Horror Story

Every once in awhile you read a true story that is so terrifying in what it tells you about human nature, and human insensitivity, that it leaves you wordless, dumbfounded. In this week’s New Yorker, staff writer Ian Frazier describes the explosion in the number of feral pigs in the US, animals who have fled their usually-miserable existence on farms and used their wiles (pigs are very intelligent creatures, smarter than most dogs and, believe it or not, as able to handle video games as young schoolchildren) to make a life for themselves in the wild. Needless to say, hunting and otherwise persecuting these animals has become a sport for certain cretins of our species.

The exquisite painting above accompanied Frazier’s story, and was done by Walton Ford. It shows a feral pig facing the second greatest terror (after being separated from its pack) of any wild animal: being trapped, in this case by a pack of hunting dogs (such hunting is savage, often resulting in horrific injuries or death to the pig, the dogs, or both).

Frazier’s story is only superficially about feral pigs — they are the subject, but the backdrop, the brutish, eye-for-an-eye, evangelical, dilapidated rural South, is the real story. Both Frazier and Ford have Southern backgrounds, and the story is a strange, almost mournful love-hate one. Frazier’s story, Hogs Wild, is not yet available online, but it’s a keeper — buy the magazine for the story and the painting. Here’s an excerpt, describing a wildly popular Georgia ‘hog festival’ involving a competition of dogs cornering feral pigs, and if these words don’t teach you something about us, and haunt you to the bottom of your soul, it’s time to check your pulse:

A man carrying his daughter on his shoulders came and stood near us. The girl was four or five years old. She had a blocky head, medium-length brown curls, and intent dark eyes. She wore flower-print sneakers, and her dad held her by them. She did not give promise of growing up to be beautiful. I imagined her in adulthood as one of those strong-character Southern women who speak their minds and make people uncomfortable — a fearless old aunt, maybe, or a no-nonsense columnist. Before her dad brought her today (I’m guessing), he had told her she would be seeing dogs and pigs. She had pictured (I’m guessing) dogs like their dog at home and pigs like the ones in the storybooks.

The first pair of bay dogs entered the arena at the far side of it, a quarter-circle around the fence from the hogs’ gate. The dogs’ holders bent down and took the clips at the ends of the leashes. Skinny boys climbing on the hog pen banged it to get a hog to move into the chute. Somebody lifted the plywood door. A boy leaned forward and jabbed the hog through the fence bars. The hog came out into the arena and began to trot along the fence’s perimeter. The dogs, suddenly released, went streaking toward him. In their many straps and bucklings, they looked like a SWAT team, striving faces pointed eagerly at the hog. From her high view the little girl looked at the dogs, at the hog. Her mind took a second to understand what was going on. Then in a tone of the greatest emergency, with an authority that cut through every noise and rang above the assembly, the little girl cried, “Run, pig! Run!

Some people laughed, the way a crowd usually does when a child makes a remark that everybody hears. Some people said “Aww…” in sympathy. The little girl, seeing that the pig had nowhere to run to, began to cry, and her father lifted her down and comforted her. She cried louder when the pig squealed. A woman standing nearby excitedly took up the girl’s cause, saying, “She’s right. What are they doing!” and so on, until her neighbors shushed her. For a moment we all hesitated, uneasy and off balance; then we returned to the business at hand.

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11 Responses to Horror Story

  1. Sven Cahling says:

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  2. Wade Johnson says:

    I imagined the young girl as my 3 year old grand daughter. What a cruel and thoughtless action to take a child to such an event.I thought this piece was very well written and presented. How can you not feel something for the pigs and their plight. They just want what any sensible human being should want – to be left to live a peaceful and productive existence.I’d ask “how did we get to this state” but I fear discovering that we have always been here.

  3. Patry says:

    Very disturbing story.

  4. cindy says:

    When I lived in San Jose in the early 90s, I read in the news about a group of teenagers put firecrackers into the mouth of a cat, and blow it up. These were no poor kids from poor neighbourhood. They lived in million dollars houses. I once asked a friend why she loves fishing? She replied: I put them back into the lake… My defence for the poor fish is: isn’t it paintful to have hook in your mouth? Get real scared because ‘you'(the fish) have no hands to remove the hook from your mouth? Recently I came to know such thing called War Games. (I am not a person into any kind of computer games therefore I am very lacking in this kind of intelligent). Apparently it is a crazy even among very intelligent/well thought of bloggers. Without knowing the games I can think of some of the good skills one can learn from such as collaborations, planning, leaderships etc. BUT, isn’t WAR is something we should discourage especially to children? If children ‘play’ killing games at very young age, what then is the problem to set dogs on hogs, or blow up cats with fireworks? To them it will become just another game. Only this time is with real blood.

  5. cindy says:

    Frazier’s story is only superficially about feral pigs — they are the subject, but the backdrop, the brutish, eye-for-an-eye, evangelical, dilapidated rural South, is the real story…..Do they just stop at the US rural South? The recent CIA ‘torture cells’ that created such uproar in Europe are WHAT again???

