It was Dicken’s character Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” who was given a dramatic and painful illustration that if he carried on doing what he had been doing then he could not expect any positive change in his circumstances. Hunting with hounds has given society at large a great deal over the years but slowly that contribution is being consigned to history or rewritten to remove any controversial mention of ‘hounds’.
For example, in a radical piece or forward thinking in the 1920’s the English Hunting world and the MFHA funded research into finding a cure for distemper, a terrible disease at the time. Hunts not only contributed financially but also supported by providing a consistent test environment for the study, and subsequent survey of the results with the vaccine virus method showed that, in cases where exposure to infection was certain, the incidence of distemper among 650 hounds belonging to twenty-three hunting packs was only 14 per cent., and the death rate from this cause dropped from almost 90% to 0.3 per cent. At this time there were a number of high profile attacks on blood sports, and this caused one of the major supporters and contributors towards the £25000 raised to remark that ”These attacks were undoubtedly serious. The fact that they were made by a few cranks who were ignorant did not lessen the seriousness of them. I think people who are born and bred on the land, who know what sport is and can distinguish a sport from a pastime, must come together to counteract the attacks. Though I confess I have not the slightest fear the attacks will be successful. Foxhunting is not the sport of one class, one creed, or even of one political party. We must combine in order that they shall not try to push a bill through parliament”
More recently the major breakthrough in the identification and successful treatment of a common canine gut parasite was aided by a call to hunts in the basis that their animal health and welfare provisions were exceptional and consistent and thus made a good basis for a reliable study.
However are these animal health and welfare contributions recognised by much of the dog owning public and veterinary profession today? Unfortunately, not, and much like the current urban student led revisionism of history any article statue, painting etc it only stays if it fits ‘my’ version of the facts. Though our opponents recognise the danger to their negative tales of the facts of the good that hunting has done it the past are revealed they counter it with for example a report stating “the cure for distemper was funded by wealthy land owning classes keen to enforce their own patriarchal view on society and which research should be funded – a cure for common people or one for their hounds”
This astounding revisionism is selective in that today university and college bursaries and scholarships provided by those who are being written out of history are for some reason not in the recipients firing line.
History shows that attacks are nothing new, but we have, as a body of fieldsports enthusiasts (hound gun and line) been disjointed and disappointingly ineffective when it comes to identifying and countering these threats. Online activists have learnt much faster than hunting people where we are vulnerable and since they are seldom challenged in their favourite arena, the imaginary ‘court of public opinion’ ,to prove their more lurid tales as a result they have built up an effective channel of communication with the tabloid media. This has led to them becoming the only bite sized source of information for most of the population about hunting -assisted by high profile negatively biased headlines written and submitted by spoon fed ‘journalists’ desperate for visibility and ratings. In sporadic and generally localised attempts to correct the balance as a group we do our best across the country with regular fund raising efforts leading to often substantial donation to air ambulances, hospitals and the RNLI among other organisations. However grateful the organisations are for this help, it is not commonly publicly acknowledged. Worse still our opponents tug at both the wallets and purse strings of a well meaning ‘animal loving’ public seeing the masked and army surplus clad thugs as some sort of army fighting for animal rights.
As ridiculous as this scenario seems– we got ourselves into it with some huge ‘school boy’ errors such as:- “if we ignored them they would go away” and that the media like individuals who seem to lecture, rather than talk to them etc. Far worse than this is the perception that “ I work hard for my hunting and nothing gets in its way” that also includes being resistant to spending time with a new largely sceptical audience or a field master losing control of a youngish fields who then disappear off to do their own thing causing damage to delicate landowner relations as no one has shown them the intricacies of hound work, or outline and enforce the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. Holding out for going back to the “good old days” only adds to the perception problem, as demonstrated by the recent advert for Seat cars in the UK which panders to the modern them-and-us philosophy and openly refers to hunting as “looking back”.
As the new year gets fully underway, perhaps we should all consider what we can start (or stop) doing to help improve the image of hunting and other field sports in the modern world to make them all more relevant today’s ‘urban-centric me, me, me’ orientated society. Getting away from a mindset of fighting among ourselves might be a good start – instead of reinforcing the battle lines between shooting, fishing and hunting and even packs of different types, or sacrificing one in the hope of saving the others (as happened with coursing, which did nothing to prevent the attacks on hunting, and in fact encouraged fieldsports opponents by rewarding their antagonism), we should start working together to promote the common good. Instead of keeping a low profile in the hope it will all go away, maybe the organisations who are very quick to levy fees on us all should do more to earn our trust and develop proactive PR or counter the anti messages that are peddled to schools or other bodies by developing circulating and the positive side. Or request relevant assistance from the mass of relevant expertise from supporters when it is not available in house. Even something as apparently small as making sure your local papers know about, and publicise, large donations to charity or other good community involvement can make a difference to how the “neutrals” in society think of fieldsports as a whole; while stopping the own-goals of behaviours unacceptable even before the Act came into force is absolutely paramount to avoid providing the excuses certain left-leaning politicians are looking for to consign all field sports fully to history.