Multi-State Bust Sends a Powerful Message to Hog Dog Operators

Escrito por Nuria Querol i Viñas. Publicado en News in English.

The sordid underworld of hog dog fighting took a punishing hit last week when authorities in South Carolina, Alabama, and Arizona—with assistance from The Humane Society of United States—arrested the leading promoters of a barbaric bloodsport that unleashes specially trained dogs upon captive boars.

Calling Off the Dogs: Multi-State Bust Sends a Powerful Message to Hog Dog Operators

Injured black hog

December 21, 2004

The sordid underworld of hog dog fighting took a punishing hit last week when authorities in South Carolina, Alabama, and Arizona—with assistance from The Humane Society of United States—arrested the leading promoters of a barbaric bloodsport that unleashes specially trained dogs upon captive boars.

The flurry of law enforcement activity could set legal precedents in the murky world of “hog dog rodeos” and how the organized fights relate to existing animal protection laws. But just as important, the arrests also send a signal that officials across the nation are growing less tolerant of a pastime perversely promoted as “family fun” by those who profit from it, but which amounts to little more than the gratuitous mutilation of defenseless hogs.  

A total seven people in the three states were arrested on a variety of animal cruelty charges in the groundbreaking sting on Friday, December 17. More arrests are anticipated. All of those arrested on Friday have alleged ties to the so-called International Catchdog Association (ICA), a South Carolina-based group suspected of organizing, certifying, and videotaping hog dog rodeos.

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"Making use of strong federal and state prohibitions on such conduct, law enforcement agents arrested leaders of this clandestine network, dealing a major blow to this despicable industry," noted Wayne Pacelle, CEO and president of The HSUS.

The arrests send “a very strong message: Hog dog fights are illegal,” said Ann Chynoweth, legal counsel for HSUS Investigative Services. “Law enforcement (authorities) will prosecute those who organize, promote and profit from these cruel and barbaric events.”

Chynoweth was on the scene in Chester County, South Carolina when authorities nabbed suspected hog dog ringleaders, Arthur Parker Sr., 47, and his wife, Mary Evans Luther, 50, the president and secretary, respectively, of ICA. Parker’s son, Arthur Parker Jr., 20, was also arrested. All three were arrested on charges of animal fighting, a felony, and attending an animal fight, a misdemeanor.

Each felony charge of animal fighting carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, and each misdemeanor charge of attending an animal fight carries a six-month sentence and a $500 fine for a first-time offense. The Parkers and Luther were free on bond.

Go behind the scenes with Animal Channel's slide show of the hog dog raid.

In a release announcing the busts, South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster noted that Parker Sr. is “considered to be the top hog dog fighting event sponsor in the nation, and is believed to conduct the fights across the state.”

A swarm of agents with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the Chester County Sheriff’s Office and the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Agriculture descended upon the family’s property where they uncovered a horrific scene.

A (Barely) Living Hell

In the woods near the trailer home, they discovered no fewer than 95 dogs, most of them staked to the ground with metal spikes. Most were fully exposed to the wintry elements, while others got by with a meager barrel or box as shelter. The dogs—including pit bulls and American bulldogs, among others—were distressingly skinny and without a morsel of food in sight. The water in their dishes had frozen.

If the dogs had it bad, the 15 pigs found on the property lived in hell. Once wild, the bulky, grayish-black creatures were now the walking wounded. One was missing an ear. Another’s mouth was so badly mutilated that food spilled out whenever it attempted to eat. Some of them had had their tusks wrenched off with bolt cutters—standard practice among those who organize hog dog “fights.”

Confined to cramped pens, the traumatized hogs huddled together and moved as if by one terrified instinct. Such was life for creatures repeatedly attacked by dogs for the enjoyment of audiences and for the profit of those who promote these spectacles.

