Remember that scene from the Guy Ritchie comedy Snatch, in which a chase scene is intercut with two Greyhounds going after a hare? That is hare coursing. It was banned in the United Kingdom in 2004, but continues as a regulated sport in the Republic of Ireland, USA, Portugal and Spain. Hare coursing involves two dogs, usually fast breeds like Greyhounds, and a wild hare. The animals are set loose in a confined area, the course, and the dog which gets the most points wins. Points are won by making a hare turn into a different direction. Until 1993, the dogs would catch the hare and kill it by swinging it in its jaws. But these days dogs are muzzled. So what’s the problem?
Fans of the sport in Ireland say that very few hares are harmed, and there’s simply not enough reason to ban this old tradition. The game is indeed very old; it was introduced to Britain by the Romans, and has been officially regulated since Elizabethan times. But opponents say coursing was only introduced to Ireland in 1813 by the British, and the Irish have no reason to uphold British traditions. Furthermore, the argument that few hares suffer is not true.
In a local newspaper, Aideen Yourell of the Irish Council Against Bloodsports said that during the 2004-2005 season, when activists monitored the practice, “57 hares died from injuries sustained when mauled by coursing dogs, according to the official records. Other abuses noted were hares with serious injuries released into the wild, 20 hares which appeared to be suffering from malnutrition, dead hares found in boxes following a four-and-a-half hour road journey, and 16 young orphaned leverets found in a coursing compound which meant that pregnant hares had been taken from the wild and probably coursed.” The muzzles protect the hares from the dogs’ teeth, but they do little to prevent the hares from suffering fractions when tumbling over. Many hares also die of stress.
In June this year, Maureen O’Sullivan, deputy in the Irish parliament, proposed a bill to ban hare coursing, but it was rejected. In the United States, the legal status of coursing is unclear. Some states have banned the practice, but in others like California and Colorado, the coursing of jackrabbits is still a legal sport. Meanwhile back in the UK, coursing is now the preferred sport for criminal gangs. November and December is high season for illegal coursing, and police catch criminals in the act almost daily. This year the police aims to deter coursers by confiscating their dogs. Let’s hope police effort in the UK and government policy elsewhere may soon make hare coursing history.