THE BLOG

Terrier Terror and the Horror of Underground Hunting

21/12/2015 20:36 GMT | Updated 21/12/2016 10:12 GMT

My favourite dog is part-Schnauzer, part-Cairn terrier, and goes by the name of Stanley. Stanley comes to work at the League Against Cruel Sports with his owner, greets me (and every other member of staff) as if I'm the best thing that's ever happened to him, then goes to sleep in the corner. He's fun, gentle, and makes all our lives a little bit better.

Imagine if one day I took Stanley into the woods, found a fox hole, shoved Stanley down it and forced him into a fight with a trapped fox. At best he'd come out with a ripped face. At worst, he wouldn't come out at all.

I can't even begin to imagine doing that to any dog, let alone one I care about, but unbelievably there are others who feel differently. The horrific activity known as 'terrier work', which could also be called underground hunting, is an integral part of traditional fox hunting.

What I described above is basically what happens. On the day of a hunt, hunt staff will try to block any fox holes or badger setts in the area of the hunt, but if a fox bolts down one to escape, the hunt's 'terrierman' will send in his dog to chase it out or trap it until it can be dug out. Either way, the result is gruesome.

The terror the animals must feel is unimaginable, the suffering more obvious as it can be seen in these pictures. These are the lucky ones - many will die in the course of their 'duty'. Underground hunting is also done by people who simply enjoy pitching one animal against another.

Over the last year, we have been undertaking an investigation into the way social media is used by people who commit acts of cruelty, with a particular focus on underground hunting.

Thousands of images were studied, and of these 1400 were found to be connected with this activity. That's a lot of suffering dogs. We forwarded 46 intelligence reports to the RSPCA and the police for potential investigation, and we made 57 complaints to social media platforms leading to 48 pages being removed.

While I've become accustomed to the depravity of some people and the way they seem to get their kicks out of seeing - and making - animals suffer, it never gets easier. But the connection between underground hunting and fox hunts, who do so much to try and foster an appearance of respectability, is particularly galling.

The hunts will claim they do not hunt foxes any more, but simply follow a 'trail'. Then why did at least 13 of the individuals investigated over the last year have links to hunts? Why are hunts often accompanied by terriermen and their terriers on quad bikes? Hunts need terriermen to accomplish what they are trying to do - kill foxes. The terriers are the dog soldiers sent into the trenches to suffer.

The results of our investigation were shocking enough, but this is no isolated study. With impeccable timing, in the last month two terriermen pleaded guilty to charges including putting a terrier down a hole to fight a fox, and causing unnecessary suffering to an animal. The two men were employed by the Puckeridge Hunt in Hertfordshire, and the terriers, found with terrible injuries, were found in the hunt's kennels. The Joint Master of the hunt is on the board of the Countryside Alliance, the main mouthpiece for the hunting fraternity. The Countryside Alliance also claims to represent rural people, in spite of the fact that around eight out of ten people in rural areas are opposed to fox hunting.

Underground hunting is awful. In some cases, it is also legal. The League Against Cruel Sports believes that putting a dog underground after a mammal should be totally banned. There's no excuse for such medieval barbarity.

And now I think I need to go and play with Stanley, it always makes me feel better.

If you can stomach the pictures, take a look at the Social Media and the Horror of Underground Hunting report at www.league.org.uk/terrierreport