Are the working terrier breeds of the UK becoming historical relics fit for museums and bad taxidermy?
In an astounding lack of vision, the birth-nation of the working terrier has failed to employ even a single dog to do the very work they were engineered for: no terriers were hired or even allowed to participate in last year’s UK badger cull and none are on the roster for the continuation of the program this summer.
Devon, England 1923. Ever Seen a Badger Caught? It’s a rarely seen sport – you just dig till you catch up with him!
Government largess is pretty much the last hope for historical careers that are obsolete, unproductive, or financially wasteful and the fact that the poor working terrier can’t even get on the dole anymore is yet another sign that “working” has been reduced to a hobby for yet another swath of breeds: a heavily regulated hobby–when it’s not expressly outlawed in most of the forms anyone from 100 years ago would recognize.
After the economic and animal husbandry disaster that was the 2001 Foot and Mouth disease outbreak in the UK, which resulted in the mass culling over 10 million sheep and cattle and financial losses approaching $20 billion, it’s understandable that the Brits are a little paranoid about livestock epidemics and the possible vectors of disease which include anything that can come in contact with livestock from people and equipment to food and wild predators, vermin, and fauna.
The consternation du jour in livestock risk management is the fight over the European Badger and the theory that these vermin are a wild reservoir for Bovine Tuberculosis that might infect cattle (and even people via unpasteurized milk), a disease which claims 30,000 cattle a year in the UK and which was likely spread by the restocking of farms after the Foot and Mouth outbreak.
Now, it should be noted that Foot and Mouth is actually a readily survivable disease in livestock but affected animals suffer not only from the namesake blisters on their hooves and mouth, but they very often lose substantial weight and suffer decreased milk production even after recovery — and these are the two most economically important factors in cattle, their weight gain and milk production. The highly infectious nature of the disease and the difficulty in using vaccines sparked the massive cull even though only a few thousand animals were even identified with the disease in 2001.
There is a rather profound leveraging factor in the fight to eradicate infectious disease in core-economic markets like the cattle industry in the UK. Even though Bovine Tuberculosis is estimated to affect only 2-6% of badgers and the massive cull is estimated to reduce the bovine infection rate by 16% or less, that slight improvement is millions of pounds that the government won’t have to pay farmers for the loss of their stock. And yet the decades long history of badger culling in the UK has yet to produce a method that would be a net economic gain or anywhere close to being in the black.
The Government initiated a pilot badger cull program over 2012/2013 that had the goal to eradicate 70% of the Badger population in two areas in the south of the country using professional sharp shooters which were chosen based on cost and humane concerns. The highly controversial cull didn’t meet the desired kill levels nor was free-shooting found to be particularly humane by critics–although one should doubt that they’ll ever be satisfied.
The most recent program is actually an incremental evolution in form from numerous previous badger culls, with the aim to reduce the costs of prior methods (trapping badgers in cages and then dispatching them with rifles) which proved woefully inadequate with the cost of the cull exceeding the economic benefit to reduced tuberculosis transmission in cattle by a factor of 14. The less-than-brilliant idea was to remove the cages and just “free shoot” the badgers during daylight hours. This idea was so ineffective that the badger-loving Animal Rights saboteurs got bored waiting for any sort of action that they abandoned the badger snipers and decided to troll daylight pheasant hunts on private property instead.
The idiocy of the daylight shooting plan is rather obvious. Badgers are both elusive and nocturnal and there’s a very specific reason that the sport of digging to badgers and even badger baiting looks the way it does. Badgers are not found in large numbers walking about in the hedge rows during the day waiting to be shot with rifles like the pheasants are (much like American Prairie dogs which are the favorite fodder for shootists to test their sniper skills). Badgers are dug to because that’s where they are during the day, in their setts. Or they are lamped at night. Both activities which are expressly outlawed in the UK.
In fact, Badgers are among the first and most protected wild animal species in the UK. The Protection of Animals Act of 1835 outlawed badger, bull, and bear baiting as well as cock and dog fighting in the UK. Follow-on legislation curtailed “unnecessary suffering” and demanded “reasonable means of escape” for hunted animals. The League Against Cruel Sport’s “Look Out For the Badger” campaign saw the Protection of Badgers Act passed in 1973 with further limitations seen in 1981 with the Wildlife and Countryside Act and its amendment in 1985. These laws limited badger hunting to landholders, then removed that exception, and amazingly established a rare “guilty until proven innocent” circumstance for those found to be digging up badger setts.
The Badgers Act and the Badger Sett Protection Act of 1991 were consolidated with the 1973 Act for the current and comprehensive Protection of Badgers Act of 1992. Although the Act is rather far-reaching in its protection of Badgers, the key exception allows for the government to issue licenses which pre-empt any restriction of the Act for various purposes, the first of which is clearly under the purview of the Badger Cull:
(2) A licence may be granted to any person by the appropriate Minister authorising him, notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this Act, but subject to compliance with any conditions specified in the licence—
(a) for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease, to kill or take badgers, or to interfere with a badger sett, within an area specified in the licence by any means so specified;
The issues of cost and efficiency in the current badger cull fiasco could both be solved by the same remedy. In fact, the British Government could easily make money on a badger cull by simply issuing hunting licenses to amateur terrier-men for a fee and deposit and allow them to do all the work, negotiate with farmers for access to the land, dig up the badgers and dispatch them, and make the carcasses available to scientists for counting, testing, and research for a return of the deposit. A tag system like we employ in the US could also be used to distinguish legitimate culls from poaching.
Border, Fell, Jack Russell, and Patterdale Terriers are supposedly still “working” go-to-ground breeds capable of being drafted for the badger cull cause, but the day when there was any industry dependent on their use has come and gone. In the very fields of their creation and former glory, when there is a pressing need for their service in the capacity of their highest and original use, they are being ignored, prohibited, or severely marginalized.
At best we can say they’re now sport dogs for hobby hunters and vermin baiters. It’s questionable if the size of that fringe hobby is even sufficient to sustain several breeds with populations of a healthy size. For most quarry, they have been rendered obsolete by more humane, cheaper, and more effective methods of vermin control and their limited use as an auxiliary breed for British gentry sport and Chav blood sport is not likely to maintain them going forth.
What really puts the nail in the “working terrier” coffin is that they weren’t even considered for their supposed prime use, to dispatch particularly problematic vermin where more modern methods (such as gassing) have been determined cruel and the allowed methods (daylight shooting) are marginally effective, as in the recent and ongoing UK badger cull. If not now, when? If not this work, what work?
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