Way Down Upon the Choctawhatchee

The Choctawhatchee River is 141 miles of magic. You might think that sounds whacko, and you’re probably right. But I am just naïve enough to believe in magic.

The Choctawhatchee’s headwaters start as two separate forks, located in Barbour and Henry County, Alabama. The river then flows southward, snaking its way through Geneva County, lulling itself past the Florida line, finally emptying into the Choctawhatchee Bay of my youth.

The water undergoes many changes on its journey to the Sunshine State. Even the color of the river changes slightly as it slices through mud, clay and silt.

In some places the water is olive green. In other places the water can look more reddish, like iced tea. By the time the water spills into the 129 square miles of brackish bay, the water is almost silvery blue.

When I was a young sap, old men used to say the Choctawhatchee River was different from other tributaries. Not only is the water staggeringly clean, the river also contains some of the oldest fish known to man. Among these species is the Gulf sturgeon, a frightening armored fish that traces its origins back to the Triassic Period, shortly after the birth of Willie Nelson.

These are wicked fish, known to jump right out of the water and assault fishermen. I know of a man who was knocked out of his boat and injured by a whopping sturgeon while he was eating a liver wurst sandwich.

So there is a special element that is unnamable about the Choctawhatchee. Using a fishing rod, I have spent entire summers trying to figure out what this unnamable charm is, but I have no answer except to say that, yes, it’s magic.

Which brings me to a recent example of this particular magic. A few days ago, near Hartford, Alabama (pop. 2,624), something happened.

A kayaker was paddling along the river and saw something stuck in the muddy banks. Something furry. Something with reflective eyes. It was a dog, an Australian-shepherd mix, stuck in thigh-deep mud. The dog wasn’t moving but was alive.

When the kayaker got closer, it became clear that the animal was hopelessly trapped in the mire, up to its chest, unable to do much more than make eye contact. Too tired to yelp. Too cold to whimper.

Enter Tiffany Howington, director of Troy Animal Rescue Project. Tiffany scrambled to help the dog once she heard about it. Calls were made. Texts were sent. A plan came together.

It was a crummy evening with overcast weather. A heavy fog hung over the river like a wet dishrag. Eric Alphord showed up at the boat ramp with his John boat in a frenzy. He launched with Tiffany and Aimee Cobb Smith aboard.

For two miles, they navigated the impenetrable murk and low waters. They looked everywhere, combing each bank, searching each landing, calling for the animal. But things were looking bleak. Because even if they did find the animal, it had been 16 hours since the dog was spotted. There was no way any creature could survive such perdition.

And then they found him.

“He was pretty non-responsive,” Tiffany said.

Which was putting it mildly. The dog was practically gone. They gently loaded the canine into the boat, then sped back to the boat ramp, kicking up a rooster-tail wake behind them. They transferred the dog to a vehicle and rushed the animal to the nearest emergency veterinary hospital.

“As soon as we pulled into the vet,” said Tiffany, “I went in to check him in, and his eyes were rolling back in the back of his head.”

The dog was suffering from parvovirus and severe hypothermia. His oxygen levels had sunk to 50 percent, his glucose readings were almost nonexistent. It’s a wonder the animal’s heart was still pumping.

But you see, that’s the thing. His heart WAS beating. And that’s what is downright unexplainable. It’s unimaginable.

“…He’s a very sick dog,” says Tiffany, “but it’s not getting worse. He’s teetering towards getting better.

“We’re just waiting to see what happens…”

Well, what happens next is that the dog will remain in Montgomery on 24-hour care until he is stable enough to be fostered. Things aren’t great right now, health-wise, in fact they are pretty dire. His medical bills are piling up, he’s on a feeding tube, and worse, nobody has stepped forward to adopt the animal yet. But don’t worry, he will be adopted. Soon. Maybe even by you.

And I believe with all my heart that he will be adopted, not only because I am an arduous dog lover.

But because as I say. Magic.


  1. Carole - May 8, 2022 6:51 am

    Please let us know what happens.

  2. Buck B - May 8, 2022 6:53 am

    Barbour County

  3. RJ Iacino - May 8, 2022 7:11 am

    Please let us know if there is somewhere to donate to help with medical bills.

  4. connie - May 8, 2022 10:12 am

    😥I sure hope so! 🤞🏻🤞🏻🤞🏻

  5. Diana Drain - May 8, 2022 10:38 am

    I believe in magic and miracles. Keep us updated

  6. Debbie - May 8, 2022 11:17 am

    Please post a way to donate.

  7. D. Green - May 8, 2022 11:32 am

    I would take him if I didn’t have a house full already! Please keep us posted on him.

  8. Paula Butler - May 8, 2022 11:40 am

    This is the page for the Troy Animal Rescue Project.
    They’re asking for donations to help River.


