Foxhunting is becoming increasingly popular in America, despite the difficulties facing the sport from animal rights organisations around the world.
The number of hunts in the US has risen by more than 25%, from 140 to 170, during the last decade. Lieutenant Dennis Foster, director of the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America, attributes the sport’s popularity to a variety of causes.
“Public opinion in America is very much in favour of hunting,” he told HHO. “The sport is etched in the nation’s heritage, and although the percentage of those who hunt is less than it used to be, there is very little opposition among the general public.”
Lt Foster also says the legal system in America makes it very difficult for saboteurs to disrupt hunts, while the geo-political makeup of the USA means that even if public opinion were in favour of a ban, it would be nigh-on impossible to impose one on a national scale.
There have been attempts to introduce a ban on all hunting with hounds in America, most recently in California. Considered the most liberal state, anti-hunt lobbyists had hoped for some success, but the bill was thrown out in its early stages.
Lt Foster believes the greatest threat to the sport lies in animal rights issues.
“There is a huge difference between animal rights organisations, which are essentially political bodies, and animal welfare groups, who work towards improvements in animal welfare, without any political agenda,” he explains. “The anti-hunting lobby is trying to fight its cause on grounds of animal rights, not on grounds of animal welfare.”
In America, many of the same organisations are spurring on the anti-hunting movement as in Britain. However, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), one of the leading anti-bloodsports organisations in the UK, admits its anti-foxhunting campaign is more subdued in the US.
“We consider the situation in the UK to be a priority issue, although we are opposed to hunting in any country. We are totally committed to ending hunting with hounds in Britain, and we look forward to our success in this campaign,” says Patrick Ramage of the IFAW.
While the IFAW professes a “profound institutional commitment to the banning of hunting with hounds in the UK”, with much of its UK resources devoted to this cause, the organisation is far less active in other countries. The IFAW maintains this is down to “structural issues” of the organisation, but many consider that if this is truly an animal welfare issue, it should not be a localised campaign.
Lt. Foster is adamant that it is not merely a question of resources that has concentrated IFAW’s energies on the British battle.
“The social climate in the UK is much more conducive to them winning. Hunting in Britain is seen as a class issue. The reality proves that this simply isn’t the case, but the perception of the sport as such has acted greatly in favour of anti-hunt campaigners.”
Lt Foster stresses that the pro-hunting population of America is 100% behind foxhunters in Britain. He has been on every single pro-hunting march in London, and considers England to be the front line in an increasingly political battle.
“The anti-hunting lobby are making a social issue into an animal welfare issue,” he concludes. “But foxhunting isn’t an animal welfare issue. This has been proved recently in Scotland, just as it will no doubt be proved over and over again in the future.”