Saturday, March 11, 2006

Coursing Redux

Yes, I AM beating you over the head with this. As (I think) Trotsky said of war, you may not be interested in the California coursing controversy, but if you are a hunter or a champion of or user of working animals, it is interested in you.

An op- ed by one Eileen Mitchell in favor of the bill against coursing has just apppeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. I am going to print the whole thing and attempt to argue the opposite side.

"I hear the same thing whenever I walk Elvis, my ex-racer greyhound.

"Aren't greyhounds high strung?" "I'll bet he walks you to death." "How manytimes a day does that horse need to exercise?"

"All of which makes me laugh. Because the only time Elvis willingly sprints is when he hears the creak of the lid to the cookie jar. Should I dangle his leash, I'm usually rewarded with a look that says, "You go on ahead. Oh, and grab me a Scooby Snack on your way back." So much for hyperactive."

(SB) All very cute. Most sighthounds DO have a real resting side, and are much less hyper than, say, Border collies. We will soon get to whether this is a proper life for as creature that has been bred to chase for 6000 years. But grant her that her couch potato enjoys life. So do the humans the term was coined for. Is it an admirable life?

"Another common observation about greyhounds is that they have an inherent urge to chase small prey. Now this one happens to have an element of truth behind it. Greyhounds are sighthounds, a categorization that also includes deerhounds, pharaoah hounds, basenjis, Afghans, salukis, borzois, whippets and Irish wolfhounds. Sighthounds are so called for their speed, keen vision and ability to keep sight of, follow and pursue small animals. For centuries, sighthounds have been bred to chase game and this instinct remains strong, which is why, more for their own safety than anything else, sighthounds must remain leashed in open areas and especially around traffic. Although to be honest, most times Elvis pays no heed to any of the geese, squirrels, gophers or birds that surround us while we take our daily strolls. I suspect he's too busy wondering when we can get this walking business over with so he can return to his La-Z-Dog recliner. "

(SB) "Element of truth"? And a refutation is that her couch potato doesn't (much) seem to want to chase anything? I should take your intuition over the effects of millions of years of carnivory, 50,000 or more of being "dogs", and 6000 as sighthounds? Because you feel this way? I am unconvinced.

Note that "own safety", to which we will return.

"My dog's relaxed and mellow personality is in sharp contrast to the image of greyhounds portrayed on a recent ABC7 I-Team investigation. The February report exposed a blood sport called open-field coursing, which, while open to all sighthounds, featured greyhounds in this profile. Open-field coursing, a legal form of hunting, according to the California Department of Fish and Game, entails setting pet dogs loose in a field to flush out, chase and kill wild jackrabbits. Competitive points are earned for how aggressively the dog pursues the animal lure, how many times the dog can make its prey twist and turn, and, ultimately, for catching the rabbit and killing it, often in a tug-of-war death."

(SB) This is so loaded that it needs deconstruction by a member of the Berkeley English faculty. Where to start?

"Blood sport". Is Ms. Mitchell aware that term means "hunting"? Is she a member of the HSUS, which has famously promised to end all hunting in ten years? Please let us know.

"Pet dogs". Yes, they are. That's what makes some of the charges we will explore below so absurd. To my knowledge, no coursing dog has EVER mauled a child. As any ethologist will tell you, "prey drive" is entirely different from aggression, and sighthounds, including ones who hunt, are among the gentlest breeds alive.

"Animal lure". It's not coursers who objectify the prey! The most sensitive hare portraits I know are done by an old saluki man in southern California-- just shots of peaceful jacks. He makes calendars of them, and we buy them. It's a cliche', but most hunters (and all good ones) love their prey. And though the point is not raised here, it was elsewhere : most of us love to EAT our prey-- see the recipe here for one of mine.

Points made by "turning" the animal count more than a kill, which happens less frequently than an escape. Escaped hares do NOT die of myopathy-- that happens to ungulates. Hares have less body mass, and evolved to radiate off heat-- see those ears? They can often be flushed from the same spot where you found them yesterday, to run again just as well. And again..

"Often in a tug of war death". This is one of the antis biggest points, and it is nothing less than a lie. First, the hare that the dogs are tugging on, in the judgement of several courser- scientists, is already dead, despite the on- the- air claims of Wayne Pacelle. Second, it was NOT dismembered. Third, in twenty- five years of hunting with sighthounds, I have never seen a messy death or a single dismemberment. In a pack that hunts together, like mine, there is a social order and no tugging whatsoever, only a clean retrieve. Why would we want shredded meat? This is propaganda plain and simple.

