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HEAD to HEAD: Coursing should go the way of dogfighting & Badger baiting

To read the opposite side of this debate by DENIS BEARY, click here

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In order for there to be any sport in hare coursing, the hare must believe that it is about to die a horrible death.

Otherwise, self-evidently, the hare would not run, but would instead sit there and observe the released hounds with something approaching bemusement. For there to be any sport, there must first be terror, and stress, on behalf of the hare.

Whether one believes hare coursing should remain legal, then, depends really on whether one thinks it is morally or socially acceptable to inflict stress and terror on a wild animal for the sole and entire purpose of entertaining human beings.

I confess, I do not believe that it is.

As ever, there will be those whose response to this point is whataboutery. What about horse racing, greyhound racing, or shooting – all sports which involve, to some extent or another, the risk of inflicting stress on an animal?

Well in the first instance, there are differences – horses risk injury, all right, but they do not run because they fear death – indeed often a horse that loses its rider will run along with the pack for nothing more than the apparent joy of running. Greyhounds instinctively chase a fake hare, and none of them are running from anything. A deer’s last moments, before it takes a bullet, are generally spent happily munching through vegetation. Besides, there’s a difference between killing an animal cleanly and humanely, via shooting or slaughter in an abbatoir, and inflicting pain and stress and suffering.

The better example here, in truth, is angling – should it be legal to impale a fish through the mouth, and then take it out of the water to suffocate, just so you can admire your great “catch” before tossing it back? For whatever reason, people have more empathy for mammals than they do for fish, so most debates about animal welfare ignore this one. It’s worth thinking about, though.

In any case, a more apt comparison for Hare Coursing is to dog fighting, or to badger baiting, “sports” which have long since been banned, where animals are provoked to kill or injure each other out of a fear of death. It is in this basket that hare coursing belongs, not those listed above. It also belongs alongside fox hunting with hounds, a “sport” long since banned in the UK, but which remains legal in Ireland, for some reason. In the name of consistency, I’ll simply say that that particular barbarism should be banned as well. There are many more humane ways of controlling the fox population than chasing one for tens of miles, and then having dogs rip it apart while it still lives.

The animal welfare act of 2013 reads as follows:

A person shall not—a) do, or fail to do, anything or cause or permit anything to be done to an animal that causes unnecessary suffering to, or endanger the health or welfare of, an animal

For us to sanction hare coursing, therefore, we must believe that the suffering caused to the hare is not “unnecessary suffering”. We must believe that it is, in fact, “necessary suffering”.

But necessary for what? The hare is not used to provide food for human beings. Even if it were required to die in the cause of producing food for humans or dogs, it would not be necessary to cause it to endure the fear of a horrible death.

No, in this case – just like in fox hunting or badger baiting or dogfighting – the suffering is necessary only in so far as it produces entertainment for people.

There will of course be arguments about how hare coursing is traditional, and has been practiced for hundreds of years. Those arguments should be given due weight and consideration – one reason why this piece runs opposite a well constructed argument to the contrary – but ultimately they do not pass muster with this writer.

First, there is the rather obvious point that many barbaric practices are traditional. We do not permit female genital mutilation in this country, though those most at risk of it often come from cultures where it has been traditionally practiced for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. On the animal welfare side, docking the tails of dogs has been traditional for hundreds of years, and yet we banned that (at least, in the vast majority of cases) on the grounds that it ultimately caused unnecessary suffering.

I do not dispute that there are many people who derive enjoyment from the “turning” of a hare. But the fact remains that for this enjoyment to be derived, an animal must be stressed, and in many cases, injured. While most coursing dogs are muzzled, these days, there are still many cases where the hare suffers an injury, purely for the enjoyment of the audience.

To me, this does not fall into the category of “necessary” suffering. It falls into the category of legal cruelty to animals. If Irish legislation in this area were consistent, it, and hunting foxes with hounds, would both be banned.

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