Ontario may allow dogs to hunt coyotes in controlled environment

The government of Ontario is planning to extend the licensing system that permits dog owners to train their pets to hunt captive coyotes, foxes, and rabbits within enclosed areas. 

While some hunters see the activity, known as “training and trialing,” as a popular sport, animal welfare supporters consider it inhumane towards the prey. 

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry revealed that they intend to increase the number of hunting facilities to prevent the sport from operating in secrecy.

Graydon Smith stated in an interview that dog training facilities may decrease in number if no intervention is taken. 

He also expressed concerns that without these facilities, dog owners may resort to using private or Crown land for training, which could lead to negative interactions with people and wildlife.

The government of Ontario, led by then-premier Mike Harris’s Progressive Conservative government, began phasing out the operation of dog trial areas in the province in 1997 by stopping the issuance of licenses required to run such facilities and making it illegal to sell or transfer them. 

Over 60 such areas existed in Ontario at the time, all located on private property and required to be fully enclosed. Today, only 24 licensed train and trial areas remain in the province. The government has suggested granting new licenses via a 90-day application period and allowing the transfer of licenses to new owners. 

Legally caught prey, such as coyotes, is typically used for hunting at these facilities, which is described on the Environmental Registry of Ontario.

Graydon Smith, a director of the Ontario Fur Managers Federation, has said that the proposed changes by the Ontario government to permit licensed dog training and trialing facilities is not about active hunting or hunting of any kind, but rather about animals that are specifically bred and trained for the purpose of dog trialing. 

The Ontario government is proposing changes to grant new licenses for dog training and trailing through a one-time 90-day application period and allow licenses to be transferred to new owners. These changes are part of an omnibus bill, called the Less Red Tape, Stronger Economy Act. The proposals were made available for public comment in early April and will close on May 18.

John Bell, the president of the Ontario Sporting Dog Association, stated at a legislative committee hearing that the elimination of licensed training and trialing areas has forced hunters to train their dogs in the wild. 

In response, Christine Hogarth, the parliamentary assistant for animal welfare in the province, expressed concern about the safety of all animals in these training areas. 

Bell, who owns a large training pen for the sport and trains his dogs to hunt coyotes, argued that there are rules in place to ensure animal safety.

Bell responded that there are regulations in place that mandate the construction of brush piles, dens, or man-made escape units to ensure the safety of the animals. 

Bell has also built pods on his 225-acre pen that includes concrete culverts leading to buried 45-gallon drums that are vented above. The pods are baited with food so the coyotes learn where to hide. 

Bell stated that these measures ensure that the coyotes are safe in the ground and that not many dogs would go into a 10-inch culvert when there’s an alligator at the other end.

The Ontario Sporting Dog Association, with 33,000 members, has been lobbying the government for the reinstatement of dog training and trialing licenses. In addition to being a sport, dog trialing is also a competition in which judges score dogs on their ability to track and hunt coyotes within hundreds of acres of enclosures. 

The first such competition in Ontario took place in 1887. The proposal to reinstate licenses has also garnered support from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.

Kristen Snoek, a wildlife biologist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, stated that the dog trial proposal has been a priority for their organization since the licensing changes in 1997. However, Camille Labchuk, the executive director of Animal Justice, argued that the entire practice is inhumane, with contests where dogs chase terrified coyotes around an enclosed pen and dogs being trained to kill coyotes for hunting. 

Labchuk said that the current government could learn from the Harris government, which ended the spring bear hunt and phased out penned coyote hunting to protect wild animals from hunting lobbyists.

The spring bear hunt in Ontario was reintroduced as a test project by the Liberal government in 2014 and later made a permanent program by the government of Doug Ford in 2021.


Read More: Toronto

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