"Learning about this gruesome activity has enraged animal-loving Californians, animal rights activists, and, in particular, the greyhound adoption activists. These groups work hard to dispel misconceptions about the lanky hounds and go to great lengths to rescue racers that might otherwise be put to death upon retirement. They practice meticulous screening procedures to ensure each dog is matched with the right guardian and placed in a safe, loving and humane environment."

(SB) Deconstruction: let's pass over the fact that people who have loved and worked intimately with these breeds, as they have existed for millenia, are not considered "animal lovers", but engage with some of the other language.

"Animal rights activists". At least that is honest. Let me remind you all once again what the head of HSUS, Wayne Pacelle, said on the record a few years ago: "We have no ethical obligation to preserve the different breeds of livestock produced through selective breeding. One generation and out. We have no problems with the extinction of domestic animals. They are creations of human selective breeding." NO MORE DOGS.

"Greyhound adoption activists": People who want to end greyhound racing but meanwhile want to take its products and neuter them and never let them chase anything again, which is all they have ever done.

"Misconceptions about the lanky hounds": that they love to chase things, ie the truth.

"Safe, loving and humane environment": that is, it is better for a dog to be euthanized than placed with a hunter (actual policy of many shelters).

"Michele Czaja is vice president of the Greyhound Welfare Foundation. In a letter to state Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, she wrote, "The use of greyhounds as coursing dogs in no way fits this [above mentioned] criterion. Open-field coursing is not only deadly to jackrabbits; it is also extremely dangerous for the dogs that participate in the hunts. ... Although GWF's primary focus is greyhound welfare, our organization is strongly committed to the humane treatment of all animals." Czaja's comments were in response to a bill recently introduced by Hancock that would ban open-field coursing and make it a misdemeanor in California. Punishment would include up to six months in jail and/or fines not to exceed $1,000. The sport is already illegal in several states and countries."

(SB) I have had one of my five dogs cut, twice, on barbed wire-- he still runs happily at seven years of age. I have, in twenty five years, NEVER seen a lethal or crippling accident. They do happen. They will happen if you restrict sport to lure coursing. They will happen if your dog slips its lead in traffic. Calfornia and the current government of the UK are in the lead of the west's trying to ban death, injury, history, tragedy, and hurt feelings. Not only will it never happen; lives human and animal, and traditions and practices hundreds and more years old, are being destroyed by those ignorant of everything from biology to history. Loni Hancock by her own admission never heard of coursing until a few weeks ago, and her exposure consists of one short video with misleading commentary. Can she stand up and tell me that she knows more about my hounds than I do, or loves them better? You would put me in JAIL, and kill my dogs, because I do this?

"I'm a person who loves animals," Hancock said. "Seeing this video of greyhounds tearing apart a living rabbit seemed unnecessarily cruel and not like a sport at all. I was appalled to find out that, although this sport has been banned in England, it's still taking place in our own backyard." Since introducing the bill on Feb. 17, she said her office has been inundated with hundreds of letters and e-mails, almost all in support of the proposed ban. The bill is expected to be heard before the Public Safety Committee within the next six weeks."

(SB) Most matters here covered above. Do any of the vocal ban proponents know anything about the matter, or do they just "feel"? Are not feelings unsupported by reason the path to totalitarianism? Are these people being manipulated by HSUS? If not, why has Wayne Pacelle taken the campaign nation- wide? And by the way, coursing was not banned by name in England; "hunting with dogs" was. So far, this means hunting with hounds, sighthounds, and terriers rather than with bird dogs or retrievers...

"Advocates for open-field coursing argue that these hunts help with rabbit overpopulation. California jackrabbits are considered a pest species and cause millions of dollars in damage to crops each year. But overpopulation isn't the issue here. Even were it so, Stu Homer opines that there are more humane ways in which to address overpopulation than to allow dogs to chase, terrorize and tear into defenseless hares. Because all creatures experience fear and pain. Just like humans."

(SB) Oddly, I'll grant half a point to one statement here. I have always argued that pure economic arguments in defence of hunting carry little weight. They may be true, but sway no one; that's not why people, and dogs, hunt. Besides, if that were the issue, mass trapping and poisoning, neither "humane", would be more efficient.

No, I would argue, with most ethologists, that coursing is MORE humane. Every hare, every day, evades predators. Hares have evolved in different directions than humans-- one of the most pernicious fallacies of animal rights is that because animals feel and in some way think that they are just deformed humans (a horrible idea actually stated by Matt Cartmill). Hares are splendid at being hares, and likely don't dwell for a moment on the horrors of the chase. If a human were chased every day, he would become neurotic, fearful, crazy. Hares, if chased every day, still enjoy life. How could they not, and still be around, be hares?
They are used to being prey.

