Imagine leading a snarling hound – or a pack of them – to chase a badly frightened bear or bobcat up a tree for you to shoot to death. There are lots of hunters – "sportsmen," as they're called – who think that to be great fun.
Boy, are they mad at Gov. Jerry Brown of California for recently signing a bill that will outlaw the practice in the state beginning next year. The bill's author, State Senator Ted Lieu, actually claimed "there is nothing sporting in shooting an exhausted bear clinging to a tree limb or a cornered bobcat."
Legislators in California thankfully are not the only ones who agree. The barbaric practice of bear baiting has been banned in two-thirds of the other states. But why not ban it and all other hunters' cruelties everywhere?
Because, say hunting advocates such as California State Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, it infringes on a hallowed tradition of hunters that dates back hundreds of years. Not to mention that a ban would deprive states of the thousands of dollars they collect for bear and bobcat hunting tags.
Nielsen said he has received thousands of phone calls and letters protesting the California ban. That, sadly, should be no surprise. Many people, if not most people, seem to approve of stalking and killing our fellow creatures for sport.
More than 20 million Americans are searching the countryside for winged and four-legged victims. And manufacturers of guns and other hunting equipment, and state fish and game departments, are trying hard to increase their incomes by increasing the number of "sportsmen" who are chasing innocent animals. They're urging more Americans, including youngsters, to go out and kill for sport.
Think of the message that's being delivered to the young – the message, as leading animal rights activist Jamie Kemsey noted, "that it is acceptable to commit an act of violence and take innocent life simply for the fun of it. In these violent times we cannot afford, under any circumstances, to condone such morally bankrupt actions."
Certainly we still kill animals for food. But that is not the same as killing them for amusement. You can argue that killing animals is still necessary for survival, at least unless you're a vegetarian. But killing them for sport in today's circumstances is cruel and unnecessary.
Hey, wait a minute, say the "sportsmen." Their targets are too dumb to realize it, yet hunting actually benefits them by "thinning the herds" and thus keeping the animals from starving. But though reducing some animal populations may indeed be necessary for their survival, there are civilized ways to do it. Rather than running down and shooting the animals, why not simply relocate them to similar, less populated areas, for instance?
In a fully civilized society, the money and energy spent by government agencies and others to promote hunting would instead be devoted to protecting our fellow creatures from human killers, and expanding and protecting their habitats, too many of which are now game preserves open to hunters.
We could at least deny hunters and their bloody practices, including bear baiting, the respect and approval of society and its leaders. This is the 21st century, is it not?
Dick Meister is a San Francisco writer. You can contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com.