By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
In the first contest, the dog freezes, cowers just outside the gate and never even approaches the hog.
In the next contest, the dog boldly runs up to the hog and stops a few feet away, barking at it. The hog takes one step forward and the dog flinches, doubling back to the gate as the crowd roars in laughter.
A few matches later the only injury of the night occurs. A black-mouth cur, just 11 months old and weighing less than 50 pounds, takes on a 225-pound boar. The puppy holds its own. But when the contest ends, the guys with the plywood have some trouble getting the hog back into the chute. It's then that the hog suddenly charges at the dog and slashes its neck, cutting into muscle.
"The dog was at fault because he quit baying," says Bill Seger, the dog's owner, who also organizes a hog-bay trial held every other month in Waelder. "He took his eyes off the hog and started sniffing the ground."
Seger cleans the dog's wound with povidone-iodine and hydrogen peroxide, administers a shot of penicillin and clamps the skin back together with a surgical stapling gun.
Many hog hunters are self-taught field veterinarians. A South Texas man at the event sells puncture-proof vests for dogs as well as suture kits and blood-stop powder. He travels to hog-dog rodeos every weekend plying his wares.
A couple of hours pass. No more scrapes or mishaps occur. The audience is generally good-natured, cheering on the dogs. Some put on spectacular performances. They get in front of the hog, bark incessantly and maintain a laserlike focus, keeping the hog completely still. When the hog takes a step the dog shadows it, cutting off its path and holding it captive.
"This is a way to make money off the sport," says 22-year-old Harry White, an avid hog hunter from Waelder. "If you show you have badass dogs, people want your puppies."
During a break, a pig chase is held. A baby feral hog, just a couple of months old, its mouth taped shut, is dragged by its hind leg and dropped into the pen. A dozen or so kids run after it, screaming and laughing. "I pushed it down and jumped on it!" says ecstatic 8-year-old Deven Spurlock, describing his victory. "I want a hog-dog for my birthday!"
White and others say these events are especially fun for kids. But what about experts who say kids are more prone to commit violence after witnessing them?
"Then get rid of the cartoons," White says. "Take the video games away; take the TV away."
Nichole Trammell, whose 7-year-old daughter loves watching the hogs and dogs square off, agrees.
"To me, it's not violent," she says. "All the kids grow up with this. It's part of their lives."
Nichole's husband, Scott, who runs El Perro Muerto, puts it simply: "A lot of people would call this cruelty to animals. We don't."
So where do these folks draw the line?
"I've seen guys gut-shoot a hog in the woods and let it run off," says Seger. "That's way more cruel than anything that goes on here."
Jason Schooley is fine with all of it.
"The hogs don't even get hurt," he insists. "People don't realize how tough those bastards are."