By Alan Burkhart
As I sat in my comfy easy chair this evening, watching CNN, I found myself engrossed in the debate that is presently raging in Great Britain about the ancient and time-honored sport of fox hunting. Liberals there are screaming about the cruelty of the sport, while conservatives state that the sport helps to control the fox population, which they claim would quickly become unmanageable if the sport were banned. There may some truth to this, as there is a similar event (involving rattlesnakes) in West Texas every year. I'll get into that a little later.
I often sit on my front steps late at night and wait for a little fox that lives somewhere in the forest behind my home. She quietly makes her way out of the shadows every night and trots up the gravel driveway, and then disappears into the shadows again. She's become accustomed to me over time, and recently has even sat and watched me from a safe distance. I've talked to her, trying to coax her to come a bit closer. I doubt she ever will, and that's probably a smart thing. If she became too comfortable around humans, she might discover the art of "Trash Canning", and become the object of a fox hunt right here in my trailer park (as a few dogs have in the past).
When do hunting and other animal-related sports become cruelty? That's a question that will never be answered to the satisfaction of all parties involved. There are those who believe that it's just fine and dandy to hunt purely for the pleasure of it and the honor of hanging the head of a deer, bear, or moose above their fireplaces. Still others believe that all humans should be vegetarians and NEVER take the life of any animal. As usual, the truth lies between the two extremes.
First, man is by nature a MEAT EATER. We have canine teeth, and the vast majority of us enjoy a tender steak, a plate of hot wings, or a plate full of fried catfish. It's perfectly natural.
Don't misunderstand, if you prefer not to eat meat, that's your business. It really doesn't matter to me, nor should it. But what about those who seek to take away my right to bite into some prime rib? Liberal animal rights groups aren't known for respecting beliefs that conflict with their own. The Left seems to respect the "rights" of animals far more than the rights of unborn human children. Go figure.
On the other side of the fence we find those who hunt purely for sport, or engage in other forms of abuse like rodeo and bullfighting. I have yet to understand trophy hunting. Why would anyone want the severed head of an animal hanging on their wall? That's just too weird for me. I see people (many of them are my friends… I hope I don't piss'em off too badly here) who can't kill a deer without having their picture taken while posing with the dead body. I wonder why they don't pose with a Whopper from Burger King before they chow down?
By the way, anyone who knows me knows that I believe in the Right To Keep And Bear Arms. This article is NOT about firearms. It's about the proper treatment of animals, and how humans tend to indulge themselves at the expense of other creatures on this planet. I think it's just fine to go out and hunt and KILL an animal if there is a valid reason for doing so. Perhaps the best approach here would be to examine what constitutes a valid reason.
First, let's talk about hunting. We of course have the right to feed ourselves, right? And, if I wish to dine on deer, rabbit, or squirrel, then that's my business. I'll not hesitate to go out and kill myself a deer (during hunting season, of course) if I desire to do so. The same goes for rabbit and squirrel, too. I don't see it as being any different from buying beef or pork at the grocery store. I mean... they have to kill the cows and hogs before we eat them, right? The only real difference here is that with the deer, I kill my own, and people have been killing their own meat for as long as man has existed.
Trophy hunting, on the other hand, is nothing more than killing for the pleasure of killing. I occasionally read an article about two BRAVE hunters who were attacked by a bear while bear hunting, and successfully defended themselves against the nasty old bear and then bagged him as a trophy. Now the bear is stuffed and mounted, with rods through his corpse so he can remain in the desired pose, and he's standing in the great hunter's living room. What assholes! The bear was probably trying to defend himself, or maybe it was a female, and she was trying to defend her young. Now she's just another "trophy."
As an evolved species, humans should not take pleasure in killing. If Daddy sees Junior torturing a frog in the back yard, he'll bust Junior's butt and send him to his room. But then Daddy thinks it's okay to go out (with Junior) and kill a moose, just for the sake of hanging Bullwinkle's head above the mantle. Please tell me what the difference is? Does the moose not suffer when its flesh and bone are blown apart by a hunting rifle? Even if the suffering lasts only a few seconds, it must seem like an eternity to the moose. The moose would have suffered even more if taken down by a mountain lion or other large predator. But the mountain lion only kills when there is a need (food or safety). How can we kill for pleasure and then call ourselves "civilized?" People who kill other people for pleasure are called "thrill killers" and thrown in prison, or executed. Why is it okay to trophy hunt? IT'S JUST ANOTHER FORM OF THRILL KILLING!
