CHESTER COUNTY, SC (WIS) - At a "hog-dog rodeo" - large crowds often assemble and even bet on dogs that are let loose on wild hogs. The vicious battles are a crime in South Carolina, but that wasn't always the case. Now, a couple once charged with hosting the fights is doing dog shows again - and believe it or not, the couple say they're the real victims.
On a hot and dry September day there's a dog show in Chester County. But the two people running it aren't exactly well liked in the area. Art Parker says, "People that used to be our friends, would go hunting with us - they're scared, won't hunt with us anymore."
Mary Luther shows WIS News 10's Dan Tordjman hate letters, even death threats.
Art says people write saying "that we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. If we really loved animals, we wouldn't be doing this."
They're targets of public outrage. Art Parker and Mary Luther have received hundreds of threats and found bombs in their mailboxes.
What could inspire such hate? Parker and Luther are accused of hosting a different kind of show in which hunting dogs are let loose in an enclosed ring, attacking wild feral hogs, some defenseless, with their tusks removed. The outcome is quite predictable.
Ann Chynoweth of the Humane Society of the US says, "That's absolutely no contest for the pig that suffers bloody mutilation and complete terror."
And for that, Luther and Parker had nearly 100 dogs seized. In 2004 the Humane Society of the US raided their property. The group also found several hogs. Chynoweth says, "There was one hog who had part of its jaw completely missing. When he ate food, it would literally drop down."
So, it seemed the hammer was about to drop on Luther and Parker - both charged with animal cruelty. But three years later, Art Parker says, "We've been acquitted twice!"
They were acquitted once in South Carolina, and for Parker, again in Florida.
They beat the charges by calling the "hog-dogging" a simple training exercise for hunting - in which the dogs are immediately removed from the pig it's sunk its teeth into.
That's a far cry, the two argue, from animal cruelty. Art Parker says, "There's no such thing as a fight that lasts three seconds. I mean, it's just, that's not a fight. Animal fighting is a test of wills. There is no test of wills in a field trial. It's the dog performing his task. The one who does it the most proficiently gets the trophy."
Chynoweth says, "The outcome of the Parker case was obviously disappointing."
That's because the Humane Society says it had video showing Parker at hog-dog rodeos in South Carolina and Arizona.
WIS News 10 requested copies of both, but we only got one video which does not show Parker or Luther. The Attorney General's office says it can't release any video because it's still pursuing charges in the case against a few other people, including Parker's son.
Officials like Chynoweth still contend, "It's animal mutilation. It's animal fighting - all for the sick sense of entertainment."
"There are crowds there. There are kids there. People come and pay admission price. People bet on it. This is not for training. This is not for hunting."
But officials believe the main reason Parker and Luther beat the rap in South Carolina was because it's one of only two states in 2004 that didn't have a law explicitly prohibiting hog-dogging. Now it's outlawed under the Animal Fighting and Baiting Act.
"It's very clear that hog-dog fighting is exactly what Mr. Parker was participating in, organizing throughout the state and nationwide, which is illegal in South Carolina. So if it were to happen today, he'd be in jail," says Chynoweth.
Parker maintains his innocence, showing WIS News 10 some 60 dogs returned to him in worse shape, he says, than when they were taken.
And despite being acquitted, life has changed for Parker and Luther. In light of public outrage surrounding their case and the constant threats, the two say they're the victims now.
"I'm scared every day to answer the phone, go to the mailbox," says Luther.
Parker says, "You don't pick somebody out and then create a crime for them to have committed. Yeah, we're victims."
Parker and Luther say even before their case, they held dog conformation shows and they continue to do so. Those are the shows featuring dogs paraded around a ring and simply judged based on their looks.
But the two say they're no longer participating in any events involving dogs and hogs.
Reported by Dan Tordjman