Follow the Howls

Clint Pace and his Mountain Melrose award-winning hounds will show their stuff at Coon Dog Day in Saluda. Photo by Rimas Zailskas.

Clint Pace and his Mountain Melrose award-winning hounds will show their stuff at Coon Dog Day in Saluda. Photo by Rimas Zailskas.

We love towns with quirky animal festivals. Nothing says “regionalism isn’t dead” quite like a Rattlesnake Roundup (Sweetwater, Texas) or a Fur Rendezvous for sled dogs (Anchorage, Alaska).

Bar Harbor, Maine, has an annual event for puffin-spotters. Douglas, Wyoming holds a “jackalope freedom fest” in honor of an animal that is decidedly endangered (at least outside the confines of prairie lore). And our own Brevard, NC, celebrates its resident unusual rodents each spring with the White Squirrel Festival.

Paws forward to Saluda’s Coon Dog Day, held in the heart of this picturesque foothills town for the past 52 years. It’s an event that’s almost outlived the rural culture it celebrates.

 “It’s a different type of hunting,” explains Clint Pace of Polk County, who owns nine coondogs, mostly Plotts, a breed native to the state. “Raccoon hides are worth next to nothing, and no one eats coon anymore, so it’s mostly about the dogs,” Pace explains to reporter Monica Jones in this month’s Bold Life cover story. “It’s amazing to listen to a dog strike and run a track, then to tree the game. Their ability to do this in rain, snow, wind, and in all types of terrain is unbelievable.”

Coon hunting (the raccoons are typically released) and coon-dog showing may be underdog sports in terms of popularity, but where it’s still practiced, its adherents are zealous. Great pride is taken in how a dog acts both in the woods and “on the bench,” where they’re judged for pointing and for the traits of their respective breed (Redbones, Black-and-Tans, and Treeing Walkers are other well-known types).

Anyone who grew up loving Where the Red Fern Grows or Sounder – mid-twentieth-century young-adult novels that still appear on school reading lists – can appreciate the longevity of the coondog, whether at work or play.

 Coon Dog Day happens July 11 in downtown Saluda, 8am-11pm with a parade, live music, kids’ attractions, a bench show, and food. For coondog owners and their animals, there’s a nighttime hunt. 828-749-2581. Visit saluda.com for details.

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