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It was a tense situation —rescuers working in the middle of a cornfield in Cottonwood, Ala., with one police officer standing guard. Suddenly, a black truck barreled down the driveway. The officer pointed his rifle at the truck and yelled, “Stop!”
The driver of the truck was the owner of the property, where he was allegedly breeding Dogo Argentinos for illegal hog-dog fighting. He inched out of his vehicle, lay on the ground and was handcuffed.
Without batting a collective eye, HSUS staff and volunteers picked up where they’d left off on that mid-January day in 2015, scooping up dogs so skinny each bone showed in their tails.
Altogether, they seized 66 dogs—63 Dogo Argentinos (a relatively uncommon breed in the U.S.), two French bulldogs and a German shepherd. The dogs had been living scattered throughout the rural property, with no food or water and little to no shelter. Being that underweight made the cold even more intolerable, says Chris Schindler, HSUS senior manager of animal fighting investigations.
This wasn’t the first time The HSUS has rescued survivors of this rural blood sport. Hog-dog fighting (also called hog dogging, hog baiting and hog-dog rodeo) started surfacing in the 1970s, mostly in Southern states where hunters with dogs can legally track and kill wild pigs, says Schindler. “But this isn’t hog hunting,” he adds. “This is putting a wild hog in a small enclosed area and letting dogs rip them apart.”
The organized competitions are similar to cockfighting events in which spectators throw down bets, and entire families, including young children, attend. Dogs can get badly injured; some may be gored on a hog’s tusks. And the hogs fare even worse.
“The hogs are terrified,” Schindler says. “They have been taken from the wild and then put in a small pen to be attacked while people cheer and gamble and wager on how many seconds it takes for the dog to cause devastating injuries.”
In 2004, an exposé by an Alabama TV station showed video footage of dogs tearing into screaming, trapped pigs before an arena of spectators. That same year, The HSUS helped authorities seize dogs and hogs during simultaneous raids in four states, which resulted in the arrests of some of the country’s leading promoters of hog-dog fighting. More investigations followed, and over the next two years, Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi passed laws banning hog-dog fighting, while attorneys general in Florida and Texas declared that the practice violates their states’ cruelty laws.
Prior to the Cottonwood raid, it had been nearly 10 years since The HSUS assisted with a hog-dog fighting raid. Thanks to better laws and enforcement, the blood sport is less common, says John Goodwin, HSUS director of animal cruelty policy. But the large number of dogs being bred on the Cottonwood property shows that this particular form of organized cruelty hasn’t completely disappeared. “We know it’s still around,” Schindler says. “It may not be as prevalent as dogfighting, but it’s there.”
The Cottonwood dogs were taken to a temporary shelter, where they received medical care and were placed on a high-calorie diet. (At press time, they were still at the shelter while the case is pending in court.)
They include dogs like A402, now named Violet, a Dogo with cropped ears who was severely underweight when rescued. “She wanted attention,” Schindler remembers. “As horrible condition as she was in, she still kind of pranced around. She was a proud dog and wasn’t going to let her condition get the best of her. It just melted my heart.”