  6. Crystal King says:

    When you were talking about the intelligence of pigs and then in light of this story being of feral pigs, it brought to mind Margaret Atwood’s recent novel, Oryx and Crake. If you haven’t read it, it’s about a world after genetics and viruses have gone bad. One of the creatures left in the aftermath are pigoons–a pig/baboon cross originally bred to supply organs for human transplant. They are running wild and they are wicked smart and love to eat people. ;)

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks, all. Wade, I agree, alas, with your sentiment — this is nothing new. And Cindy I do not intend to single out poor Southerners here (that’s who the authors chose to write about, but very similar stories could be told about all social classes in all societies. Crystal — Ms Atwood has been writing prophecy all her life (A Handmaid’s Tale is even scarier) and I have read Oryx & Crake, and thought about it as I read this story.

  8. Herbie says:

    Ian Frazier hits on another form of bigotry: prejudice against those from the South.To imply or bluntly announce that Southerners don’t have all their teeth, are inbred, aren’t educated, etc., well these comments are simply humor folks.Wrong. If I mention something in a neutral way about Jews, I could very easily be accused of being anti-Semitic.Frazier’s article is peppered with derisions aimed at Southerners *en groupo* and it’s not cool.If you mention Jews, you’re anti-Semitic. If you cut down a woman, you’re masogynistic. If you say all Southerners mate with their brothers or sisters, well, you’re just being funny.Haha, Ian Frazier. I’m not from the South, but Faulkner was. And so was Hemmingway and Eudora Welty and the guy who wrote A Confederacy Of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole.Now why would a literary magazine like the New Yorker care about people like that? We’re the most awesome meltingpot on the planet because even though we’re mixed up, we’re family. I think it’s high time that Jews and Southerners lock elbows and march into the 21st century on the same team, k?Does that sound bigoted? Well, hey, it’s time to wake up if we can read a whole article like Mr. Frazier’s and not notice his prejudice against those from the South.

  9. expat says:

    Do you get this upset when Inuit hunt whales? My guess is you only show such contempt of hunters when they are those evil white males. These hunters-for the most part- perform a valuable public service. Did you read this part of the story? “Next question: What do wild hogs do that’s so bad?Oh, not much. They just eat the eggs of the sea turtle, an endangered species, on barrier islands off the East Coast, and root up rare and diverse species of plants all over, and contribute to the replacement of those plants by weedy, invasive species, and promote erosion, and undermine roadbeds and bridges with their rooting, and push expensive horses away from food stations in pastures in Georgia, and inflict tusk marks on the legs of these horses, and eat eggs of game birds like quail and grouse, and run off game species like deer and wild turkeys, and eat food plots planted specially for those animals, and root up the hurricane levee in Bayou Sauvage, Louisiana, that kept Lake Pontchartrain from flooding the eastern part of New Orleans, and chase a woman in Itasca, Texas, and root up lawns of condominiums in Silicon Valley, and kill lambs and calves, and eat them so thoroughly that no evidence of the attack can be found.And eat red-cheeked salamanders and short-tailed shrews and red-back voles and other dwellers in the leaf litter in the Great Smoky Mountains, and destroy a yard that had previously won two “‘Yard of the Month” awards on Robins Air Force Base, in central Georgia, and knock over glass patio tables in suburban Houston, and muddy pristine brook-trout streams by wallowing in them, and play hell with native flora and fauna in Hawaii, and contribute to the near-extinction of the island fox on Santa Cruz Island off the coast of California, and root up American Indian historic sites and burial grounds, and root up a replanting of native vegetation along the banks of the Sacramento River, and root up peanut fields in Georgia, and root up sweet-potato fieldsin Texas, and dig big holes by rooting in wheat fields irrigated by motorized central-pivot irrigation pipes, and, as the nine-hundred-foot-long pipe advances automatically on its wheeled supports, one set of wheels hangs up in a hog-rooted hole, and meanwhile the rest of the pipe keeps on going and begins to pivot around the stuck wheels, and it continues and continues on its hog-altered course until the whole seventy-five-thousand-dollar system is hopelessly pretzeled and ruined.”

  10. expat says:

    BTW, those “hog festivals” are now being banned in every state in the Deep South except Georgia.

  11. dukkaqueen says:

    i haven’t read the article. it sounds traumatic for the little girl. near where i live in Colorado one redneck town has a prairie dog hunt. rattlesnake roundups with similar gore take place all over the U.S. These displays are as vile as dogfighting rings. but expat is right: feral hogs wreak havoc on fragile ecosystems in the south. they are not escaped barnyard pigs, they are descendants of wild European boars brought over by early settlers that have run amok for centuries in an ecosystem with no defenses against them and no natural predators.they need to be managed, and about the only way to catch and kill them is with trained dogs. The hunter, by the way, can’t shoot into a pack of dogs and so goes in after the catch dog has the hog by the snout, and finishes it off with a long, sharp knife. it’s very primal. not only don’t judge all southerners by this “festival,” don’t judge all hog hunters, or their dogs, by this freakish, skewed celebration of a necessary practice.

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