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Blood Sport: Rabbits & Dogs Brutalized in 'Hare Coursing'

Every year thousands of hares (wild rabbits) are captured in Ireland to be chased and terrorized in wired enclosures by competing dogs for the entertainment of spectators who consider this cruel pastime “fun.” 

Although the dogs are supposed to remain muzzled for official events, the muzzles often become dislodged and fall off, leaving the rabbits subject to direct attack. Many are mauled to death, pinned under the dogs' feet, or helplessly tossed into the air; others die of stress-related ailments or internal injuries after being released back into the wild following the coursing events.

Rabbits too young, too old, or otherwise deemed unsuitable for coursing, are used to “blood” the dogs, as part of their training. This involves feeding them live to greyhounds. The greyhounds, as all dogs exploited in cruel sports, also suffer injury, abuse and neglect in coursing. 

Proponents argue that coursing is merely a traditional method of ensuring hare conservation and they describe it as hunting jackrabbits using sight hounds in order to test the dogs’ ability to “turn” the hare. They also admit the informal events are often conducted to kill and may involve gambling.  Some report that certain forms of hare coursing are still practiced in the Western United States.

Following the recent passage of a historic ban in Ireland on carted stag hunting (in which a hunt club carted a deer to a confined area and chased it with a pack of hounds), campaigners against blood sports are hopeful that the Irish government will now ban live hare coursing.

John Fitzgerald, of Kilkenny County, author of a 2009 best-selling book, Bad Hare Days, and founder of Coalition to End Cruel Sports, has been campaigning against hare coursing since 1978.  He says, “I see this as the best opportunity to date of making a breakthrough on the issue.”

Here’s why.  The Green Party, which is part of Ireland's current coalition government, wants to ban coursing; but the other party (Fianna Fail) would prefer to avoid tackling the issue, since many of its members support hare coursing. However, the Environment Minister has the power to decide whether or not to grant a license each autumn permitting the capture of hares for coursing (with nets) in the Irish countryside. This is John Gormley, who is also leader of the Green Party.  Activists believe this creates a unique opportunity to stop hare coursing.

 If Environment Minister Gormley decides NOT to grant that license, hare coursing cannot continue—because, without legal permission to actually capture hares for coursing, the activity cannot take place. 

The challenge is the powerful pro-hare coursing lobby. John Gormley needs to be able to demonstrate to his fellow government ministers that hare coursing is no longer acceptable in the Republic of Ireland (Northern Ireland has banned it), and that international opinion is strongly against it. 

A decision will be made by the Irish government sometime before the end of August on whether to permit another season of this barbaric blood sport. The hare-coursing season itself, if allowed, would begin in the final week of September. 

The Irish government is sensitive to outside opinion, as tourism is one of Ireland’s most lucrative industries. E-mails and letters of support from abroad to Environment Minister John Gormley at can influence the outcome of this decision. 

Should Americans lend their voices to stop live hare coursing? Is it an acceptable sporting event or unnecessary and intentional cruelty?


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