Words by Thomas Ingle | Images by Justin Hunter
Competition courses through the veins of Mike Perry, active in athletics from grade school through his career at Eastern Nazarene College. After concluding his educational journey, a void emerged within him that needed to be filled. It was the realm of retriever dog competitions that ultimately became the solution.
After college, Mike began working in the poultry industry, holding roles in North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and Georgia. He was eventually named the Sales Director of Wayne Farms, the fourth-largest poultry company in the country.
“Wayne Farms has processing plants in Alabama, one in Union Springs, another in Enterprise, and one in Decatur. I was responsible for the sales of the poultry raised down there and five other processing plants across the country,” he says.
While Mike was with Wayne Farms in Atlanta, he met the founders of the fast-food chain Zaxby’s. Fueled by his entrepreneurial spirit, Mike explored the prospect of establishing a Zaxby’s franchise in 1999. In May 2002, he opened a Zaxby’s restaurant in Jasper, Alabama.
Mike explained one of the motives behind opening the restaurant in Jasper, stating, “I’m an outdoorsy type of guy, and in Atlanta, it was several hours in any direction to anywhere you could hunt waterfowl, but when we moved here, we’re now just two and a half hours from the Mississippi Delta, which is some of the very best duck hunting in the country.”
Several months after relocating to Jasper, Mike’s need for a hunting companion led him to purchase a Yellow Labrador Retriever named Rebel. Around a year later, Rebel’s aptitude led Mike to enter her into a hunt test.
“It is a pretend hunt basically, the owner or handler and the dog get into position then out in the fields and ponds there are people that throw the ducks out there for the dogs to retrieve them and bring them back to the owner or handler,” Mike explains. “Rebel was successful in her first four hunt tests, which began her competitive career. She earned the title of Hunter Retriever Champion and Master Hunter by the time she was only three years old.”
That fall, while at a duck hunting club on the Mississippi Delta, Mike and Rebel caught the eyes of onlookers. This sparked a series of events that entered Mike into the realm of dog training.
His reputation as a skilled trainer even attracted the attention of the Department of Defense, leading him to train dogs for explosive detection tasks in the Middle East. The journey of training dogs subsequently evolved into guiding hunts across Canada. Mike led the hunts from late August to just before Thanksgiving every year for 12 years.
Mike has trained dozens of Champion and Master hunter-retriever dogs for hunters and waterfowl guide operations across the United States and Canada.
Still today, Mike trains retrievers, with his headquarters in Townley, Alabama.
Topping the list of Mike’s retrievers is his current canine companion, Tiger. Tiger holds the distinction of being the sole Grand Hunting Retriever Champion in central northwest Alabama.
“He’s the smartest, highly driven, and a team player. He has excellent eyesight and exceptional memory,” Mike says.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) conducts hunting tests divided into Junior, Senior, and Master levels. Impressively, Tiger achieved the Master level before even reaching the age of three. Tiger also secured a place in the Master National Hall of Fame, one of the highest achievements available to retriever dogs in the AKC.
Tiger also competes in the Super Retriever Series, which pits the best retrievers in the country against each other. He has qualified for the Crown Championship for the past two years.
Yet, Mike and Tiger’s journey is far from over.
Having turned seven in June, Tiger is expected to have a few more competitive years before his retirement becomes a consideration. Amidst his dog training and competition pursuits, Mike and his wife Marlene are active in Northside Baptist Church in Jasper, Alabama, where he holds Pastor David Byrd in high regard, describing him as “an outstanding preacher, pastor, and friend.”
For Mike Perry, the world of dog competitions has not only filled the void left by athletic competition but has changed his life, making him a renowned dog trainer and devoted companion to his canine companions. WL