The sort of psychotic bloodsport popular in the most vile, decadent Roman colosseums is alive and well in South Carolina. A recent investigation by the Humane Society of the United States uncovered and documented four different examples of bear baying in the Palmetto State. The hunters who participate in this disgusting spectacle call it a “training exercise” for their hunting dogs, so that the dogs will know what to do if they encounter a bear in the wild. According to the AP, bear baying is a vicious activity in which a “declawed, defanged bear is chained to a stake as hunting dogs bark and snap, trying to force the bear to stand on its hind legs.” Why try to force a bear to stand on its hind legs? Because it makes it easier for hunters to shoot and kill them.

The bears subjected to this torment truly suffer, as one can see by viewing this video. The HSUS describes the spectacle of a tethered black bear surrounded by hundreds of onlookers: “She is foaming at the mouth and popping her jaws, behavior that means she is terrified. Her captors have cut or removed her claws and many of her teeth, leaving her defenseless. Three hounds run at the bear from one end of the arena, barking furiously. Some of them bite her face and legs. Others jump on her. She backs up on her hind legs, trying vainly to shield her face. The assault continues for four hours, as nearly 300 dogs attack her in quick succession.”

While hunters rationalize this as somehow necessary for training their dogs, the whole thing smacks of bloodsport as entertainment, just like cockfighting or bull fighting. Participants pretty much admit this. Baying events are hosted by the National Plott Hound Association, and the association’s president, Tim Hickman (apt last name) refers to dogs being “disqualifed” and complains about people who don’t “understand the sport.”

Interestingly,  the World Society for Protection of Animals notes, South Carolina’s bear baying is remarkably similar to the Pakistani practice of bear baiting, in which “dogs try to pull down a bear (whose claws and teeth are cut down or removed) by biting at its muzzle and flanks.” There are two differences, however. In Pakistan, bear baiting is considered entertainment; it isn’t rationalized as a training exercise. Also, in Pakistan, bear baiting is illegal, something that cannot be said of bear baying in South Carolina.

South Carolina has the dishonor of being the only state where bear baying is legal. Though animal fighting is banned in the state, there is an exemption for bear baying. Fortunately, the HSUS investigation has led to voices calling for an end to the barbaric practice. State Senator Joe Lourie plans to pre-file legislation to ban bear baying. “I was appalled by the recent reports in the media detailing this barbaric practice. It needs to be outlawed,” said Lourie. “South Carolina cannot have the distinction of being the only state where you can chain up a bear and sick [sic] dogs on it for sport.”

Now it is up to the people of South Carolina to decide if they want to move forward into the 21st century and ban a practice best left behind in Ancient Rome.

Tell South Carolina to end the cruel practice of bear baying.

Photo Credit: The HSUS