Photos: Strange Phenomenon Left Dog Stuck in Tree for Almost 60 Years Without Rotting

When loggers for The Georgia Kraft Corp. cut off the top of a chestnut oak tree to load it into a transport truck, they saw a brown and white hunting dog peering out at them from the hollow space in the log. But the loggers were about two decades too late to save the canine from his woody fate. All that was left was a dried, mummified hound, petrified in an eternal struggle to escape.

The year was approximately 1960 when the dog ran into a hole at the bottom of a tree and shimmied 28 feet up. “He’s a hunting dog, so we assumed that he was chasing something in the tree,” Bertha Sue Dixon, who runs a museum called Southern Forest World, told Newsweek. (Southern Forest World is where the dog now resides.)

Stuckie_Dog_Stuck_in_Tree Stuckie the dog is eternally grasping for freedom that will never come. Scott Beahan, Shutterly Perfect Portraiture

But as the tree narrowed, the dog became stuck. He never caught his prey and no one pulled him out. Unable to escape, he remained in the accidental trap and perished.

Twenty years later, loggers found the immobile canine. Instead of pulping the log, they donated it whole to Southern Forest World. “Stuckie,” as the dog would later be named, has been the star attraction ever since. Even today, viewers can see the hound through glass into the tree where he is still reaching out for freedom that will never come.

But how did this dog’s body stay preserved for so long when there was no Egyptian mummifying technique to preserve him? The properties of his wooden tomb did the work.

Kristina Killgrove, a biological anthropologist at the University of West Florida, studies decay in humans and explained how the tree itself dry-preserved the dog.

Chestnut Oak The roots of a chestnut oak. Nicholas A. Tonelli

Normally when a person or an animal dies, the microbes in the body are left unchecked by biological processes that keep them under control in living creatures. Without the usual guardians in place, they begin to eat the body, and then the microorganisms in the gut start the process of putrefaction. “They grow, they reproduce, and they start taking over the body,” Killgrove told Newsweek. “That’s the disgusting part.” The body bloats and decays, and bacteria, fungi, insects and other animals come to eat the remains.

But this isn’t what happened with Stuckie in that chestnut oak that would become his coffin. Chestnut oaks contain tannin, which is used to tan animal pelts and prevent decay. Tannin is a natural “desiccant,” or material that absorbs moisture and dries out its surroundings.  

The low-moisture environment stopped the microbial activity, Killgrove explained. And no microbial activity means no decay.

MummifiedBull Parts of this bull were naturally mummified on a dry ranch in California. Some parts, like the brain and internal organs, decayed. Kristin Hugo / Strange Biology

The position and shape of a tree, with air blowing upward, also helped keep Stuckie as he was, Dixon said. “It had like a chimney effect,” Dixon explained. Air going up and out the tree would have made it hard for animals to get a whiff. “So anything that would eat dead flesh would never know he was in the tree,” Dixon said. 

Other animals, like a little creature that some people mistook for a dinosaur (but is actually a modern carnivore, most likely a yellow-throated marten), have also become preserved accidentally through natural desiccants, like dry sand, peat, salt, or hay. In 17th- and 18th-century England, for example, some builders would put a cat in the walls of a house to ward off witches, and the plaster wall would preserve the animal so it wouldn’t smell.

We all have to go sometime, but if properly preserved, the bodies that we leave behind can remain in place indefinitely. Whatever Stuckie was chasing when he ran up that tree is likely long gone. But Stuckie remains, looking with eyeless sockets out slates of glass at the living world he left behind.

Stuckie_The_Dog Stuckie is a main attraction at Southern Forest World. Scott Beahan Shutterly Perfect Portraiture