Monday, August 10, 2015
Dogs vs. hogs in the Ozarks: blood sport or family entertainment? Reported by: Drew Douglas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Organizers for the Southern Boyz Hog Bay event near Monett say their sport is misunderstood. So on may 2nd, they allowed KY3 reporter Drew Douglas take an inside look at this controversial sport.
A dog and a feral hog, in a pen. This is the Southern Boyz hog bay.
"The number 1 most important rule is they go in and they bay the hogs, that's bark at him. It's a two minute competition. 3 judges scoring it. And the goal is to hold him there by barking at him," says John Marmon, owner of the Southern Boyz Hog Bay event just north of Monett.
The event is held the first Saturday each May and September at the end of a dirt road.
Tyler Hartley brought his dog Gage to participate in the event. Gage is a three year old Catahoula.
"They are a southern dog, they're a hunting dog," says Hartley.
Gage is well loved by Tyler, but this dog is not your average family pet.
"He's won the one dog event here the last, I think he's won it the last 4 times in a row," says Hartley.
"He knows what's going on, he's excited," says Hartley as Gage pulls against his leash, eager to approach the pen where a large feral hog is waiting.
Gage and Tyler enter the pen through a gate and Tyler releases Gage from his leash. Gage rushes to the hog, barking in the pig's face, while Tyler chants commands.
"Bay him son!" Tyler cheers.
Animal advocates from the Humane Society and Missourians for the Protection of Animals say they did not know this kind of event was happening in Missouri until they saw the video shot by KY3.
"Oh I was shocked, I had no idea," says Sheila Nichols, with the Humane Society of the United States.
Laura Umphenour, a district leader for the Humane Society of the United States and founder of Missourians 4 the Protection of Animals, agrees. "It's very upsetting. It's very appalling to somebody like myself," says Umphenour.
"Oh I would say this definitely qualifies as animal abuse," says Nichols.
During the event, children are encouraged to join a game of catch the pig, where kids chase small hogs and catch them. There is also a 'tuff man's competition, in which teams of men try to put a t-shirt onto a hog and get it back it off faster than the other teams.
"We like to keep it as a family event, I got my wife, my kids, everyone out here's got families. There's no drinking, no nonsense, allowed. We love baying hogs," says Marmon.
"Love it, love the sport, family oriented as you can see," says Hartley.
Opponents object to the family entertainment label.
"To promote this as family entertainment is incredibly troubling," says Nichols.
"You're teaching children that animal cruelty is okay, it's even rewarded," says Umphenour.
But the main event is the bay, drawing people and dogs from surrounding southern states.
"There's people here actually from Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and they come to this event to work their dogs," says Marmon.
John Marmon runs the Southern Boyz Hog Bay, and he says it's the only hog bay competition in the state of Missouri.
Across the south, wild boar are destroying crops and farm land, although Marmon says there is no feral hog problem in the Monett area. Opponents worry that the feral hogs which Marmon says he raises on his property for the competition may escape and cause a local feral hog population to grow."Oh wild boars are incredibly destructive, the feral hog situation has got to be contained," says Nichols.
Dogs trained to hunt hogs are one way to control the destructive pigs.
"I'm in favor of hunting, I believe that it serves a purpose... I don't see the need for a competition," says Nichols.
Hartley and Marmon both say hog bays are just a way to see which dog is best at cornering a pig. It's a skill hunting dogs need to give a hunter time to come kill the boar.
"It's a part of the southern heritage, when you get into Louisiana and Mississippi," says Hartley.
"Originally it was a southern tradition, but it's been outlawed in many southern states," Umphenour points out.
Hog dog fighting is explicitly banned in Alabama, Louisiana, North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi. However, hog bay events continue in some states, and right here in Monett, Missouri because of a legal loophole. Missouri law says all animal fighting is illegal, but any event that claims to train a dog to hunt is legal in Missouri.
Animal advocates say competitive hog-baying is very different from hunting.
"This is not how you train a dog to hunt," says Nichols.
Marmon admits, many of the dogs at this event never go on hunts. They are used only for these competitions.