The dogs were released to the care of Chester County Animal Control which has, with assistance from The HSUS, already placed the majority of these dogs in shelters around South Carolina. Mary Luther signed over the hogs to the county, but the family has not relinquished the dogs. The fate of these animals is uncertain, given the fact that the hog dog industry not only breeds and trains these dogs for fighting but also routinely mutilates the hogs so they can no longer care for themselves in the wild. Some of the young pups on the property, not yet worn down by the brutality of the bloodsport, are considered good adoption candidates.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, officers with the Yavapai and Maricopa county sheriff’s offices busted James M. Curry, 33, and his wife Jodi Curry-Liesberg, 35, on multiple counts of animal cruelty, weapon and drug possession, and child abuse. Some 32 Russian boars and more than a dozen dogs were taken into custody after the Friday morning raid on their Phoenix-area home. The Arizona Republic newspaper reported that officers also discovered about three pounds of marijuana and an SKS rifle. Three children, aged 8, 9 and 11, were taken into custody by Child Protective Services.

In Jefferson County, Alabama, Richard and Shina Landers were arrested on Friday on misdemeanor state animal cruelty charges. Eight dogs were also confiscated on their property. The Landers were allegedly involved with the ICA website.

Growing Awareness

No one knows for certain when hog dog fighting first emerged, but The Los Angeles Times recently reported that it’s been around for at least 25 years. The HSUS believes that hog dog fights regularly occur in at least ten states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.

These events represent cruelty at its worst. A paying crowd watches as a wild hog, who has had his tusks wrenched off with bolt cutters, is forced into a pen. A trained dog—frequently a pit bull, often starved to make him wildly aggressive—is then set loose upon the animal, ripping ferociously into his flesh. Frequently, after the hog is subdued, a handler is required to pry the dog’s jaws loose with a wooden blade, while the mauled pig screams and writhes in agony. The “winner” is the dog who catches the boar the quickest. 

Largely, these events are held outside of mainstream America’s purview, but earlier this year the bloodsport crept into public consciousness, thanks to a February 2004 undercover investigation by WPMI-TV, an NBC affiliate in Mobile, Alabama. That led to the arrest of hog dog operator Johnny Hayes, who was found guilty of misdemeanor animal cruelty and sentenced to 30 days in prison. He appealed the conviction and is awaiting trial.  

Several states have gotten tougher about cracking down on the ghastly practice, largely due to public outrage and the persistence of animal welfare advocates. Louisiana recently passed a law banning the practice. In a case that promises to test that state’s animal cruelty laws, a Mississippi man was arrested in June for organizing hog dog events and is expected to stand trial in 2005. The attorneys general in Texas and Florida have delivered opinions stating that hog dog fights violate their respective state’s laws.
The HSUS has been actively involved in combating hog dog fighting for a nearly a decade now. In fact, our investigators helped law enforcement officials in each state plan the December 17 raids by providing intelligence and background information on the suspects and their ties to ICA. In all, HSUS investigators spent nearly five months investigating the suspects in each state.

Setting Precedents

Part of the goal here is to establish some precedents, which could literally scare other hog dog fighters out of business. If the Parkers and Luther, for instance, are convicted on animal fighting charges, it will be the first time that that law has been applied to a hog dog case in South Carolina.

No federal indictments have been handed down from the multi-state raids yet, but if they should be, any conviction could also be precedent-setting. The suspects in December 17’s raid may face charges for violations of the federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty law and the Animal Welfare Act.

Under the former law, a felony first created to combat so-called “crush videos,” it is illegal to sell depictions of animal cruelty across state lines.  For its part, the Animal Welfare Act makes it a misdemeanor to transport animals across state lines for fighting purposes.

 The HSUS’s Chynoweth praised the coordinated efforts of the federal, state and local authorities to root out hog dog fighting, calling their actions “unprecedented.” No prior arrests related to hog dog fighting have ever been made in either South Carolina or Arizona.

After a full day in South Carolina witnessing the horrors on the property of alleged hog dog kingpins Art Parker and Mary Luther, Chynoweth found some consolation in the fact that law enforcement officials are getting tough on a crime that has no place in a civilized society.

“Our hope is to bring hog dog fighting down entirely,” she said.

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