" "This activity also teaches dogs to chase small animals, which can make them very unsocial," says Homer, president of Golden State Greyhound Adoption."

(SB) Nonsense on stilts.

"In addition, live prey can be sick and pass that onto the dog."

(SB) All prey is cooked, even for dogs, for exactly that reason. Anyway, we worm our dogs just like normal pet owners.

"Live coursing is animal abuse and must be banned." Homer adds that seeing greyhounds engaged in such a brutal activity gives a gross misconception of the breed, like other breeds that are maligned due to overbreeding, poor socialization or irresponsible owners. "Humans are the ones that create and place their dogs in bad situations. The result is that an entire breed suffers through a negative image."

(SB) "Bad situations": that created the breed.

"Negative image": that you and your friends just created.

"For those who insist on maintaining the sport of coursing, there is an alternative -- lure coursing. This popular activity was invented in the early '70s and still entails the physical rigors of open-field coursing, but in a more controlled environment. Lure coursing stimulates the hound's natural instincts for coursing by use of an artificial lure, like plastic strips or a white garbage bag. Attached to a motorized pulley designed specifically for this purpose, the "lure" travels around an irregular course that is patterned after the route a wild rabbit might run in an open field.'

(SB) Sigh. I could write a book..

Basically, lure coursing is less interesting for dogs, and least interesting for the best and brightest dogs, who soon come to be bored when they realize the quarry is made of plastic. Even open- field coursing tests the dogs' senses less than free hunting.

"Not that lure coursing is completely without peril. If not trained and at a proper weight, out-of-shape dogs can get injured, just as human athletes can. Speeding dogs can become entangled and if the terrain is not closely inspected, break legs. But according to Pat Fraggasi, secretary of the Basenji Club of Northern California, precautionary steps ensure that accidents are almost nonexistent. "Designers carefully check the field as they lay the course," she said. "Judges also have to walk the course before the trial starts, plus they run a test dog to ensure the turns aren't too sharp and the course is safe." These safety measures help make supervised lure coursing a fun and exciting option. Not to mention a humane one."

(SB)Translation: We'd like to ban this too, but maybe we can regulate it to the point where it becomes too difficult to follow.

"Sharp turns". Ever hear of nature?

"When the ABC7 reporter observed that open-field coursing was a tough way for a rabbit to die, a participant couldn't help but concur. "Well, I wouldn't want to die that way myself."

(SB) Just how do you think jackrabbits die? Every single one probably dies by predation ("like that") or disease (a common cause of death for hares here in New Mexico is Yersinia pestis-- Plague; you know, the Black Death?

"And from the warm folds of his La-Z-Dog recliner, I'm sure Elvis would agree."

Yes, he doubtless has a better life than this dog.

Or these.

I would like to remind all my readers that if this mindset prevails, many vital and ancient partnerships, some dating back to the Paleolithic, will be lost, not just this one. Statements made above could be made for all hunting dogs (Labradors in cold water?) but also for working stock dogs, sled dogs, working or trail horses-- make your own list.

Two quotes from the late and much- mourned Vicki Hearne, from her indispensible (I'd put the whole book here if I could) Bandit:

"Spaying and neutering and euthanasia, all of which hurt and diminish animals, are done in the name of kindness to animals, and sometimes in the name of animal rights."

And: "To call the courage and heart of a dog viciousness,and to oppose it with images of sweet, fluffy innocent animals--- to do this is not only to trample on language, but to attempt do deny the world."

Spread the word.


Heidi the Hick said...

Steve, I'd rather be one of your dogs. I like to lounge as much as anybody, but if I was a dog, I'd wanna be out chasing things and rolling in dead things and sniffing things. I don't personally enjoy these activities, but IF I WERE A DOG and not a human, yep, I'd definitely want to be living that life. They look very fit and content, judging by those photos.

Anonymous said...


As you well know, I am more a "shoooter of the hunter fraternity ", than a "hunter with dogs", so I have no strong views on Coursing, other than a traditional Libertarian view not intefering with anyone else' pleasure in a lawful activity , which does not affect me!' . . That said, some while back, I wanted to know,first hand, what the arguamnets were about the hunting of hares ( Jackrabbits?) with long dogs. So I decided to visit Altcar and see for myself the running of the Waterloo Cup. Three things struck me about theproceedings;
1) The slipper was honour bound to give the hare enough law for it to be a fair run. If the hare was deeemd to be sick, or "poor" then the dogswere not slipped.
2)The harse were running on their own ground, and had a clear advantage over the hounds who were running on strange ground. The majority of the hares therefore escaped unharmed, via holes in hedges, or other escape routes, which the hares clearly knew unsighted the hounds.