"I'll be a 100 percent honest with you, I don't have time to hunt, and I just do bay pen competitions," says Marmon.
The Humane Society of the United States says hog bays can be just as violent as dog fighting.
"The animal is in absolute fear for it's life, and you can see the hog trying to bow down and then lurching back at the dog," says Nichols.
Hartley admits both dogs and hogs are occasionally injured, but he says that's not the point.
"He can bite the hog, I don't want him to catch the hog. What a catch is, is if he grabs ahold of the hog and stops the hog for 5 seconds or longer, that's considered a catch, and he will be disqualified," says Hartley.
"When he [the hog] runs, they bite him, stop him, release him, bark at him again," says Marmon.
Hartley says this is no different than a shepherd dog.
"It is just like a Blue Heeler or Australian Shepherd working a cow," says Hartley.
However, Texas and Florida, hog 'catching' was ruled to be too similar to animal fighting by judges, and therefore banned in those states.
If a dog catches, Tyler says it is stopped immediately.
"Me and whoever else is in the pen, we will run to the dog and the hog, catch them both and we will get his jaws unlocked from the pig," says Hartley.
Tyler says he does not want to see any animals hurt or killed.
"We don't want the hog getting hurt or the dog. And a catch is a dangerous situation for both," says Hartley.
How often do the catches occur?
"It's a flip of a coin, you never know, it depends on what kind of hog you draw. If you draw a big one or a little one, if you draw a little one the dog might think he can overpower the pig and he might be more apt to catch," Hartley says.Animal advocates say even a brief catch should qualify as animal fighting.
"This is a blood sport. And they are getting money for this and one person is benefiting or a group of people are benefiting from it," says Umphenour.
"It is a little rough sport for some people but it's not a catch contest, it's not a blood sport, and it's not anything cruel," Marmon says.
Hogs can do just as much harm to the dogs, which is why Hartley puts a kevlar vest on Gage to protect him before entering the pen.
"They have the dog in a kevlar vest, which says to me there is a well-known risk of severe injury and or death," says Nichols.
Hartley says not all the dogs at the competition wear protective vests.
Tyler says they also modify the hogs tusks for the dogs safety.
"The tusk actually comes to a point and becomes razor sharp, and what you do is you just take the rasp and just round it over and you dub it off is what you do. That way you're not removing the tooth or anything like that from the hog, you're just changing the shape of it for protection for the dogs," says Hartley.
Despite the rounded off tusks and the dog's vest, Tyler admits, sometimes dogs still get hurt.
"You know you're dealing with a wild animal and every now and then something will happen but as far as getting hurt bad, it's usually not bad it's usually just a little tear in the flesh or something you know just in the hide," Hartley says.
"Who is going to be there to watch to see if a dog gets hurt or if a hog gets hurt?" Nichols asks.
KY3 checked with the Lawrence County Sheriff and the Missouri Highway Patrol, they said there was no law enforcement presence at the event.
Oblivious to the controversy, Gage successfully keeps his hog cornered for 2 minutes without catching him, and Tyler is pleased.
"As far as I'm concerned that was a perfect score. He did nothing wrong, he didn't bite the hog too much, he wasn't too rough. He never looked away. That was what we're looking for, that was what a first place dog is supposed to look like," says Hartley.
Hartley says Gage loves this sport even more than he does.
"This is why God seen fit we ought to create this dog was for it to hunt pigs and do this type of stuff. This is what they do... If he wasn't baying he'd be miserable," says Hartley.
Animal advocates say, there has to be a better pastime.
"It's a little tough contact sport. Like football and hockey and a lot of other things but you gotta be prepared for it and you gotta have a dog that's not trying to catch," says Marmon.
Animal advocates say they've seen enough.
"I would really like to challenge my legislators to see about getting it outlawed here in Missouri," says Umphenour.
KY3 did not get any video of dogs catching hogs at this event, but Mr. Marmon only allowed the reporter to get video of Gage baying one time before asking the reporter to leave.
Marmon said the dog owners from other states would not want KY3 to get video of their dogs competing.
The reporter was also not allowed to get video of the pen where the hogs were being kept.