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A Lasting Solution at Long Last: My Experience with Tony and His 31 Dogs

12549099_1137319592968028_3318770981517650370_nHis story has gone global – the “Mountain Man”, the “Wild Man”, the “Man in the Woods” who had been living deep in the woods of Natchez Trace State Park in Tennessee, about 120 miles northeast of Memphis, with dozens of dogs for sixteen years. This is the story of how I came to know him simply as Tony.

On January 8, 2016, in the midst of multiple Animal Rescue Corps operations across Tennessee, the team’s most unique experience was Operation Resolution Part 4. ARC’s mission is to work with law enforcement officials to shut down large-scale cases of animal cruelty and neglect in which individuals are profiting from animal suffering. The situation in front of us was outside of our focus, but we were positioned to offer a lasting solution to a person and dogs who desperately needed help and we couldn’t say no.

ARC’s West Tennessee Community Liaison Kim Rezac received a plea from a group of people who had been caring for a man facing health issues, requesting that ARC receive, medically treat, and place 100% of his dogs – 31 in total – because he wouldn’t accept the home and care he needed until his dogs were promised the same. The man of course was Tony and I would soon get a glimpse into his strong-willed head and his soft heart.

I met him and his 31 dogs when the team arrived to the area where he had been living in Natchez Trace State Park. Before the team disembarked from our trucks and we unloaded our equipment, I spoke with Tony so I could learn more about him and his dogs and he could learn about ARC. Building trust is always my first priority at the forefront of our case. Usually this means demonstrating to our law enforcement partners that we are a responsible organization that will commit all necessary resources to a rescue operation and carry it out to completion with expertise and professionalism. In this case, I needed to show Tony that he could have faith in the team that had just arrived, that these strangers shared his goal of providing his dogs the best possible future. Though Tony himself and his story are layered and complex, what was clear and simple was that he cared deeply for his dogs, made obvious in the way he knew must be separated from them so both they and he could have the futures they deserved. He recognized that he couldn’t give each of the dogs the attention and care they needed and that they deserved to have a family. He loved them enough to let them go.

946472_1137319529634701_1277446622978729097_nIt was an emotional conversation, but punctuated with a smile from Tony who said he had painted his face prior to our arrival, telling me “today is a day of celebration, so I put my tribal paint on”. I had assured him we wanted to respect his privacy, but he said we could share his story and images of him. I think he was so elated for what lay ahead for both him and his dogs that he wanted to tell the world, and towards the end of our talk, before I knew it, he snatched me up into a tight bear hug. He said, “My tears are happy tears” and “my greatest wish is coming true”.  It was at that moment, I knew we had gained his trust.

As I signaled to the team to join us, Tony belted out a howl and his dogs came out of the woods from all directions, surrounding him with a visible loyalty. The dogs of various sizes and breeds had been living exposed to the elements and running loose in a pack. Some had serious injuries, including fractures – one dog’s break had healed so badly that her leg had to be amputated. Many had eye and ear infections, some had broken teeth and lacerations, none had been vaccinated, three had heartworm disease, and all had fleas and ticks. ARC’s volunteer veterinarians were on scene, placing hands on every dog, making sure they were well enough to travel. We were relieved that the dogs, while shy, were relatively well-socialized for only knowing one person, and that we didn’t encounter any emergency medical needs.

While loading the dogs into crates, Tony said to one of our team members, “You must be very proud to wear those wings,” referring to ARC’s logo. With all the dogs loaded on our transport vehicle and otherwise ready to leave, we had one final task. I called Tony over and presented him with an ARC hoodie.

Watch this video to see Tony’s emotional response to receiving his own set of wings.

I told Tony that we would follow up with him to share pictures and updates of the dogs once they were settled with their new adoptive families. Once again, happy tears streamed down his painted face, he shook my hand, and, at the same time, we said to each other “Thank you.” Surrounded by the ARC team, who were all in tears too, Tony dropped to one knee and said a prayer for our team’s safety. Then, before we could wipe our eyes, he eagerly leaped into his friend and caregiver’s car that would deliver him to a warm shower and a hot meal, content in the knowledge that the dogs would be receiving the same TLC.

