It took no account of the other hare, mink and deer hunts which have their own separate Associations. Neither did it account for those young hounds which look wrong or are not deemed good enough to make the cut. That’s why we believe that the Countryside Alliance figure was way below the real tally.
FROM THE HORSES MOUTH
As a late Twentieth Century foxhunting and hound breeding legend, the 10th Duke of Beaufort, is quoted by Clayton in his Modern Guide:
“Lord Henry Bentinck … said that the secret of his success was to breed a great many hounds, and then to put down a great many.
“If you can follow his example so much the better for the future of your pack…”
A major claim made by those who lobbied against the Hunting Act was that up to 20 000 hounds would have to be destroyed if hunting was banned (4). We know that this threatened mass execution didn’t happen because Hunts tweaked their mode of operation to circumvent the law then carried on regardless.
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
However, in the eleven years since the Hunting Act came into force, based on that Countryside Alliance estimate, 33 000 foxhounds will have been killed for being too old. Even if you don’t count those overlooked foxhound puppies, the beagles, bassets, minkhounds and the staghounds, so-called ‘country sports’ are still responsible for one heck of a pile of dead dogs.
(1) & (4) Report of Committee of Enquiry into Hunting with Dogs in England & Wales (Lord Burns & Others), The Stationary Office, 2000. Point 6.79.
(2) The Chase – A Modern Guide to Foxhunting (Clayton), Stanley Paul & Co. Ltd, 1989. Page 50.
(3) The Chase – A Modern Guide to Foxhunting (Clayton), Stanley Paul & Co. Ltd, 1989. Page 45/46.
Read The Daily Mirror expose (14 July 2015); Thousands of healthy foxhounds – including pups – are clubbed to death or shot if they’re ‘unsuitable’, here.
© Joe Hashman
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