  9. Greyn - May 8, 2022 11:53 am

    Sean, do you really find loving dogs to be arduous? Even so, you are among the best of people. And writers.

  10. Jan - May 8, 2022 12:06 pm

    Please keep us posted. Praying.

  11. Brian Pumphrey - May 8, 2022 12:18 pm

    Sean: Ditto above. I looked up the TARP and they suggest donating to the vet for specific animal care. If you could respond with the name of the vet hospital this rescued angel is at, it will make it much easier to help with the medical bills. Thanks. BrianinTN

  12. Jeannie Pullis - May 8, 2022 12:23 pm

    I too would like to help with medical bills

  13. Tim - May 8, 2022 1:29 pm

    I’ll adopt and cover vet bills. Tell me how. My Aussie, Trump, would love a brother or sister

  14. Tim Gilbert - May 8, 2022 1:40 pm

    This dog has a home in Mobile. We lost one of our beloved pets Friday night despite the incredible care he received from our own vet and LSU Vetinary hospital. So, a dog in desperate need is kind of serendipitous. We have an Aussie mix rescue among our pack of three so one more should fit right in. Thanks for sharing the story.

  15. Melanie - May 8, 2022 2:12 pm

    Some online research: https://www.foxweather.com/weather-news/river-dog-alabama-mud-troy-animal-rescue-choctawhatchee

    The vet hospital mentioned in the article “He’s currently receiving treatment at Carriage Hills Animal Hospital in Montgomery.” ❤️Hang in there River❤️

  16. Beverlee King - May 8, 2022 2:31 pm

    I pray someone steps up soon to provide a loving home for this sweet boy.

  17. Courtney R. - May 8, 2022 2:59 pm

    That canine is welcome to live in the Silver State with me—Las Vegas is not the South but we do have southern love and hospitality here—and i did graduate from Choctawhatchee High School many years ago…..

  18. Scott Ferguson - May 8, 2022 3:23 pm

    Please keep us looped in on what happens with the beaufiful fur-baby

  19. Susie Flick - May 8, 2022 3:26 pm

    Praying for this pup and that he finds a nice home. Please keep us all posted on his journey.

  20. Rod Holland - May 8, 2022 3:28 pm

    Same here on vet bills. Possibly interested in adopting it too. I’m already contemplating how I “sell” my wife on it. We had to put our did of 16 years down 20 days ago. This would be a bit soon but I’m moved by the story.

  21. Patricia Gibson - May 8, 2022 3:30 pm

    Praying too🙏🙏Poor fella and bless those rescuers!!!

  22. Alice - May 8, 2022 4:30 pm

    Thank you Sean for telling this poor dog’s story. They’ve named him River for now, and he’s fighting the good fight still. Donations to help with his care can be sent or called in to Carriage Hills Animal Hospital in Montgomery. Any donations made to this vet will help tremendously. https://vcahospitals.com/carriage-hills?utm_source=maps&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=VCA_Carriage_Hills_Animal_Hospital_and_Pet_Resort

  23. Karen - May 8, 2022 5:07 pm

    Praying for his full recovery and giving thanks to all who are fighting for him to survive. There are so many good people.

  24. Cathy Weaver - May 8, 2022 6:19 pm

    Yes! He will be adopted by an angel walking the earth disguised as a human. As a childless couple, I believe God has sent us many kitties ( and a few dogs) to bless and enhance our lives and help them live a better life. We live in an area of Alabama/Georgia border where there are so many rescue networks and kind individuals who ALWAYS rise to the need at any time, day or night. Thank you Troy angels for saving River’s life.

  25. Linda Moon - May 8, 2022 8:13 pm

    I believe in magic. I was with some family who were kayaking in an Alabama river yesterday. It was Magic…and pure joy too!

  26. Debbie g - May 9, 2022 12:53 am

    Love to all the sweet people willing to help Wonderful moms day story love y’all

  27. Frank - May 9, 2022 1:30 pm


  28. Lucy - May 9, 2022 4:21 pm

    A wonderful column, but I don’t think “arduous” is the word you wanted there at the end.

  29. Sue Cronkite - May 9, 2022 9:16 pm

    It’s Barbour County. Great post. You’re right. There’s magic in the Choctawhatchee!❤️

  30. William Lowe - May 10, 2022 2:43 am

    It is a “jon boat.”

  31. Kathy Coxwell - May 10, 2022 2:53 am

    Poor thing! I pray he will survive and be adopted by wonderful people who will love him and care for him.

  32. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - May 11, 2022 2:51 pm

  33. Suzanne - May 15, 2022 12:19 am

    Brilliant. I love dogs. They believe in second chances and keep loving us come what may.

  34. Cheryl Andrews - May 16, 2022 10:44 pm

    How is the dog doing?


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