Some of Sky Scott’s earliest memories can be traced back to the 750 acre Sandsifters Fox Pen.
Like other youngsters, he stood by with his dad and the other grownups on many an afternoon, away from television and video games, listening and waiting, hoping one of his foxhounds would come back a winner.
Now a school teacher in Calhoun County, Scott fears that this sport he’s come to love so dearly will soon be a thing of the past. As reported in last week’s edition, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) voted in February to temporarily prohibit the chasing of foxes and coyotes in enclosures, while moving forward to draft rules guiding such enclosures. An executive order prohibiting chasing of foxes and coyotes within an enclosure was issued last week.
So why all the fuss? Some say the sport is a form of cruelty to animals, alleging mauling of coyotes and foxes chased during the hunts.
FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto says he leaned toward an outright ban of the practice, but also felt the process should be given a chance for review.
"I'm not sure I'll support the draft rules when they come back," Barreto remarks. "I don't see any sport in the animals' having no escape. I personally don't agree with the practice.
But Scott, now a board member with the Florida State Foxhunters Association, says those opposed to fox hunting are misinformed. He aimed to set the record straight when he appeared before the FWC during their hearing last month.
“When a coyote or fox is released into a fox pen, this animal is not immediately pursued by a savage pack of blood-thirsty hounds as so many have been led to believe,” he testified. “We introduce the new game of the pen to the dog carefully as we introduce our pups to the skill of tracking. A new game animal will be freed to familiarize itself with it’s new surroundings. After a period of time, the game will be chased at first by our pups. Gradually, the foxes and coyotes develop a tolerance and endurance at being chased by the puppies. We then introduce them to our more experienced hounds. We do not set a full pack of hounds on the game trails, but a very small number. We have to slowly train both our dogs and the game we have them tracking.”
Scott went on to explain that the game are very valuable to the pen and it is certainly not the goal to have them killed by the dogs. He told how the game are wormed each month and given food and water. In addition, escape routes are placed sporadically along the trail. “Our animals are treated with care and dignity where they can roam inside a confined space that protects them from disease, but also protects man from seeing them as a threat and killing them if they wander too close to domesticated animals or a farmer’s crops. Fox pens are protecting and caring for predatory animals, not harming them.”
Scott emphasized that the game equal money to the hunters. “The last thing we want to happen is for a piece of game to be hurt. If an animal is hurt, that means money has to be spent in order to replace it.”
He stressed to the FWC that “Fox pens are conservatory enclosures where animals are cared for, protected, trained and challenged to out maneuver and out think hounds chasing them. They are not places of death and murder, they are safe havens. The emphasis is on the chase, never the kill.”