3) Those harese which were caught , were either killed outright by a clean neck break,( 12lbs of hare travelling at 40 mph, when the hound catches it at the back of the neck, and "anchors on", normally produces the desired effect which nature provided for!, in which case the hounds stood waiting whilst the stewards retrieved the dead hare.

On one occasion , a live hare was caught by a hound, which stood, patiently waiting for the steward to dispatch it , and momentarily, the other hound ran up and also held the live hare in it's mouth. In a furher split second, the steward removed the hare and humanely dispatched it , no more than a minute from inital catch. However, the headline, background picture on the UK ITV National News that evening was a silhoutte picture of the hare held betwen the two dogs, indicating that it was "being torn apart"!!. I rang the TV company to express my disgust , and they only remarked that they would record my comments !. No attempt to restore the truth of the situation as I had personally seen it .

I was also told that all the hares from the Waterloo were subsequently sold for human consumption - so if thew were "torn to pieces" - how could they be sold?.

Howver, coursing in UK has now gone the way of informed prejudice in a "democracy", and I fear that Bird Flu may see the end of shooting , especially if the conservationists deem that there is no longer a "shootable surplus" of wild birds for hunters to cull.
Sadly , "we don't know what we've got till it's gone" may yet be a Joniesque post script to another natural hunting cycle, if we don't all wake up, and speak up for our sports more!.


Steve Bodio said...

Good points Johnnie. How many people these days would actually go out and see for themselves? They seem to believe that a two- minute TV clip, easily manipulated, is "reality".

And now they are after shooting re bird flu? Please let us know more re the blog or email.

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

I've been watching videos of conversations with Joseph Campbell over the last few weeks and find myself filled with a profound sadness. For some reason our culture is eradicating every smidgeon of ritual that exists in our lives for the sake of "morality." We forget to exalt creatures for their lack of human attributes and forget to dream that we might own a few of those traits ourselves. When my dog swims out to flush ducks for me, when she does something that I cannot do for myself she is being a dog and deserves to be exalted for NOT being a little person. Dogs are a slice of wild, tempered by domestication. My Brittany is an active participant in the cycle that had throbbed through the centuries and given meaning and hope to lives. What happens when we are completely removed from the natural cycle of life? What happens when we no longer ritualize and worship death for what it is, the prey's gift to you to live another day? What happens when there is nothing of life left to sanitize and who will we be as a people then? Civilized? Hardly. We'll be spiritual cripples, jumping at glimpses of our shadow and our anime/animus because we don't understand our own history, heart and mind. Alas for my people, but how lucky my dog who would never ponder on the need to be more "civilized."

Matt Mullenix said...

I was thinking about ritual this morning, Rebecca. I agree it's important for its own sake, but it strikes me that as ritualized as hunting can be, ritual is also a thoroughly practical element.

There is nothing anachronistic or affected about our old hunting rituals; they provide the means to our apprenticeship, and a form to follow, which is necessary because hunting is such a complicated activity and takes a lifetime to master. We've lost so much continuity in our hunting already that we are vitually recreating it with every generation. That's certainly the case with me. . .The last hunting weapon in my family (before my first hawk) was a .22 rifle owned by my great grandfather.

It is maybe inevitable that today, when only the newest things have value, that we would find ourselves without any tie to history. But of course, history is what got us here! Maybe it is understandable that many modern people have never seen an animal killed or an animal at work, but no modern people would be here without these essential----I mean ESSENTIAL---things.

It's helpful to me (and also difficult) to begin the process of understanding "anti" sentiment by accepting our unprecedented modern ignorance and fear of death. It is an ignorance that can only be created in a bubble, one that insulates the average person from the need to know where her food comes from. I don't know how long we can sustain the bubble, but I hope to God that there are some hunters and farmers left to feed us when it bursts.

zac eads said...


What is the breeding of those dogs in the picture ? Do you hunt the dogs with the falcon ?

Steve Bodio said...

Two lurchers, one mine (the blue- spotted) and one brindle Kazakh tazi, one of my three-- you can see them elsewhere in the blog. I do hunt hares with them and my Gyr- Prairie hybrid.

Reid Farmer said...

To hear these people talk, you'd believe that the jackrabbits that got away would die peaceful deaths, surrounded by their families in the Old Hares' Home. I mean really!

Anonymous said...

I cant imagine how changed the lifestyle of myself or my children would be if we were prohibited from runing dogs and fly falcons. As always Steve, I rally behind you on this!
and so will every other like minded individual I know.

vertigodogs said...