In Sweetwater, TX each year they have what's known as the "Rattlesnake Roundup." This event serves several purposes. You must first understand that the Sweetwater area (west of Abilene on I-20) is infested with rattlesnakes. Each year, hundreds of participants kill thousands of snakes. In spite of the blathering of PETA and other animal rights groups, the rattlesnake population remains strong in this area. Were it not for the annual event (most of the meat is eaten, by the way), the area would quickly become unsafe for humans, and the snakes would eventually render themselves extinct in the area when they exhaust their food supply. More importantly, the rattlesnake roundups (there are several across the country) are THE MAJOR SOURCE of anti-venom. If you are ever bitten by a rattlesnake, chances are the antidote you're given will have originated from one of the roundups. There is therefore, a valid reason for the snake hunt.
The snakes are not tortured in any way. They are methodically hunted and killed. There are of course awards for the heaviest and longest snake, the biggest set of rattlers, etc. But, that's harmless enough if a need is being served.
How about the sport of fox hunting in the United Kingdom? In truth, I haven't researched the subject in great detail, but one can still apply certain principles to the issue. First, are the foxes made to suffer needlessly? Do the foxes pose a threat to man specifically, or to the ecosystem in general? Do the hunters eat the meat? Is there a threat to the fox population caused by the hunting?
If the foxes present a threat, then the population should be controlled. We have an obligation as the caretakers of this world to look after the lower animals. Anytime the population of a species in a localized area gets out of balance with its food supply, that species is in danger. If the foxes are over-populated, or present a threat to people who live in rural areas, then certainly it is justifiable to take action.
But, isn't there a better way to do this than chasing them across the countryside, horns blaring and hounds baying? The foxes are terrified and exhausted, and must still suffer the ending of their lives when the hounds finally run them down. Why not trap them instead? I would think that several well-place traps in the wild would better serve the purpose than the time, expense, and ecological impact of dozens of people, horses, and dogs crashing about the forest. How can anyone take pleasure in causing another living creature pain?
As to rodeo, I personally think the sport should be banned worldwide. There is no purpose served, except the perverse pleasure of a bunch of rednecks that enjoy abusing animals. There, I said it. I'm glad I said it. If you're a fan (or participant) of rodeo, how's about letting me chase you around an arena, throw your ass down in the dirt and tie your arms and legs together? Doesn't that sound like fun? Yeehaa!!!!
What about some guy who jumps on the back of a bull, and then tries to ride it across the arena? Saddle-breaking a horse is one thing, but a bull? Who the hell saddles up a bull? The bull is angry and afraid, and has done NOTHING to deserve such treatment. I know the roots of the sport, okay? Don't e-mail me with a diatribe about the tradition of the Old West and how cowboys did this and did that. I know all of this, and I respect and admire those men and women who tamed this nation. Don't e-mail me about the plight of the American Indian either. There was a war: They lost, we won, subject closed.
On ranches across the globe, horses are used as beasts of burden in the operation of millions of acres of land. Guess what? Those horses are appreciated. They are spoiled shamelessly and treated as family. They look forward to getting out and doing what they do. I'm sure that the horse does NOT enjoy being saddle-broken, but it's usually a short process, and the horse comes to love and trust its rider. There is a purpose in this: The horses serve man by taking him places he can't go in a motorized vehicle. The horses are not abused, nor are they senselessly killed for pleasure.
But how do we justify rodeo? Rodeo, to me, is an ugly by-product of bygone days. In earlier times, before the modern ranch and certainly before the motor vehicle, horses were the only mode of transportation. One either developed skills as a rider, or one got thrown from the horse. Skill in horsemanship was therefore an object of pride, and rodeo probably came into being as cowboys competed to see who could best saddle-break a horse. Along the way, some nutcase evidently decided to saddle-break a bull as well.
The same applies to the calf-roping event: Just a bunch of guys seeing who could do it best. But let's face the facts here, shall we? That calf is a CHILD. Why should a little calf be subjected to the horror of such a thing? Yes, it's a HORROR. How frightened is the calf while Bronco Billy chases it across the arena? How much does it HURT when it's thrown to the ground? How much does it hurt when its legs are cruelly lashed together with rough rope? Is this really necessary? No, it is not. There is no benefit to man or to the animal kingdom by such pointless acts of cruelty. I won't even get into bullfighting. There very thought makes me nauseous. How can we call someone a HERO when he first taunts the bull, then stabs it to death? Oh sure, the bull is eaten afterward, but why should it be made to suffer? ANSWER: It shouldn't.
As I said earlier, we are the caretakers of this world. As the smartest creatures on the planet, we are responsible for seeing to it that the ecosystem remains intact. And as intelligent creatures, we are responsible for our actions. Acts of cruelty to animals should never be tolerated. Killing for food is one thing, killing for pleasure is something else entirely.
Taunting or abusing animals for sport can NEVER be justified in any way. Such acts are below humanity, and those who participate in such acts should be ostracized as barbarians. We are better than this, and we should hold ourselves to a higher standard.