As Indiana considers whether to legalize a blood-sport even nastier than dog and cockfighting known as coyote and fox “penning,” Project Coyote joined the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) in filing suit against the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and its director Robert Carter Jr. over the Department’s decision to waive state permit requirements for a controversial Greene County coyote and fox penning facility.

Legal in at least 19 states “penning” involves sending packs of domestic dogs into a fenced enclosure to chase to exhaustion and often tear apart a captive coyote or fox. Prior to release into the enclosures, wild coyotes and foxes are trapped in the wild with leghold traps, crammed into cages too small for movement, and shipped — often hundreds of miles — with little or no access to food or water. They’re then sold into penning facilities where pen operators make money by charging a fee to predator hunters who bring their hounds to train on these terrified, disoriented and exhausted coyotes and foxes that become “live bait” when they are released into an unfamiliar fenced enclosure and dragged down by packs of hunting dogs.

Penning has existed for decades but, ironically, may have benefited by the fact that few have ever heard of it.

Until now. This sadistic practice is beginning to enter public consciousness in a number of states following a 2007 interstate sting operation prompted by state conservation officers in Alabama that revealed an entire network of wild animal traffickers. This two-year undercover investigation of penning operations in four south eastern states led to the arrest of 18 people and the issuance of 46 citations for various violations related to the illicit black-market trade in live foxes and coyotes.

Florida was one of the states targeted in this sting operation and last year, after an intense campaign led by a coalition of national and grassroots organizations, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) voted unanimously to ban penning.

In a public statement on the issue, Chairman Rodney Barreto of FFWCC stated:

“I don’t believe this is fair chase…I feel Florida needs to be a leader in America. We need to end the use of these enclosures and end them now.”

Shockingly, despite legislation and newspaper editorials calling for a ban on coyote and fox penning, Indiana is currently considering proposed rules to legalize the practice- even after its own Department of Natural Resources recommended the practice be banned:

“The DNR believes that live coyotes should not be trapped outside the season and sold for use in running enclosures in which there is no fair chase; many times, the coyotes are not just chased but are killed by dogs within these enclosures when competitive hunts take place. Coyotes that are live-trapped and sold outside the season are primarily sold to people with these enclosures. Some coyotes do escape from these enclosures, creating problems for nearby landowners and possibly spreading diseases. Other coyotes are attacked and mauled by the dogs within the enclosures that do not allow their escape. These enclosures are currently operating illegally outside the coyote season in Indiana.”

Project Coyote, AWI, and ALDF- along with more than 60 scientists, wildlife biologists, veterinarians, ethicists, and attorneys- sent a formal letter calling on the Indiana Natural Resource Commission (INRC) to abolish “penning.”

The letter, endorsed by internationally prominent scientists and ethicists states:

“We believe that the INRC needs to take a firm stand in banning this practice altogether. If the proposed rule (to regulate pens) is approved, the INRC will be legalizing a practice that runs counter to fundamental concepts of wildlife management and violates the principle of fair chase.”

Wildlife agencies in several other states have serious concerns about penning, including the transmission of diseases such as rabies. In 2008, the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies passed a resolution urging the… “adoption of state-by-state regulations prohibiting the importation or interstate movement of foxes and coyotes for the purpose of stocking coursing pens or for release and pursuit by hounds outside of coursing pens.” Apart from those who practice penning, not many are in favor of keeping it legal. A recent poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research found that 85% of Hoosiers favor a ban on penning altogether. As Indiana considers whether to formally legalize this practice, thousands of letters have poured into the INRC from across the country calling for a permanent ban of penning statewide.

Americans recognize that dog fighting and cockfighting are unacceptably cruel and that such spectator events don’t have a place in civilized society. As a nation, we have banned both. When NFL quarterback, Michael Vick, admitted he was the owner-operator of a dog-fighting ring, most Americans were shocked and rightly outraged. How different is penning?

It’s time again for society to stand up, and shout a collective NO to the cruel, unethical and dangerous blood sport of coyote and fox penning — and make this practice illegal in all 50 states.