Vote to ban fox hunting polarizes Great Britian

Sunday, March 17, 2002

LONG CRENDON, England -- The hounds' baleful cries drifted across the fields, causing the riders to bristle with excitement. A flash of red darted from the woods and the huntsman's horn blared.

The chase was on.

For members of the Bicester Hunt with Whaddon Chase, fox hunting offers the chance to ride hard, control the population of an animal some consider a nuisance and preserve Britain's rural lifestyle.

For opponents, including a large number of lawmakers who will vote Monday on a possible ban, fox hunting is a cruel anachronism.

"Once the hounds speak you get the tingle in your neck and you know there will some action," said Ian McKie, the jovial joint master of the hunt, as he climbed into the saddle during a recent hunt, wearing traditional jodhpurs and scarlet hunting jacket.

"It is a sick pantomime," said Penny Little of the group Protect Our Wild Animals, as she monitored the hunt from the roadside with tears welling up in her eyes. "It is a long drawn-out infliction of terror and physical exhaustion, it's at the top end of the scale of cruelty,"

Fox hunting polarizes Britain, laying bare the divide between town and country and reawakening class antagonism that simmers below the surface of British society.

Opinion polls have consistently indicated a majority of Britons oppose hunting with hounds, as do a majority of lawmakers in the House of Commons, which is dominated by Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party.

The options before the Commons on Monday are to ban hunting, regulate it or leave it alone. Blair, who says he opposes hunting, has refrained from using his majority in the Commons to force a ban.

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