Californians are counting on Gov. Jerry Brown to give final approval to a proposed new law that would end an ugly chapter in California's management of wildlife - ending the practice of "hounding" and sparing bears, bobcats and dogs the torment and abuse associated with it.
Last month, California legislature passed SB 1221 to outlaw this inhumane, unsporting and high-tech practice of using dogs to chase bears and bobcats, sending the terrified animals up trees to be shot at point-blank range, or subjecting them to long chases and attacks from the dogs who relentlessly pursue the quarry.
This straightforward bill would bring California's statutes in line with those of other states, including Colorado, Montana and Oregon, where the hunting culture long ago turned its back on such a primitive and unacceptable practice.
Adherents of hounding release as many as 20 dogs, often fitted with radio transmitters on their collars, to chase, attack and corner a panting animal with the hope of allowing the shooter a static target. There's no question that the final act of the hunt in which the hunter, following the signal emitting the hounds' collars, mocks the notion of sportsmanship or fair chase. It's more of a high-tech killing than it is a fair-chase hunt.
Spokesmen from the trophy hunting lobby claim that it's actually humane to shoot the cornered animal, since the hunter can just about guarantee a killing shot. That's the same, weak rationale for shooting any kind of animal in a fenced enclosure in a captive hunt, or any animal that is lured to bait.
But what's worse, in my mind, is the run-up to that final, pathetic act - that's the chase and every bad thing that can, and does, happen.
Hound hunters are allowed in the field with their dogs many months of the year, including much of the autumn. The fall is a critical time in the bears' annual lifecycle, where they feed constantly to build fat reserves for their long period of dormancy, or hibernation through the winter. But the houndsmen can chase the bears for hours on end, every day during the season, denying them time to feed and causing them to expend huge amounts of energy as they flee the dogs.
There are no time limits on how long a bear can be chased. Studies in professional wildlife management journals show that typical chases last for more than three hours, and sometimes go as long as 12 hours. The bears, with their large mass and heavy coats, overheat - and researchers note that this lengthy chase can even cause brain-stem damage. Bears can also become separated from their cubs during a lengthy chase that can cover miles.
After some period of being chased, the quarry will sometimes turn and fight the dogs. Just as dogfighting and cockfighting, this bloodsport deserves no state sanction. The bear may be bigger, but he or she can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of dogs turned loose and attacking him or her. And the poor bobcats can be torn to pieces by dogs.
Just about all of us, at one time or another, have felt fear when encountering an aggressive dog, even if it's just lasted for a minute. Put yourself in the position of a bear or bobcat. Imagine being chased and attacked by 20 dogs over a 12-hour period. What fear and anguish the creature must feel.
Is that not obviously and demonstrably inhumane?
Californians outlawed trophy hunting of mountain lions four decades ago, and they've affirmed that in two statewide votes, in part because packs of dogs were employed to chase and torment these noble animals. It's time to outlaw the hounding of bears and bobcats, too.
- Wayne Pacelle is the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States and the author of the bestselling book "The Bond: Our Kinship With Animals, Our Call to Defend Them."