This week's note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive.
One of the most disturbing turns of events in recent years has been the increased role of the terriermen in association with supposedly legal hunting.
Given that the hunts are for the most part supposedly following an artificial scent or exercising their hounds, the presence of terriermen on the hunts is distinctly suspicious.
One of the problems has been that traditionally the hunts have been given access to land on the clear understanding that they deal with supposed pests. If the hunt did not deal with the fox, the terriermen were supposed to do the deed.
Hunts supposedly trail hunting are none the less getting signed permissions from farmers and land managers to give to the terriermen so that if a fox goes to ground they have the permission required to dig out and kill the fox.
The use of the single terrier below ground is limited to flushing out a fox so that it can be shot as a part of exempt hunting, where permission has been given by the land owner or manager and where there is a justification of preventing serious damage that would or could otherwise take place.
The problem that the hunters and the terriermen have is that with one party getting the permission and the other one acting upon it, there is a clear legal trail of joint enterprise with regard to the terrierwork being carried out in association with hunts.
The hunts have procured an access to land on the clear understanding that the terriermen will deal with any foxes found. That makes them and the land owner or manger a party to the transaction and a beneficiary of that action.
This might sound rather academic but it isn’t. Because the terriermen are either effectively on contract to the hunts or are working as agents to the landowner or manager, they are all responsible for what they do. The hunts will no doubt argue that the terriermen are supplying a service to the farmers and landowners, but at best the terriermen are agents of both the hunt and the landowner or manager, or they are simply agents acting for the hunt in the service that they provide on behalf of the hunt to the farmers and land owners.
By its very nature ‘legal’ terrierwork is a very dubious activity. The law with regard to setting a dog onto a captive animal is very clear. As a recent case brought under the Animal Welfare Act demonstrated, those found guilty of setting a dog onto a fox can be sent to prison and fined heavily. In the most recent case the sentence was five months’ imprisonment and a lifetime ban on keeping dogs. The case shows that not only could a terrierman be found guilty and imprisoned, but so could his employers and in a legal sense his co-conspirators.
When a terrier is sent below ground, supposedly to flush out a fox so that it can be shot, there should be no fight between the fox and the terrier. The fox is supposed to flee so that it can be humanely dispatched above ground. If however the fox locks onto some part of the terrier, both are then involved in a fight and that comes under the terms of the Animal Welfare Act.
If the terrier locks onto some part of the fox, the fox is no longer wild and free, it is in effect rendered into the possession of the terrierman who is then responsible for the welfare of both the fox and the terrier engaged in a fight and again come under the terms of the Animal Welfare Act.
Terriermen are only supposed to dig out the terriers that have become stuck, not the foxes. The dig out is supposed to be in the interests of the better welfare of the terrier. Sadly far too many dig outs appear to be for the express purpose of finding and killing the fox. From a legal perspective, digging out is only allowed for the rescue of a trapped terrier. Both the RSPCA and Natural England advise that a trapped terrier will normally come out of its own accord within 48 hours and should only be dug out in exceptional circumstances. Far too many dig outs are taking place and far too many are clearly for the purposes of reaching and killing a captive fox trapped by the terrier.
Terrierwork is all too often a euphemism for fox baiting and in the past was for badger baiting. Terriers are put into situations where they encounter and then fight foxes below ground. The terrierwork literature is full of references to the prowess of their dogs in finding and locking onto animals below ground. Terriers are often severely injured in the fights below ground.
A quick examination of the terrierwork magazines and websites shows advertisements for prescription only drugs, non prescription drugs, sterile skin staples and staple removers, wound sprays; in effect the complete dog fighters dog repair kit. These would hardly be necessary if the terriers were not being injured in underground fights.
Veterinary surgeons are not yet legally obliged to inform the authorities if they have good reason to suspect that a dog brought into them for treatment has been involved in an illegal dog fight, but nevertheless many will see it as part of their duty of care to the animal to express their concern and suspicion to the relevant authorities. Knowing this, and wishing to avoid what might be expensive veterinary bills, many of the terriermen use their DIY dog repair kits on their injured dogs, and if that does not work will simply dispatch the injured dog by whatever means possible.
Many of the hunts are in effect colluding with illegal fox baiting when they seek permissions for fox baiting terrierwork. Many landowners and managers are putting themselves at risk of criminal prosecution when they knowingly sign such permissions for what amounts to illegal fighting with dogs.
It is a feature of the law that if you are a party to a criminal act you are as legally responsible for that criminal act as the person who actually carries it out. Following the recent case under the animal Welfare Act, ‘go straight to jail’, is now a distinct possibility for the fox baiters, AKA terriermen and their associates.
Please call the Hunt Crimewatch line if you see them at work, on 01483 524250.