By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Unrepentant, Luther says she continues to organize hog-dog rodeos across the South. Luther can't understand why hogs are being singled out for sympathy. She also organizes fights that pit dogs against raccoons and foxes in pens. "The dogs shred the foxes to pieces, but nobody cares about that," she says. "It's silly to care about hogs but not foxes and coons."
After Luther was acquitted, the South Carolina Legislature responded by passing a bill that amends its animal-fighting laws to include pitting dogs against wild hogs with the intent of causing them to fight. It also raised penalties for blood sports, which includes hog-dogging. It is now a felony-level offense to attend a hog-catch trial as a spectator, to supply the animals or to own the pit where it is staged. The bill was signed into law this summer.
Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina also passed laws this summer banning the contests. Similar bills failed in Georgia and Tennessee. Goodwin says the issue will be raised again in each of these states during the next legislative session.
The Texas Legislature has not broached the issue of hog-dog rodeos since Wilson's bill was quashed in committee seven years ago. There is no record of any prosecution or conviction in Texas against people who stage such events, despite the attorney general's 1994 opinion that they violate animal cruelty laws.
At the time of the raids two years ago, Goodwin says, the humane society was also investigating several Texans known for promoting hog-catch trials over the Internet. "We just didn't get to these guys," he says. "But we shook that world up and forced them into the catacombs."
One of the organization's prime suspects was 45-year-old Steve Johnson, a carpenter and East Texas native who lives in Spring. For Johnson, hunting with dogs is a family tradition that began with his grandfather, an avid bird hunter.
Since being diagnosed with epilepsy four years ago, Johnson no longer hunts hogs on a weekly basis. Instead of hunting on horseback, he now goes out with friends every couple of months on an all-terrain vehicle. An American bulldog, used as a catch dog, rides along perched on the hood of the four-wheeler.
Johnson admits he helped organize several hog-catch competitions in the Huntsville area but claims he's no longer involved. He says he knows many of the people who were arrested, as well as other organizers in states across the South.
Johnson isn't surprised that the humane society targeted him for prosecution.
"Apparently they take me as some cruel animal treater," he says. Pointing to the bulldog lying on his kitchen floor with a litter of 2-week-old pups, he says: "It's bullshit; I'm an animal lover."
According to Goodwin, hogs are used repeatedly until they're severely mauled or killed by the dogs. Apple vinegar is often poured on the hogs' wounds to help them heal faster so they can return to the ring. Goodwin went undercover to a hog-catch trial in South Carolina and saw hogs with their ears completely torn off. One hog's face was bitten so severely, he says, that when it ate, pieces of corn fell through the wound.
Johnson says he has never seen a hog or a dog killed at a contest. People at the events take care of the animals, he says. After all, a good catch dog can fetch as much as $2,000. And processing plants won't buy hogs that are badly wounded.
He adds that a hog doesn't feel pain. A squeal, he says, is "an alarm signal sent out to other hogs." But this, he says, is something animal-rights activists and city slickers in general don't understand.
"They think we're all uneducated, stupid poor people on welfare and food stamps thirsty to see gore and blood and guts," Johnson says. "We don't want to see gore. We want to see a dog perform. It's like a gymnast scoring a 10 on the uneven bars. When a dog makes a great catch, people go, 'Beautiful! That dog is awesome!'"
Translation: The Dead Dog.
Disregard the morbid name. This popular all-night hog-bay trial, held on August 12 some 25 miles south of Seguin in South Texas, has the feel of a town fair.
At the center of all the activity is a lit pen, 80 steps across. Two judges take their seats high above the pen on old barbershop chairs welded to garbage cans. Hundreds of people come and go throughout the night. Some hail from as far away as Katy or even Louisiana.
A few miles down the road are exotic game ranches, where hunters pay top dollar to shoot animals such as elk, rhinos and zebras.
Nearby Nixon is home to Dan Moody, a commercial hunter who claims his Texas Dogs on Hogs video series, which depicts actual feral hog hunts edited with slow-motion effects and classic-guitar riffs, has sold 20,000 copies worldwide.
Two men stand along the inside of the pen holding plywood used to protect themselves and to break up any fights that may occur between the animals. Each dog has one minute to bay the hog. If a dog bites, it's disqualified.