Delegates, you may think that there are more pressing issues that could be debated today rather than that of hunting. However, I contend that this is an issue which deserves to be treated with the same gravity as misuse of drugs or violent crime. The hunting of animals with dogs is a cruel attack on creatures that are hounded, cornered and left with little chance of escape. Apart from the cruelty this inflicts on animals there is also an identified link between the abuse of animals, and violence against people which must not be overlooked.
A number of arguments have been presented to support hunting, but are not backed up by fact. It is argued that hunting is required to prevent spread of disease. However, there are other options for culling animals if this is the case, and the shooting of deer in Scotland is an example, despite huntsmen in the South West of England arguing that hunting is the only suitable method. Hunting supporters argue that hunting maintains the population of deer, yet the evidence does not support this, and in the 18th century the red deer of Dartmoor were exterminated by hunting. In the case of deer, it is argued that hunting is supported by the local farming community, yet only 17% of Exmoor residents supported hunting in a poll taken in 1985. It has also been suggested that hunting with dogs is a natural method of control of other animals, but this is untrue since wild predators target old, sick and weak animals rather than healthy ones. Many animals that are hunted do escape, but the experience traumatises them and can cause long-term damage or even death to animals whose bodies have been pushed to the limit trying to flee. In recognition of the harmful effects of hunting on deer herds, the National Trust banned deer hunting on its land in 1997.
Other mammals such as foxes are also hunted by horses and hounds with equally serious results. Foxes are dismembered by the dogs and suffer massive internal injuries when attacked. Even if they do escape into holes, they are pursued and baited by dogs. Again, there is an argument that hunting foxes is a method of pest control but this argument is lost when hunt supporters build artificial homes to enable foxes to breed and then hunt the animals that they have bred. Once more shooting is a more humane alternative.
The dogs may get distracted during the fox hunt and attack hares, or may get completely out of control and attack pets and livestock, so much damage can be done.
Particular attention has been drawn to the plight of the Irish hare over the last few years, with concern growing over its declining population. These hares are native to Ireland, and the Government has produced a Species Action Plan in an attempt to address this problem. Hare coursing is practiced in enclosures in Dungannon and Ballymena. This involves trapping hares, training them by making them run over the course for several weeks, and then releasing them for the race, with a 100 yard start ahead of two greyhounds. They can escape but are often put back into the enclosure where they will eventually be caught. The hares are defenceless against the dogs and have little chance of survival, even if the dogs are muzzled.
All these forms of hunting are legal, with restrictions, whereas the hunting of badgers is completely illegal. Unfortunately, as a recent incident in Co. Down showed, this does not deter some people from pursuing badgers. Badgers are set upon by dogs and they put up a fierce fight, often killing the dogs as they fight to their own death in a struggle which may take up to an hour.
I would argue that any form of hunting of mammals with dogs is unnecessary, is cruel and can only be deemed a ‘sport’ by those with a warped mind.
In fact, research has shown that there are links between cruelty to animals and violence towards humans. The humanitarian Dr Albert Schwietzer said, “Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.” Some researchers reckon that cruelty to animals can be the first sign of a violent pathology that includes human victims. Personally, I feel that once someone has crossed the line of inflicting pain on an animal then it is not so difficult to inflict pain on another person. The FBI treats this seriously and has recorded a number of incidents where violent criminals abused animals in their childhood or had a fascination with cruelty to animals. In the Columbine High School killings, the students who committed the murders had boasted to friends about having mutilated animals. Such findings highlight a worrying link between violence towards animals and people.
We should not take the issue of hunting with dogs lightly. It is unnecessary and inflicts needless suffering on animals. It also may be a precursor to violence towards humans. We should be working towards gaining respect for life, whether human, deer, hare, fox or badger, and as a sign that we mean business I would recommend that Conference supports this motion.