12509584_1137319352968052_7009791451664483124_nThe ARC team was happy to be part of this solution that was long sought after by this man and his caregivers. I really can’t share more than that – it’s obvious that this man has lived a very private life and we want will be respectful to that. Tony’s focus now is his health – we’ve been told that he is living with one of his caregivers – and his story is now his own.

The dogs’ stories are still unfolding. After joining the more than 100 other animals rescued during Operation Resolution at ARC’s emergency shelter, where they received individualized attention and care, they were transported to our rescue and shelter partners. I am happy to share that some have already been adopted and, though not all are available for adoption yet, each of these dogs has a future with a loving family who will cherish them as the individuals they are.

If you are interested in applying to adopt one of these dogs, each as unique and resilient as their previous guardian Tony, please contact the following ARC placement partners:

Alive Rescue (Chicago, IL)

Animal Welfare Association (Voorhees Township, NJ)

Compassion in Action TN (Middle Tennessee)

Goofy Foot Dog Rescue (West Tennessee)

Hinsdale Humane Society (Hinsdale, IL)

Homeward Trails Animal Rescue (Fairfax Station, VA)

Kentucky Humane Society (Louisville, KY)

One Tail at a Time (Chicago, IL)

Second City Canine Rescue (Chicago, IL)

South Suburban Humane Society (Chicago Heights, IL)

Woof River Animal Rescue (Memphis, TN)

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28 responses to “A Lasting Solution at Long Last: My Experience with Tony and His 31 Dogs”

  1. I have followed this story from the beginning. What a wonderful tribute to Tony and what great work ARC does. I have volunteered with them a couple times. I wish I lived closer to Lebanon so I could volunteer more often. They do amazing work!

    • marge says:

      There has not been a day that has gone by that I haven’t thought of this man. That picture will stay with me forever. I hope and pray that he will have a long and happy life, and his dogs wherever they are will have the same. If there is any way for someone to let us know how he is doing I know I would appreciate it. God bless him. He earned his wings. God bless you and your group too.

  2. Alissa says:

    I adopted one of the dogs and I want to share updates/pictures. How can I do that?

  3. Awesome! Thanks for your work!

  4. Sandy Pizzi says:

    A great tribute to a wonderful man who just loved dogs.

  5. Natalie Hanson says:

    What a wonderful story for all involved! God bless Tony, the dogs and, or course, ARC, who does such wonderful and compassionate work. You truly are all angels!

    May God keep you all in His care as you continue to do the work that you do.

  6. Olya says:

    As a monthly donor to both ARC and One Tail at a Time (Chicago), this moved me to tears. Thank you thank you thank you for all that you do, and for the dignity and compassion with which you treated Tony.

  7. LadyMephisto says:

    Thank you ARC! You are one of the hardest working rescue organizations in the country. I’m unable to donate anything right now, but have donated to you in the past. I can promise that when my financial situation improves in late spring, you can count on me for some donations. All of you at ARC do such worthwhile work, I’m looking forward to helping out.

  8. Stryknyn says:

    Does anyone know what became of the man, I know him and if I were to drive to TN I’d like to know where to find him

  9. Stryknyn says:

    Does anyone know what became of the man, I know him and if I were to drive to TN I’d like to know where to find him. I know for a fact he would want to see me.

    • Melissa Bellew says:

      They dont seem to care about the homeless man, I and several others have asked for his name, all seems to be for publicity and donations!

      • Tim Woodward says:

        We are not giving anyone’s Tony’s name or contact information for what should be obvious reasons. Tony is a private man who has lived in the woods alone for many years, he is now adjusting to a new and quiet environment to focus on his health. We will continue to protect Tony’s privacy. As to your rude comments and insinuations about ARC’s motivation, we could not do the work we do without publicity and donations – and Tony, his friends and family are grateful to ARC for our help.

        • Deborah Comeaux says:

          Thank you for all that you do. And, thank you for clearing up that inappropriate comment. I’m sure wherever he is, he’s content knowing you guys took care of his dogs. May God bless.

