Hunting with dogs? Time for us to go ‘into cry’ and have it made illegal in NI

Update: Legislation has now been formally introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly which, if passed, will ban hunting wild animals with dogs, trail hunting and terrier work. Please take actionand contact your MLAs today and urge them to support the Hunting of Wild Mammals Bill today.

I have been an advocate for animal welfare all my life, ever since I was a small child. I love them all – pets, wildlife, farm animals, horses, ponies, insects, bugs – the lot.

I believe that all living creatures who share our earth must be respected, treated with compassion, and recognised as sentient – we all feel pain, we all suffer if deprived of our needs, we all feel fear, we all bleed.

From this premise, I have been involved in various animal welfare groups, rallies and events over the years, trying to be what all animal activists try to be – a voice for the voiceless.

Abuse of animals takes many different forms - but maltreatment, cruelty and neglect lie at the heart of it.

In general, we look to the law to protect our wildlife and our animals from harm, but there is a big, black hole - and that lies in the fact that hunting live animals with dogs is still legal in NI.

This is unbelievable to many from ‘across the water’, yet we who live here have tacitly accepted it for far too long – it’s time we ended this legalised, wanton cruelty.

Most people realise that foxes suffer dreadfully during a hunt, being chased across fields by baying, hungry hounds and people on horseback. Finally, when they are captured, they are torn apart by the dogs, and die in agony – is that ok? NO!

Stags are hunted in much the same way too, running until their lungs almost burst, with perhaps a coup de grace delivered at the end by a huntsperson.

But how many of us have ever realised that badgers, too, are victims of the hunt?

I have been a member of the NI Badger Group for a few years now, and although I have always loved them, I now know so much more about them, the way they live, their communities.

Picture the scene – a terrified, fleeing fox running for its life – it will look for sanctuary. Where better than a badger sett, whether occupied or not?

Hunting season occurs just as badgers begin to stay underground much more, with pregnant sows preparing the sett for their arriving cubs.

Hunters are a canny lot - they know that foxes will often try to escape the teeth of the hounds by disappearing into a badger sett.

Before a hunt takes place, ‘terrier men’ will seek out badger setts, and either block them, or destroy them. Blocking setts can, and does, cause the resident badgers to suffocate, or they can be left to starve to death. Should a fleeing fox find an open sett to escape into, terriers are often sent down to flush it out.

Imagine the chaos, and the casualties - badgers, fox, and terriers!

Badgers will fight to the death to protect their unborn and their young, becoming yet more victims of the bloodshed that is hunting with dogs.

It is illegal to interfere with, uncover or disturb any sett; it is illegal to harm or interfere with any badger, but incidents can, and do, happen – the law is there to protect badgers, but out in a field, away from view, how can it be enforced?

There is an obvious, simple solution – make hunting with dogs ILLEGAL, and enforce the ban, with no loopholes (we’ve seen how ‘trail hunts’ as an excuse has finally been exposed in GB)

No other form of wanton cruelty would be permitted under law – so it’s time, way past time, that the law was changed.

Hunting advocates may claim that it is ‘tradition’…I can think of a number of traditions (like dunking stools for suspected witches, burning transgressors at the stake, beheading adversaries etc) that are now outdated – so, too, is hunting with hounds.

Time to make compassion for all living beings our new tradition – time to #BackTheBill. 

Noelle Robinson

Committee Member of the NI Badger Group

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