By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Schooley shot straight with the district attorney. Yes, it's true, there would be gambling, he admitted. But last year's contest, he said, also raised $11,000, which was donated to the Future Farmers of America program at B.F. Terry High School in Rosenberg, the Texas Dog Hunters Association and the American Cancer Society. He also admitted that although the Needville event was a bay trial, occasional biting was inevitable. After all, the dogs are trained to attack. In past years, Schooley said, it was not uncommon for a dog to shred a hog's ears, scrotum or snout. But, in such cases, the dogs are pried off as quickly as possible.
Healey prosecutes a handful of dog-fighting and cockfighting cases every year. He pointed Schooley to Section 42.09 of the Texas Penal Code, which explicitly forbids causing one animal to fight with another. Both forms of hog-dog rodeos, he figured, broke the state's animal protection laws. "When an injury's inflicted, that's fighting," Healey told him. "It's a violation of the law waiting to happen."
The Texas Attorney General's Office upheld this view 12 years ago. State Senator John Whitmire, a 32-year veteran Democratic lawmaker who represents northern Harris County, requested the attorney general opinion after being sent a videotape of "dogs brutalizing hogs in a closed facility about the size of a garage."
Rick Gilpin, assistant attorney general under Dan Morales, concluded in response: "...We believe it is obvious that such conduct establishes on its face an awareness by the defendant that his 'conduct is reasonably certain to cause'...a 'fight' between the dog or dogs and the other animal. Thus, we can state with confidence that the scenario...describes an offense."
Hog-dog rodeos are still held every weekend in counties across Texas despite the apparent consensus by the attorney general's office and some district attorneys that both bay trials and catch trials are illegal. Many, including the event held last month in Fred, are advertised in Bayed Solid, a Louisiana-based monthly magazine named for the expression hunters use when a dog properly corners a hog. These advertisements include the names and phone numbers of the organizers and directions to the event. The August edition features ads for bay trials in Centerville, Lufkin and Village Mills.
In 1999, former Houston state Representative Ron Wilson sponsored legislation to specifically ban hog-dog rodeos. Like Whitmire, Wilson had seen footage of an event held in East Texas. "They say they're training the dogs, but that's bullshit," says Wilson, an attorney who hunts wild hogs in Central Texas. "It's just a hedonistic, barbaric form of cheap entertainment."
Wilson received several death threats for carrying the bill, which died in committee after some 200 people attended a hearing to oppose it. "You'd be surprised how many supporters there are for practices like that in Texas," says Wilson. "They acted like I was trying to take the red off the flag."
"In many counties it's very difficult to get a prosecution, in part because of apathy of law enforcement," says Skip Trimble, a Dallas resident and member of the Texas Humane Legislation Network. "Some just don't think animal cruelty is a big deal."
Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne says she has heard that such events occur in her area but has never received a specific complaint. Even so, she's not entirely convinced they're illegal.
"What one person perceives as cruel, another does not," Yenne says. "Some people are raised with belts and switches; others think that's a felony."
In early May, less than two weeks before the hog-dog rodeo was set to take place in Needville, Healey "strongly urged" Schooley to cancel it.
The Fort Bend/Southwest Sun ran a front-page story on the controversy. Relatives of Danny Hill--the event's namesake, a childhood friend of Schooley's who died in a car wreck at age 31--no longer wanted his name attached to the event if it was going to be denigrated.
Schooley canceled the event, but he doesn't get what the fuss is about. The hog-bay trial, he says, offered good, clean family entertainment that raised money for the community.
He goes on to condemn the well-publicized raid earlier this month of a pit bull-breeding operation in Liberty County, in which authorities seized more than 300 of the aggressive terriers used for illegal dog-fighting. Ninety-five percent of these dogs will be euthanized, according to lead investigator Mark Timmers, a constable's sergeant for Harris County Precinct 6.
"Why are these so-called animal-rights folks considered humane when all they did is round up and kill the dogs?" Schooley asks. "Those dogs are amazing athletes bred to fight. They love it."
Once, Schooley says, while on a hunt, his dogs caught a hog several miles away. By the time he got to the scene, the dogs had eaten so much of the hog, they were passed out next to it. The hog was still breathing, though its face was completely chewed off from behind its ears to the tip of its snout.