SEDBERGH, England – For two foxes in northwestern England (search), the ban on hunting came too late. Caught and killed by the dog pack of the Lunesdale Hunt on a bright winter morning, they were casualties on the last day before the centuries-old sport is banned. Now it's the hounds — in kennels across England and Wales — who face an uncertain future.
The majority of hunts in England and Wales (search) held events Thursday before the start of the ban on hunting with dogs. Scotland, with a separate legal system, had already banned hunting.
"When the ban comes in, we're not going to break the law of course," said Peter Capasso, secretary of the Lunesdale Hunt (search), based in Sedbergh in northwestern Cumbria County.
Instead, he believes the 350 members of the hunt will vote to continue paying a total of $2,800 a month to keep the 60 dogs alive while hoping that the ban can be repealed. Other hunts, however, have said they may have to kill their dogs.
Warmed by a shot of whisky or coffee dispensed at the Dalesman Country Inn, the members of the Lunesdale Hunt and supporters — many following in cars — set off across the rugged landscape of Howgills as an early mist burned away and the day shone crisp and clear.
"Today, a lot of people have taken the day off work," Capasso said. "It's been like a bank holiday or Boxing Day" — Dec. 26, traditionally the big day on the Lunesdale hunt calendar.
The legislation, forced into law by the House of Commons (search) in November, bans all hunting with hounds including the pursuit of rabbits and deer. Shooting foxes will remain legal.
The weekend brings a change of gear in the campaign to overturn the law.
Isobel Walsh, a spokeswoman for the pro-hunting Countryside Alliance, said thousands of hunters were expected to attend more than 250 hunts planned around the country Saturday.
"They are determined to go out and hunt within the law to prove how absurd it is," Walsh said.
The Duke of Beaufort's Hunt in western England, whose supporters include Prince Charles and his fiancee, Camilla Parker Bowles, planned to hold trail hunts, where hounds chase a scent rather than foxes.
"If we happen to catch a fox on Saturday, it will just be a nasty accident for that fox because our intention will be to hunt the trail, not the fox," said Mike Hibbard, a member of the hunt.
The Countryside Alliance had tried to overturn the ban by questioning the validity of the 1949 Parliament Act, which lawmakers used to override the opposition of the House of Lords.
Three senior Court of Appeal judges on Wednesday rejected the argument. Hunt supporters have said they are prepared to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Rural affairs minister Alun Michael said he was confident the law would survive the legal challenges.
"I am particularly pleased that hunts are now talking about an intention to hunt within the law," Michael said.
"That means doing all that is traditionally associated with hunting from the stirrup cup to red coats to enjoying a day in the fresh air, and that should cause problems for no one as long as they don't use their dogs to hunt a wild mammal."
Mike Garnett, who runs the Dalesman Inn, said the end of hunting would cost him a day's good business every Boxing Day, but would have a wider impact on the community.
"Yeah, for everyone around here it will hit them quite hard," Garnett said.
"It's when they come back from the hunt, they sing songs from decades and decades ago. Even people who come in the pub who don't support hunting say the atmosphere is great."