Another day, another story of hunters who left new victims in their wake.
According to reports, a pack of hounds driven by hunters veered off course into the Celia Hammond Animal Trust, a Sussex sanctuary that is home to 130 cats, many of them unwell or elderly. They were having their evening meal on Monday when the dogs descended.
Volunteers described the scene as "terrifying" – many of the cats, desperate to escape the hounds, fled into the nearby woods. Sixty were missing when the hunt left the area.
Staff and volunteers spent the night combing the area for the animals in the pouring rain. Some of the cats were found or returned, but others are still unaccounted for. Celia Hammond, the former model who runs her namesake charity, fears that they may never be seen again.
Some may have been killed outright – torn apart by the hounds – while others could be wounded and enduring a slow, painful death.
"It's absolutely outrageous … We bring these cats down to what's supposed to be a sanctuary, where they're supposed to be safe," she said. Although the hunt has said it was legally trail-hunting and not pursuing foxes, this incident is yet another example of the barbarity of hunts that victimise any living beings that get in their way.
Several years ago, a deaf 18-year-old tabby cat named Moppet was mauled by more than two dozen hounds while she was in her family's garden near Ravenscar, North Yorkshire. Her corpse was returned to her devastated guardians two days later in an emptied dog-food bag. The hunt's chairperson called her agonising death "regrettable".
Last August, another pack of hounds attacked a dog and his elderly guardians as they were out for a walk on a West Cornwall beach. According to one witness, "It was a horrifying scene, the man attempted to fight off the hounds with his wife's walking stick and was bitten several times on his hand and arm during the incident. His dog was bitten on the back." Another said, "We could hear the hounds baying as if for blood." On a public beach, the ferocious attack could just as easily have been on a child. Is that what it'll take – a child butchered – before the law is strictly enforced?
Over the years, amateur wildlife crime investigators who observe hunts have regularly been subjected to verbal abuse, threats of violence, actual violence, and damage to their property. Nevertheless, more than 500 individuals have been successfully prosecuted since the ban on fox hunting was enacted 13 years ago. When enforced, the legislation works – but too many hunters are still getting away with murder.
Foxes themselves stand little chance against riders on horseback and packs of hounds who have been bred to sniff out and chase animals for hours on end. Some foxes' internal organs rupture as they frantically attempt to escape the blood-hungry dogs. When others are exhausted or cornered, they're ripped apart. One study showed that foxes who were killed by hounds died of profound trauma from multiple bites and in many cases, were still alive when they were disembowelled.
The RSPCA previously took the lead in prosecuting offenders. The charity now passes prosecutions on to the police, following advice from an independent review of its prosecutions in 2014, but the RSPCA reserves the right to investigate if the police decline to do so. The charity has faced intense criticism for the resources it must devote to pursuing illegal fox hunters. If such prosecutions are not pursued, even more foxes will be violently killed and even more lawbreakers will go unpunished – unless police and the Crown Prosecution Service do their part to end this disgraceful, embarrassing business. To continue to allow hunters to evade prosecution for their crimes tarnishes Britain's proud legacy of protecting animals, which includes introducing the first animal welfare legislation in the world.
This week, the Prime Minister saw sense and abandoned her manifesto pledge to let MPs vote on repealing the Hunting Act, telling the BBC that she had received a "clear message" about the public's views on fox hunting and that, therefore, there won't be a vote during this Parliament. She's right – in December, an Ipsos Mori poll revealed that 85 per cent of Brits support the ban, including 81 per cent in rural areas – but she hasn't gone far enough. Opposition to fox hunting remains at an all-time high and for the sake of our foxes, our cats and even our children, it's time the Government allocated some resources to enforcing the ban.
Elisa Allen is the director of Peta UK
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