Coco the cat was killed by lurchers in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland urgently needs to change hunting law as another pet dies

On 5 November Coco the cat was murdered by hunting dogs in Northern Ireland. Her death is a stark reminder that the law in Northern Ireland needs changing urgently.

Coco was 13 years old when she was killed last week. Her guardian Tracy told the Belfast Telegraph that her two children are understandably devastated by the rescue cat’s death.

Murdered by hunting dogs

Tracy told the newspaper:

“My brother, who lives next door, came up and said there were six dogs in his yard. At this stage, we didn’t know that any of the cats had been harmed – we have four cats and five dogs. A friend of mine who is heavily involved in animal welfare said to check the animals [the cats had been outside]. We went out and found one of the cats straight away, then my father found our wee Coco in the back garden dead. Our other two didn’t come back until around 3.30pm in the afternoon and they were badly shaken, so they must have been hiding all that time.”

She continued:

“I confronted the owners, they were fox hunting. I think there were five Lurchers and a black Labrador, and the men were dressed head to toe in camouflage. There were about five or six men, with radios, and tracker collars on the dogs, but they had no control over them whatsoever.”


Lurcher. Image CC


From Tracy’s description, it seems that Coco was murdered by fox coursers rather than fox hunters.

Protect the Wild’s Glen Black previously wrote about the gruesome blood sport:

“While hare coursing is more famous, people also course foxes using any number of sighthounds, which include breeds such as greyhounds, salukis and lurchers. Similar to hare coursing, the Hunting Act prohibited fox coursing across England and Wales, while in Scotland it was prohibited by the protection of Wild Mammals Act.”

Northern Ireland’s laws around hunting are, however, different to that of England. In fact, the region was never covered by the Hunting Act when it came into force in England and Wales in 2005. And in December 2021 the Northern Ireland Assembly rejected a bill that would have made hunting with dogs illegal. The private member’s bill had been brought by the Alliance Party’s John Blair. Pro-hunting politicians defeated the bill with 45 votes, compared to 38 votes in support of a ban.

At the time, the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) said:

“We are staggered that half of our political representatives do not hold this view and encourage members of the public to reflect on whether their views have been appropriately represented on this issue.”

Indeed, before the bill was rejected there was overwhelming public support for a ban on hunting. A massive 78% of 18,425 respondents to a public survey were in favour of a change in the law. The same number of respondents were in support of new legislation making “landowners vicariously liable for any illegal hunting activity that takes place on their land”. It had been hoped that the legislation would have been more watertight than over the water in England and Wales, and Blair had hoped that through the wording of the law, even “accidental” kills would have been prohibited.

Unsurprisingly, the bloodlust-fuelled Countryside Alliance was instrumental in campaigning and lobbying against the Bill, moaning that the proposed legislation was “anti-rural” and “dangerous”. It had worked with numerous organisations such as the Ulster Farmers Union, the Hunting Association of Northern Ireland, the NI Master of Hounds, and more to ensure that the bill didn’t get to committee stage.

Coco’s death shouldn’t be in vain

Following Coco’s death, the USPCA has spoken out again against hunting with dogs. Nora Smith, head of the charity, said:

“It absolutely does shine a light on the needs to bring in legislation. Unfortunately we lag behind the UK as the only region that doesn’t ban hunting with dogs.”

Although Smith is correct, England and Wales’ Hunting Act doesn’t protect animals in the way it should either because of all the loopholes in the law. Hunters continue to terrorise foxes, stags, hares and mink, while police forces rarely take meaningful action to stop them. On top of that, family pets in England have met the same fate as Coco. As Protect the Wild continuously reports, our current law needs urgently replacing with robust new legislation.

Smith continued talking about the situation in Northern Ireland. She said:

“We have certainly not given up hope — we have joined forces with League Against Cruel Sports and are working with our politicians to ensure that when the legislation comes to the Assembly floor again, it is supported by all of our political parties.”

Coco’s needless death should be a wake-up call to all the politicians who voted down the 2021 proposal to change the law in Northern Ireland. Hunting animals with dogs is an archaic pastime that urgently needs stopping. It’s high time they stopped giving wildlife persecutors free reign to terrorise animals.