Written By Jenny Pavlovic
The subject line stopped me in my tracks, “My Experience with Tony ("Mountain Man") and His 31 Dogs”. Tony… Mountain Man. It had to be him! The first line of the article mentioned that Tony had been living deep in the woods of Natchez Trace State Park in Tennessee. My heart skipped a beat.
The email message was from Scotlund Haisley of Animal Rescue Corps, who said that in January they had completed five rescue missions in Tennessee. Scotlund remarked that he had found himself reflecting again and again on one rescue of the five that was not their usual case.
He said, “This was an unusual experience and I wanted to share more with you.” ARC’s regular mission is to help shut down large-scale cases of animal cruelty and neglect in which individuals are profiting from animal suffering. However, “Mountain Man” Tony’s situation was different. ARC was able to offer a lasting solution to a person and dogs who desperately needed help.
Tony had been living in the wilderness of Tennessee for 16 years, with his pack of dogs. A group of people who had gotten to know him and had offered to care for him as he faced health issues had contacted ARC for help. They requested that ARC receive, provide veterinary care, and find homes for all 31 of Tony’s dogs because Tony wouldn’t accept the home and health care that he needed until he knew the dogs were well taken care of too. Scotlund described Tony as having a “strong-willed head and a soft heart”. Tony cared deeply for his dogs, and ultimately loved them enough to let them go, to get the veterinary care they needed and find families who would give them individual attention.
Scotlund described meeting Tony, building trust with him, and watching as Tony howled and his dogs came out of the woods from all directions, “surrounding him with a visible loyalty”. When I saw this on a video, my eyes brimmed with tears as I watched the pack with many red and gold dogs appear. I knew then that this was the same Tony, the name that I remembered from a few years ago. During the summer of 2007, a litter of seven red and gold pups had been taken in by the Henderson County Humane Society in Tennessee. Deb and her family nursed the pups to health after they almost died from coccidia. Eventually I was contacted for help through the cattle dog network. When I asked where the pups came from, Deb said that they were from a man named Tony in the Tennessee wilderness.
Tony! There he was on the video. And there they were – Cay’s wild family! You see, in 2007 one of those red and gold pups from Tony eventually came to rescue in Minnesota. And one of those gold pups eventually came to live with me and became my girl Cayenne… Natchez Trace Cayenne. She was afraid of just about everything when I first met her, a true pup of the wilderness. If you’ve been reading along, you know how far Cay has come since she was a scaredy pup back in 2007 (read more), when she was afraid to be touched, and was easily overwhelmed by loud noises and activity around her.
Over the years I’ve come to believe that Cay is part Australian Cattle Dog and part Carolina Dog (a feral breed in some southern states), that perhaps her feral mama dog mated with someone’s farm dog. Cay’s sister Rose looks more like a purebred red Australian Cattle Dog and Cay herself looks very much like a golden Carolina Dog. In that video of Tony and his pack, I saw several familiar-looking red and gold dogs. Now I understand much better where Cay’s litter came from and why so much of the world was intimidating to them. I see that probably both parents were wild dogs of the peaceful woods, and that Tony likely saved the pups’ lives by getting them the care they needed to survive coccidia.
I think about Tony living in the woods with his dogs, and how peaceful it would be to live in the wilderness. If you’ve ever wondered where your rescued dog came from and why s/he behaves the way s/he does, you will understand how fulfilling it was for me to see the video of Tony and his dogs, how emotional it was for me to see the place Cay came from as a pup and the man who saved her life… to have a few more pieces of the puzzle that is Cay, my girl who has come so far. To know that this man of very little worldly means loved Cay and her littermates enough to get them the care they needed, even though he did not have the means to provide it himself.
In our society, it’s unusual to live away from other people with a pack of dogs in the wilderness. But something drove Tony to do this and his privacy has been respected. We might not think we have a lot in common with him, but certainly our love of dogs is a powerful bond. He did what many of us try to do for animals in need, love them and provide them the best life possible. I’m grateful that people reached out to Tony and are helping him get the care he needs too.
I plan to write Cay’s story for Tony and send him pictures of her over the years, to thank him for my beautiful girl. Perhaps we’ll even take a road trip to Tennessee to visit Cay’s birthplace. I am especially grateful to Deb and her family of the Henderson County Humane Society. They cared for the pups in a way that Tony couldn’t, saved their lives and helped them find their forever homes. I’m also grateful to Homeward Bound Rescue of Minnesota and Meet the Pack Cattle Dog Rescue of Ontario for each taking three of the pups in and adopting them into their forever homes. Although sometimes it really does take a village, many times it takes several.
When Cay first came to our house, she had ear mites and skin allergies. Omega Fields Canine Shine and Omega Nuggets helped build her immune system, clear up her skin, and helped her grow a soft, shiny coat.