  10. Debbie says:

    What a beautiful story and beautiful way to help Tony and his dogs. The respect shown to all was so refreshing. Thank you for doing the kind and gentle thing for Tony and his pups.

  11. val says:

    From the look of many of those dogs, they are discarded hunting dogs.This is a huge problem in many southern states. A lasting solution would be if law enforcement could crack down on this practice (and increased spay & neuter programs). Happy to see these dogs were lucky enough to end up safe.

  12. TAMARA BRAGG says:

    Thank You for helping all those dogs in need.💜🐩
    DogsAdvocate@gmail.com

  13. carol says:

    I enjoyed seeing the story of Tony.so glad you were able to get his beloved dogs and him the help they needed. He is a beautiful soul.glad he is somewhere warm society forgets about the elderly and the homeless just like all the stray animals.it’s not always about $,everyone has a little extra time, blankets,petfood, etc where there there is a will there is a way.

  14. ACE says:

    Was he allowed to keep a dog or two at his new home?

  15. Jenny says:

    My girl Cayenne came from Tony in 2007. She was part of a litter of 7 red and gold pups who were very ill. Tony got help for them from Deborah Foster of the Henderson County Humane Society. They wouldn’t have survived coccidia without this help. Her whole name is Natchez Trace Cayenne. I think her litter is part Carolina Dog and part Australian Cattle Dog. Cay looks like a Carolina Dog, and her littermate looks like a purebred Australian Cattle Dog. I was so grateful to see this story about Tony and his dogs. It felt like meeting Cay’s birth family! When you have a rescue dog, you often wonder about where s/he came from. I had heard a bit about Tony and his dogs, but seeing him with those (mostly red and gold) dogs brought a tear to my eye. I’m grateful that Tony and his dogs will get the help they need, although I’m sure they will miss each other. I hope to see updates in the future and to find a way to let Tony know what happened to Cay and her littermates. I know he loved them as much as I do. Thank you for all that you do to help animals and people. Here’s more about Cay: http://www.8statekate.net/wordpress/?p=2375

  16. Sonya Rutherford says:

    Dear sir,
    I live in Memphis and two years ago I rescued a bog that was found in the middle of Tennessee nature’s state park!!!!
    She’s a GREAT DOG !!!!!!
    BUT she gave birth to 6 healthy puppies! !!!!
    I never knew her story till how I think she came from the same pack she was starving to death ….
    I think she left the pack to have her puppies?
    But I’m a BIG DOG LOVER AND SHE ACTS LIKE SHE CAME UP IN A PACK ? VERY WELL TRAINED ….
    Her name is GRACEY and we found GREAT homes for her puppies! !!
    This has been so crazy for two years now and I would love to know if she was one of TONYS pack ????
    lol hope Tony is healthy and happy? ???
    SO IF YOU HAVE TIME TO HELP ME OUT I WOULD BE SO GREAT FULL! !!!
    THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO !!!! SONYA RUTHERFORD
    P.S. OUR VET THOUGHT WE WERE CRAZY WITH 10 DOGS TOTAL !!!!

  17. Deb C says:

    We just adopted “Dudley”, one of the dogs from Tony’s pack. He’s now part of our family in NJ that includes 3 senior doggie siblings and he’s fitting in beautifully. The whole lot is sleeping peacefully on the couch together as I write this. Many thanks to ARC for rescuing these dogs, and to Tony for the love and care he gave to them. We will cherish Dudley for the rest of his days.

  18. MistyDawn says:

    I’m glad Tony and the dogs got the help they needed. God bless all the compassionate volunteers and workers who helped Tony and his little family.

  19. Lora Taylor says:

    ARC, thank you for earning Tony’s trust which ultimately earned the pack’s trust (reference to the socializing point)! I am so happy to know that there are honest and trustworthy people and organizations in this world with a caring heart!

    God bless Tony, his pack, the pack’s new owners, and especially the ARC staff/organization!

    Love is powerful!

  20. […] 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 […]

  21. Rhonda says:

    Would love to know how the man is doing. What love.

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