On 13th November 2020, the Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA) published two Hunting Office webinars that showed senior hunt officials discussing, amongst other matters, trail hunting as a “smokescreen”. The following day, hunt supporting Facebook page This is Hunting UK (TiHUK) reacted by sharing photos of hunting hounds. It said that the animals “represent our future”.
Intended to inspire support for hunting, the post instead stood as an example of how the public face of hunting with hounds obscures its private side.
The scale of it
Reliable figures on how many hounds are killed by hunts are difficult to find, either for individual hunts or for a generalised total across the country. However, estimates are available from different sources.
Huntsman-turned-‘anti’ Clifford Pellow estimated in A Brush with Conscience: Why a Huntsman Abandoned His Sport that “out of a pack of 60 animals, eight to ten are disposed of every season.” Meanwhile, the Mirror reported in 2015 that “several respected animal welfare groups” believe 4,000 is a reasonable estimation of hounds killed each year, though it doesn’t name these groups.
Protect Our Wild Animals (POWA), an anti-hunting group, presents independently researched figures. Its detailed calculations conclude that:
we should be on defensible ground if we quote figures of between about 5-7,000 hounds deliberately killed by all registered UK Hunts per year, and about 3,250-4,500 for English/Welsh registered fox Hunts.
Meanwhile, hunting information database Wildlife Guardian offers a graph of hound age sourced from three different foxhound packs. It shows very few dogs make it past five years of age. By comparison, the Kennel Club says the breed’s natural lifespan is “over 12 years”.
The industry’s own admissions
If we are to rely on the hunting industry’s own figures from the Burns Inquiry – an inquiry that ultimately led to the Hunting Act – the results are in the same region. In its submission, the Countryside Alliance (CA) said 3,000 hounds would be “removed” from MFHA-registered packs during the 2000/01 season. It also said that other hound associations would report proportionately similar figures. And on the matter of killing young hounds, the submission stated that “maybe 1 hound in 30 does not take to hunting”.
took no account of the other hare, mink and deer hunts… Neither did it account for those young hounds which look wrong or are not deemed good enough to make the cut.
However, as shown above, while left out of the Burns Inquiry’s final summary, these are mentioned in the CA’s original submission. Using the CA’s own calculations, hunts of all types expected to kill 4,562.75 hounds for old age in the 2000/01 season. A further 600 pups would be shot. This 5,100 total falls within – though at the lower end of – POWA’s research results. It’s also much higher than suggestions made by Pellow or the Mirror.
One further example recently came to light. Anti-badger cull website Innocent Badger published documents it said are from an ‘unsecured device’ belonging to the Mendip Farmers Hunt (MFH). On 5th January 2021, it published two sets of minutes allegedly from the hunt’s meetings in June and November 2020. The June minutes contain two paragraphs on the topic of hound numbers:
Between the “end of last season” (April 2019) and the time of this meeting, the MFH was six and half couples – or 13 hounds – “lighter” out of a pack of 80 hounds. This is roughly proportionate with Pellow’s estimations. The hunt also believes a further four to six hounds will be “out of action” in the coming months. Note the use of euphemisms to describe the retiring and likely killing of hounds.
The Telegraph confirmed that the leaks are genuine on 22nd January 2021.
The Citro contacted the Countryside Alliance for updated figures, but it said it didn’t hold the information and suggested contacting the Hunting Office. However, the Hunting Office hadn’t responded to requests at the time of publication.
More than death
Hunt callousness reaches beyond numbers, though. While many are shot, Pellow recounted to the Mirror that some hounds are “dashed against the kennel floor”. And post-death rituals present an interesting window into hunt staff’s relationship with hounds.
Wildlife Guardian provides photos showing hound corpses dumped into bins. These are old but it seems little has changed. On 25th November 2020, reacting to TiHUK’s post about hounds, Herefordshire Hunt Sabs shared the photo of a dead hound left in a bin. The group said it was a hound belonging to the North Herefordshire Hunt.
One report originally by the League Against Cruel Sports in 1994 portrays a particularly grisly ritual by the York and Ainsty South Hunt. The report said that after its hounds rioted onto three domestic dogs:
The hunt dealt with the situation by shooting the lead dog and parading its body before local television cameras with a hunt official flippantly explaining that “There’s the hound that did the damage and as you can see he’ll never do it again.”
Grimmer still are suggestions that dead hounds are sometimes fed back to their pack for “one last run”. This quote appears on POWA’s page, which states it originated from a 1997 Independent article on the Vale of White Horse Hunt. However, POWA also states there is no clear evidence for this practice either at that hunt or any other.
One further area that goes largely unmentioned, though highlighted by Wildlife Guardian, is the number of hunt terriers that meet an untimely death. This figure is likely inestimable.
Why are they like this?
The hunting industry has its own explanations for killing hounds before their natural deaths. In its Burns Inquiry submission, the CA explained that:
The hounds that are put down are those that are unable to keep up with the rest of the pack. The aim of hound breeders is to produce a pack that are level both physically and mentally and hunt together as one close unit. Hounds that have become too slow will not contribute to the efficacy of the pack and may risk the causing of avoidable accidents.
It also mentions putting down hounds that persistently ‘riot’. This is when the hounds chase animals they aren’t supposed to, such as foxhounds chasing deer.
Other offences a hound may commit in the eyes of hunters include: ‘babbling’, or speaking to the scent of any animal; and being ‘mute’, or when a hound will pick up the scent of an animal but not speak.
Why hounds that are bad at hunting but otherwise in fine health should be killed is a common question. On a 4th December 2020 post by TiHUK, an account named Ramsey Tupper asked if there is a “retirement home system for hounds that can’t hunt anymore”. TiHUK claimed that hounds “very often” live out the rest of their lives at the kennels or with the people that walked them:
Yet the CA’s inquiry submission clearly stated:
There are very few instances of old hounds being re-homed on retirement. Where it has been tried it has failed because the hounds will not settle and will invariably return to their hunt kennel.
As North Herefordshire Hunt Sabs’s post suggests, practices are unlikely to have changed over the past two decades.
Emotional meat shields
It’s no leap of imagination to read between the lines here. Hounds that are no good for hunting are, to hunters, no good for anything. This underlines a bleakly utilitarian relationship hunters have with hounds. The dogs are tools for hunting and treated as such.
TiHUK’s 14th November post is another example of this utilitarian relationship. Exposed and feeling threatened, this section of the hunting community believed it could use hounds as an emotional meat shield for its dying industry. The post presents 25 photos to tug at the heart strings. But another way of reading this is they are 25 examples of the hunting community once again using the hounds as tools for its own selfish ends.
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Headline image from
Herefordshire Hunt Sabs