When the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Project Coyote and the Animal Welfare Institute filed a complaint with the Marion Superior Court to consider the offseason possession of coyotes by the WCI Foxhound Training Preserve, the petitioners said they hoped the case would help lead to an end of the practice of penning in Indiana.
Judge David Certo in November issued a default judgment against the Green County-based nonprofit facility for illegal possession of coyotes during closed season, acknowledging that dogs had, on at least one occasion, killed a penned coyote.
The practice of chasing an animal until it collapses of exhaustion and is subsequently mauled to death is a violation of the hunter's code because the prey is confined and has no chance of escape, said John Melia, a California-based attorney who represented ALDF.
But despite the judgment and ethical concerns, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources has taken no action against WCI, which is the only registered training facility of this kind in the state.
Supporters say the purpose of penning is to train dogs to chase coyotes within a safe area, without trespassing and without fear of their dogs being hit by vehicles.
"The DNR has not received any complaints against WCI, other than those filed through this lawsuit or the rule-making process," said Phil Bloom, an IDNR spokesman.
The DNR issues field trial permits for sanctioned field trials at the facility, which borders the state-owned Hillenbrand Fish and Wildlife Area.
Richard "Red" Bedwell, co-owner of WCI, said that the coyotes "come and go through holes in the fence" and are not therefore technically possessed.
Coyotes can climb his six-foot-tall welded wire fence, but "animal rights people" keep cutting holes in his fence, forcing continuous patching jobs, Bedwell added.
He said he was bewildered with the judgment and accusations of unsporting activities, claiming coyotes aren't killed.
"I don't understand it," he said. "If we were doing something wrong, I'd understand. If we were doing what they claimed, I'd be right there with them."
But possessing wildlife without a permit in the off-season is unlawful, Judge Certo said.
"Portions of the fence not adjacent to trees are buried underground so coyotes cannot dig under the fence and escape into the wild," Certo noted in his judgment. Further negating claims the coyotes are free to leave by climbing the fence, he added that the fence is reinforced by a single-line electric wire at the base, which is activated even when field trials are not taking place. Certo also noted that, within the fenced perimeter, the facility features a 50-by-50-foot holding pen for holding coyotes purchased from trappers.
Bedwell said that local farmers support WCI.
"They call and want us to come," he said. "Coyotes are killing their calves. Farmers expect us to kill coyotes, not just hear dogs bark."
He added that the state helps by supplying road kill to feed the coyotes, noting "DNR backs us 100 percent."
The DNR's Bloom denied that the agency provided such support.
"Generally speaking, the DNR is supportive of anyone who abides by the rules and regulations spelled out in Indiana Code and Indiana Administrative Code that pertain to DNR's scope of responsibilities," he said.
Regarding the lack of action on WCI's off-season killing of wildlife, Bloom offered no comment.
Melia said he believes that "penning would be over if the DNR properly applied the possession regulations." But, he added, he thinks anti-penning legislation is the ultimate answer.
Thirty-nine states have already outlawed running pens.
In 2011, State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, and Rep. David Cheatham, D-North Vernon, introduced legislation to stop penning. House Bill 1135 would make the practice a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine or 60 days in jail. The bill did not emerge from its assigned House committee.
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