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Most of you have probably spotted a red fox a few times in the woods and even yards in Fairfax. They are fairly elusive, but their beautiful red fur makes you turn your head to catch a glimpse.

Right now, this week, these wild animals are being legally tortured in Virginia. And we’re not talking about just a handful, but 6,000 over the past five years. How did this come about? A couple decades ago, someone managed to convince the state that they needed to train their dogs for fox hunting and needed some foxes to do this. So up to 37 people were given permits to trap foxes and use them to “train” their dogs.

What has actually happened since then? A huge competition has sprung up, involving betting and trophies, based on releasing packs of dogs in a pen with wild foxes. Almost all the foxes — completely terrified and unable to escape — are ripped apart by the dogs. Not that the dogs are treated well either. A friend who works at a shelter near Richmond reports picking up dogs by the roadside, often in terrible condition, with big numbers painted on them — discarded or injured fox-pen dogs who didn’t measure up in the fights.

After being caught in the wild with steel leg traps, the foxes are transported to the competition site. Some die on the way. There is illegal trafficking of these animals from state to state to feed this need for more foxes. The garbage in the fox pens attracts other wildlife such as coyotes, deer and bears who also fall victim to mauling. In 2008 in Virginia, after a competition in which 800 dogs were released in a pen, one bear was discovered killed with hundreds of puncture wounds.

This barbaric practice is firmly opposed by legitimate fox hunters, and it has been outlawed in most states. Those who practice it claim it is all done for the training and no animals are tortured. Thanks to investigations by the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. These are staged fights, maiming wildlife for private entertainment and profit. Last winter, the Virginia Senate passed Bill 1280 for the elimination of fox penning and similar staged competitions, but it failed in the House of Delegates. This spring the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries passed several weak regulations for fox penning, merely throwing a bone to the 2,000 people who asked the DGIF to stop this practice.

You can find out more by contacting the Human Society of the United States. And please, contact your state delegate and senator and urge them to take all measures to end this cruelty. Virginia wildlife is a fast-depleting treasure of our Commonwealth. Think about that the next time you see a beautiful, shy fox in the woods.

Carol Hall, Fairfax