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Use of dogs in wounded animal tracking even gets PETA's support.

Byline: INSIDE THE OUTDOORS By Mike Stahlberg The Register-Guard

While the British had themselves in a tizzy last week over Parliament's vote to ban fox hunting with hounds, some of their American cousins were actually considering expanding the role of dogs in hunting.

If you missed the story that appeared under the front page headline "Tally No!," London lawmakers voted Friday to ban all hunting with hounds (including the pursuit of rabbits).

Although it's still going to be legal to shoot foxes in England and Wales, the ban on hounds will (if upheld in an expected court challenge) end a traditional English country sport that goes back hundreds of years.

Good riddance? Or another milestone in the march to ban all hunting? That depends on your perspective.

But most people should agree with a use for hunting dogs that was the subject of a second news story last week. It reported that wildlife officials in Pennsylvania are considering recommending that dogs be allowed a limited role in deer hunting, a practice barred in that state since the early 1900s.

The proposal headed for the Pennsylvania Legislature, however, has nothing to do with packs of dogs in baying pursuit of a fleeing Bambi.

Rather, it would allow licensed human trackers to utilize a leashed dog to help hunters find wounded deer or bear they have lost track of.

Leash-tracking addresses the most negative aspect of hunting - the waste and suffering that occurs when a mortally wounded animal is not dispatched and recovered by the hunter.

Pushing for the regulation change is a group called Deer Recovery of Pennsylvania, founded by Andy Bensing, a Reading dog obedience trainer and licensed tracker.

With the help of Arno, his petite standard wirehaired dachshund, Bensing has helped countless hunters in other states recover wounded animals.

About a dozen northern states have legalized leashed-dog tracking for game in recent years. The first to do so was New York, where about 150 trackers are registered with Deer Search, Inc., a non-profit group that has run the service since 1978.

In New York, a tracker is allowed to carry a weapon to "finish off" a wounded bear or deer. In Maryland, which legalized leash-tracking three years ago, the tracker cannot dispatch a wounded animal - only the hunter who used his services.

Bensing voluntarily assists hunters in New York and Maryland. He says he has a list of about 100 dog owners in Pennsylvania who are willing to train their dogs to follow blood scent and help recover game.

In his first case, Bensing and Arno helped a bowhunter find a black bear that the hunter and his buddies had spent seven hours searching for before calling for help. Arno found the dead, liver-shot bear in a depression only 150 yards from where it had been hit.

The blood scent followed by Arno indicated the animal had circled back and twice switched back on its own trail, confounding the human trackers.

Ideally, Bensing said, the tracker and dog should be on the scent of a missing animal within 12 to 15 hours. But it's often 24 hours before they can get there. Even so, he said, about one in three animals is recovered.

Pennsylvania Game Commission members favor legalizing leash-tracking, according to the Lancaster New Era newspaper.

"It's about 20 years past due," commission member Stephen Mohr said. "There's no reason why it shouldn't be passed.

"If a big game animal is mortally wounded, it should be recovered."

Who wouldn't agree with that?

Even People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) - a rabid anti-hunting group - said their group would not oppose leash-tracking of wounded animals, Bensing said.

Mike Stahlberg can be reached at mstahlberg@guardnet.com.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Nov 25, 2004
Words:618
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