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'Terrorized to death': Animal advocates call for ban on dog hunting enclosures in Ontario

Coyote runs for their life in penned hunt in Ontario. Photo by Animal Justice investigator and posted to their website. Coyote runs for their life in penned hunt in Ontario. Photo by Animal Justice investigator and posted to their website.
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An animal advocacy group is calling for dog hunting enclosures to be banned in Ontario, arguing that an investigation—which includes hidden camera video footage—found hunters allegedly participating in “cruel” practices that left both prey and predator with injuries.

In June, the Doug Ford government passed an omnibus bill that, among other things, would allow for more fenced-in train and trial areas in the province.

Licensing was halted by the Progressive Conservative Mike Harris government about two decades ago; however 24 enclosures remain in effect in Ontario.

The enclosures allow hunting dogs to track wildlife like coyotes, foxes or rabbits across relatively large, fenced-in spaces.

“The truth is that coyotes are terrified by these chases, of being pursued by bloodthirsty dogs,” Camille Labchuk, Executive Director of Animal Justice, told CTV News Toronto.

Animal Justice, a non-profit organization that lobbies for stronger animal protection laws, began their own investigation into these enclosures in the spring. One of their members went undercover to one of the train-and-trial areas in eastern Ontario and witnessed a competitive event in which multiple hunting dogs were set loose on coyotes in hopes of winning prizes.

The faces of the hunters were blurred in the video and names were not used. They also did not reveal the name of the licensed hunting area.

In the graphic 10-minute video, groups of dogs are seen running through forested areas within the enclosure to track down coyotes. Judges are placed throughout the enclosure to count how many times dogs are actively participating in the chase.

“Dogs catch em’ all through the year,” one event participant said in the video. “Once they get after ‘em they smoke their ass.”

That same participant can be heard on camera saying numerous coyotes are killed a week, and that even more wildlife in the area is injured.

In one part of the video, Animal Justice share video and photographs from private Facebook groups showing coyotes being mauled by dogs within these penned areas. In one frame, an owner is seen encouraging two dogs to “get her” while a bloody and already injured coyote lays helpless on the ground.

Hunting dogs pursue coyote in penned hunt in Ontario. Photo by Animal Justice investigator

There were also photographs of dogs that had been injured in the pursuit of coyotes.

“These hunting pens are not just cruel to the coyotes who are captured, they're also sucking wild animals out of the biodiversity of this province, and putting them in pens where they can’t interact normally with the rest of the population,” Labchuck said.

“And then they're terrorized to death.”

In a letter to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry sent this week, Animal Justice called for the ban of these facilities.

“I think what's very clear from the footage and from whistleblowers, and from everything we know about pen dog hunting is that there is no way to do this humanely,” Labchuck added.

The letter says that while they would ordinarily recommend alternatives, such as more robust licensing and oversight, this would not address the psychological harm caused to wildlife or the transport of animals to the enclosure.

A spokesperson for the ministry said that conservation officers inspect train and trial facilities to ensure they meet strict requirements, and will not hesitate to issue fines.

“The ministry cannot verify the origin of the media content that was shared, including whether it originated from a licensed train and trial facility in Ontario,” Melissa Candelaria wrote in a statement.

“We encourage anyone with any information to report it to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry tip line or their local district office.”

However two former Ontario conservation officers told The Canadian Press in May that any legislation governing these training facilities are largely unenforceable. They reported hunters catching coyotes daily, and many of them were killed.

Both of these individuals also called for the banning of train and trial areas.

Under the new legislation, the Progressive Conservatives will repeal the freeze on new licences and set a one-time 90-day window in which new applicants can submit their requests. Operators will also have the opportunity to transfer licences to others, something not previously allowed.

In a statement to CTV News Toronto, Kirsten Snoek, Wildlife Biologist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) said the actions and words of people interviewed in the Animal Justice video “require a deeper investigation by law enforcement.”

“It is not a part of hunting to show disrespect to game animals, nor is it an acceptable part of hunting to physically abuse or prematurely end the life of your hunting dog. These types of behaviours are exceptions to the rule, and should be blamed on the individual, not the activity,” she said.

“Any contraventions should be prosecuted.”

Snoek said that while OFAH supports the government’s decision to expand licensing for these pens, they have also long called for more conservation officers and an investment into greater enforcement of train and trial areas.

“Proper use of TTAs is a responsible way to train dogs to ethically pursue legal game in fair chase environments,” they said. “A true representation of a hunter is someone who shows respect towards all forms of life and complies with regulations governing their activities.”

The Ontario Sporting Dog Association (OSDA), meanwhile, said they were "deeply disappointed to see the highly edited video released by Animal Justice."

President John Bell said in a statement the video mischaracterizes the sport and its commitment to animal welfare.

"Trialing and training enclosures are designed specifically for sporting dog breeds. They are safe and controlled environments for dogs to learn how to track scent for hunting in the field," he said.

"The OSDA is working collaboratively with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to strengthen the already high standards of care and operation of these facilities.”

Animal advocates have argued that dogs can be trained to hunt using scent drags, which would eliminate the need for wildlife within the enclosure. The ministry has not said if they would consider a ban on the facilities, or the use of alternatives to wildlife within them.

With files from The Canadian Press.

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