Bill would ban bear baying

In this image from a video, a dog barks at a captive bear during a bear-baying event in Spartanburg. Bear baying, a training method for hunting dogs, is legal only in South Carolina.

Ron Harris

COLUMBIA -- A South Carolina lawmaker said Tuesday he will introduce legislation banning a practice known as "bear baying," saying he was disturbed by recently released videos that show dogs running and jumping at a chained-up, declawed bear.

"I was appalled by the recent reports in the media detailing this barbaric practice. It needs to be outlawed," state Sen. Joel Lourie said in a news release. "South Carolina cannot have the distinction of being the only state where you can chain up a bear and sic dogs on it for sport."

Lourie, a Columbia Democrat, was reacting to videos released Monday by the Humane Society of the United States. The videos, which were filmed with hidden cameras by activists posing as spectators, show an adult black bear standing on all fours, its back to a 4-foot- high wooden fence, tethered to the ground by several feet of chain. Crowds of a few dozen line the dirt pen around it.

The bear rises onto its hind legs as three hounds sprint toward it. Hunters say that's the point: They have a better chance of killing a bear swiftly with a shot to its exposed underbelly. The unleashed dogs bark, show their teeth and swat at the bear, which lunges to the end of the chain, then backs up against the fence.

Moments later, handlers pull off the dogs. A new team of dogs, most of them Plott hounds weighing about 50 pounds, soon takes on the roughly 150-pound bear. Dozens more will follow.

Hunters say the exercise popular in the state's hilly northwestern corner helps them train their dogs on what to do when they come across a bear during a hunt. But Humane Society officials call it "bear baiting," a centuries-old blood sport that is cruel to the nearly defenseless bears.

Bear baying is effectively banned in other states, but in South Carolina the law is murky. Statutes that ban animal fighting have a specific exemption for dog training. South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster said animal cruelty laws prohibit bear baying but he hasn't prosecuted any cases.

A spokesman said Monday that prosecutors were reviewing the videos.

On Tuesday, Humane Society Chief Operating Officer Michael Markarian applauded Lourie's effort and called on state hunting regulators to step in and revoke permits that allow 24 bears to be held in captivity in the state.

"The Humane Society of the United States is grateful to Senator Lourie for taking steps to stop this terrible practice of bear baying," Markarian said. "We are also calling on the Department of Natural Resources to take immediate action to stop the ongoing cruelty to captive bears under its permitting authority."