By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"It was the most grotesque fucking thing I've ever seen," he says. "But putting a hog in a pen, where it's not gonna get killed, where it's probably not even gonna get hurt, that's against the law. Come on!"
Even Healey is sympathetic to this argument. Referring to the state's aggressive tactics for getting rid of feral hogs, he says, "Some would probably find aerial shootings to be more offensive."
Crickets chirp; a merciful breeze whistles through the leaves; 10 collared curs rustle the tall grasses on all sides. More than three hours have passed. Trammell, a construction worker in San Antonio, wonders aloud to his friend--Jason Fairchild, who rides alongside on a mule and knows these 1,000 acres 50 miles southeast of the Alamo City like the back of his hand--if they're going to come up empty.
Just then, the dogs disappear. The two men stop, cock their heads and strain to listen. A couple of minutes pass. Silence.
Faintly, in the distance, a dog barks. Another minute passes. More barking. A hog squeals. The men take off, breaking into a gallop for a half-mile or so along an open trail. As they ride closer, the dogs rally, barking like mad. The hog's cries are like a woman's hysterical screams interspersed with deep guttural snorts and growls.
The men leap from their mounts, tie them to trees and crawl through the dense brush. Trammell clicks his flashlight off, knowing a hog will charge at the light.
All 10 dogs are mobbing the 80-pound sow, which lies motionless, though it continues to shriek and squeal. The dogs' powerful jaws are clamped to every side of the hog, tearing at its limbs, ears and snout. They rip a hole in the sow's stomach, unravel its long, slimy intestines and drag them through the dirt.
The hog dies a few minutes later, but the dogs go on chewing at its flesh and playing with its innards. Trammell grabs a couple of dogs by their collars and yanks them off. He slaps the others on their noses with the back of a knife. "Dead hog," he tells them. "Dead hog, dead hog, dead hog, dead hog."
Trammell runs his knife along the sow's stomach and chest, then plunges a hand inside, searching for piglets. There are none. Even so, he says to his friend, triumphantly, "Killing that one little baby sow saved us hundreds of hogs."
"Scaring a wild boar with a dog, then jumping on it, stabbing it with a knife, while the animal bleeds in agony--of course we're against that," says Goodwin, deputy manager for animal fighting issues with The Humane Society of America in Washington, D.C.
According to Goodwin, hunters "should be sharpshooters able to put a single bullet through a vital organ."
Many critics consider the humane society an anti-hunting group bent on outlawing the use of dogs for hunting any animals, including squirrels, doves, ducks, pheasants, quails and, yes, wild hogs. Goodwin doesn't deny this. But he says it's not an issue the group is currently working on.
By lobbying for legislation and assisting law enforcement in raiding events, the humane society has played a central role in efforts to crack down on hog-dog rodeos across the South.
Louisiana, one of just two states that still allow cockfighting, in 2004 became the first to ban hog-catch trials. Leading up to the vote, legislators engaged in "a boisterous hour-long House debate in which one lawmaker wore a hog nose and scores of others squealed and clucked animal noises," according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
"I'm sure they still go on," says Republican state Representative Warren Triche Jr., who wrote the legislation. "Once we made it illegal, they started going underground with it."
The Louisiana law exempts the popular Uncle Earl's Hog Dog Trials, which draws hundreds of Texans every year. The event was started in 1995 to celebrate former governor and well-known hog hunter Earl K. (brother of Huey) Long's 100th birthday.
Also in 2004, law enforcement in Alabama, Arizona and South Carolina joined forces in what was the first major interstate crackdown on hog-dogging. The raids led to at least a dozen arrests and the confiscation of several dozen catch dogs and feral hogs. Many cases are still pending, including the forthcoming trial of Vicky Stultz Land, the top animal-control official for Chester County in North Carolina, who is charged with animal fighting and baiting by the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division.
Mary Luther, president of the South Carolina-based International Catchdog Association, was arrested in the raids and charged with animal fighting, though a jury later found her not guilty. Cases are pending against her longtime boyfriend and her son, who is autistic. "They have taken this to phenomenally ridiculous heights," Luther says, adding that her family owes $80,000 in legal fees.