Hi Steve,

I applaud you for getting the word out for the owners in California. I am embarrassed to say that it was my own assembly person who wrote the bill opposing open lure coursing. I am rallying the dachshund group to support the coursing community because this bill would affect our Field Trials also. Please urge as many people as you can nationwide to write in to Hancock and tell her what an moron she is and how dangerous this has become for dog owners who support their communities through their sports. Here's her link to email:

Thanks for the support!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your sane and comprehensive rebuttal to several examples of the pathetic commentary being offered in support of AB 2110. Your championing of coursing hunters' partnership with our noble sighthounds is refreshing in the face of the rhetoric of "activists," whose integrity pales in comparison to that of our coursing animals.

Anonymous said...

LOL, but isn't life always like that. BTW I have been trying to find a good alaskan malamute breed do you have any ideas? Nancy

Steve Bodio said...

You might try Vladimir Beregovoy for info-- he is a Laika breeder but knows many other breeders of the "Northern dogs". He has a site at:

Anonymous said...

I attended the hearing on the anti-coursing bill. For my part, I drove the 3.5 hours from my home to the state capitol to participate. I didn't show up with a group of 'friends' wearing orange vests and camouflage.

What I did do, was to make a commitment to the greyhound that I rescued. That commitment meant that I would make every attempt to keep him safe from harm. That commitment means that I don't put him in harm's way ...coursing is an activity that would definitely put him at risk for breaking a leg, etc.

Coursing is a sport that people get off on. Greyhounds love to run but, I would be as happy with mine running off and brutally killing a small animal as I would be with news of a drive-by shooting. It's unnecessary. There's no need for Otis to chase and kill the rabbit. That chase puts him at risk of harming himself. I feed him well enough at home. If he wants to run, so be it. He can run.

Clearly, the hunters want to slam me for my comments. So, slam me more. I am not a meat-eater. I haven't eaten meat in many, many years. It has not been an easy decision. But, it has been the right one for me.

I do not believe the plastic-wrapped meat at the grocery store is any better than what a hunter would obtain. To the contrary, I believe that someone obtaining what 'he' can eat is more respectful in many ways, than Safeway's meat department, etc.

As for the comment given at the hearing that the killed rabbits were all consumed by owners of the dogs. I didn't believe it. "Please put a piece of one of the torn apart rabbits on my plate. Wait till I pull the fur off. Thank you"(signed yours truly, from Arkansas}.

I don't know if some of these folks are missing excitement in their own lives. I suppose they could run around in traffic if they needed a refresher on 'fight or flee.'

We don't live in a 'fight or flee' society anymore (unless perhaps we're the chased rabbit).

As for my relationship with my greyhound, I agreed to do my best to ensure HIS safety not my need to bring excitement into my life. I'm self-employed, that's all the excitement I need in these times.

a greyhound adopter

Eliezer M. Morgan said...

Dear Greyhound Adopter.

It’s awesome that you’ve rescued your boy and I appreciate it more then you know. We feed and take care of five rescues (none are greyhounds), all are difficult cases and placement is doubtful.
So, I’m backing anyone that is willing to give a loving/permanent home to a rescue, rehab or retired racer.
All of ours are fed RAW or BARF (whatever term is in vogue at the moment). Some hunt and have a blast doing so. They even help out a little with the food costs.
Fact is for hunters, we all have our little rituals and superstitious behaviours that we go through when we go out for a day in the field, the dogs know these patterns as well as they know what the sound of the cookie jar means.
There is no way that I could make it out the door without them, I Have Tried :-)
But, that’s our decision, and, I’m willing to respect yours if you are willing to return the favor.


One question if you’re still reading. Is your boy (adoptee) a vegetarian?

Anonymous said...

Belated, the CA bill has thankfully been killed, but you never know if (or rather: when) something like this might pop up again, so there are some more comments:

Obviously, stopping open field coursing would make all these poor bunnies that would have been killed by sighthounds eventually die in their beds happily. Or would it?

On a related note, my cat chases mice. She plays with them in a pretty cruel way before killing and devouring them, too, even though I provide ample food for her, as this is her instinct, for which cats have been bred by humans for centuries, if not millennia. Should that be outlawed, too - or is your compassion primarily about the prey being cute bunnies as opposed to creepy vermin, regardless of the pain and suffering experienced? There is, after all, no reason to assume that the level of suffering a mouse is capable of is in any way different from that of a jackrabbit.

Signed, an avid fan of OFC

(Europe: They still do it in Spain, Portugal, Ireland (dogs have to be muzzled there) and Russia.)