Faces of Colby: Tony Tuell, dog owner and engineer

Tony Tuell, Supervisor of Mechanical and Electrical Services is not only an accomplished engineer and outdoorsman, but also the owner of Colby’s famous self-walking dogs.

Tuell came to Colby in February 2006 after working in a paper mill, citing the job’s stability and his friendship with a former director of facilities as the main reasons for his interest. “It’s a lot less money, but the stability was what attracted me to Colby… The stability of working for a college is really what brought me here and kept me here” said Tuell. After graduating from the Maine Maritime Academy in 1985 with a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Engineering, Tuell went to work in North Carolina preparing drives that ran the machinery in manufacturing plants. After five years of this, he returned to Maine to work in the paper mill industry. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a mill, but it’s hot, it’s dirty, it smells bad, and it’s a lot of pressure. I worked a lot of hours. This is a much kinder, gentler place to work,” said Tuell. After being the foreman on two paper machines for five years, Tuell decided to make the switch to Colby. 

Since his arrival, Tuell said that working at Colby has had benefits outside of the job itself. “It’s a great place to work. It’s Central Maine, it’s close to everything that I do— I go to the mountains to ski, I go to the ocean, my family is from the Bangor area and that’s an hour away.” As a hockey player, Tuell has been taking advantage of Colby’s ice rink by skating during his free time with other Colby staff. He said he also enjoys traveling, and has made many trips to go scuba diving, including going to Cozumel.

On campus, Tuell runs the electrical, plumbing, and HVAC crews, which include five electricians, five HVAC technicians, and two plumbers. “Basically we keep the place comfortable. We keep the lights on, we keep the temperatures in the buildings all correct, we keep the plumbing all flowing in the right direction,” stated Tuell. Additionally, Tuell manages projects like upgrading the lighting in classrooms or preparing piping systems.

Tuell is also known on campus for his popular dogs, often seen walking themselves around campus. The oldest is Stanley, who was born on commencement day in 2006. “I kept him from the litter when I bred [his mother], and that was back in 2006 so he’s ten,” said Tuell. The second-oldest is Buttercup, who Tuell adopted after his veterinarian approached him. Buttercup has a medical condition that causes her to leak urine. “They needed someone to adopt her in order to correct that problem, or else they would put her down. So I reluctantly said okay. That was my first foray into having three dogs. I had always had two, and I figured, what’s one more, really?” Since her adoption, Buttercup’s problem has not been resolved, but Tuell said they find ways to work around it. “She still leaks urine everywhere. That’s another reason she stays out a lot. She sleeps on a bed of pine shavings, and she’s fine otherwise. She’s a great dog.”

This year, Tuell’s group gained an additional black lab puppy named Vesna. Tuell said he found her through a breeder in Farmington. “She’s fantastic, she just does everything the other two do, only smaller. She keeps up, they all get along really well, they take turns playing with her.” Tuell also said that she is very calm for a puppy. He attributes this to the guidance of the two other dogs, who he said are very calm and are not easily distracted. “That’s how she’s going to be raised, and she’ll pass that on to her siblings, and our next dog.”

Vesna is sixth in the line of self-walking dogs Tuell has raised. “It started in 1987, I went on the road as a field engineer and I got a golden retriever who would go everywhere with me,” he said. Because he didn’t know when he would be back home during the day, the golden retriever would stay outside his workplace every day and Tuell would regularly go out to feed and water him. “He always knew I was coming back, no matter how long he had to wait,” stated Tuell. When his wife and her son wanted another puppy, they got a black lab. “When he was too small to not behave himself I just clipped the two dogs together and the golden retriever trained the black lab, and they just got used to waiting for us. I could take them anywhere,” said Tuell—and the tradition of the self-walking dogs began.

Tuell said that the first pair of dogs would go everywhere with him. “I could park them outside on the sidewalk, and they would sit, they wouldn’t bother anybody, and people loved to come pet them and talk to them,” he said. A couple years after the golden retriever died, Tuell said he got the third dog to continue the tradition.

As his dogs in the past have lived to be about twelve, Tuell says he has a plan to add a new puppy to the group every five years. “By the time Vesna’s old enough to have a litter of her own, Stanley will have passed, and we would consider going again,” said Tuell. 

The dogs themselves can be seen around campus, waiting for Tuell at campus buildings or sitting in the open back of his car at the Athletic Center. Tuell said he knows how hard it can be for students to be away from their animals, and likes that the presence of his dogs can be comforting to students. “I know the kids get a kick out of it because they miss their own animals. It’s nice to be able to hug a dog or a puppy and know that while life can be stressful, it can be normal. It can be okay to be away from your pets. It’s a small service they can provide, and everybody seems to appreciate them.” The trio can also be seen at some campus events, like in the stress-relieving dog-petting areas provided during some Loudness weekends. Overall, the dogs are extraordinarily well trained and very friendly. “They’re great dogs, they love to come and see the people, see the kids, and just hang out,” said Tuell.

Tuell also has good advice for Colby students. “If I could just impart one small thing that I learned when I was your age and coming up through Maine Maritime it’s take responsibility for your actions. Look around and don’t be afraid to say things that people don’t want to hear. If someone’s doing something they shouldn’t be doing, it’s okay to call them out in a way that’s safe. In Facilities we clean up a lot of messes, we clean up a lot of dorm damage, but it really is going to take a culture shift for the kids to start policing themselves.” He said students should enjoy college, but not lose sight of the reasons they came in the first place. His last piece of advice he originally told to his son and stepson, and it’s a life lesson he says they have never forgotten— never break more than one law at the same time. Overall, Tuell said that college is one of the most unique experiences a person can have, and it’s the duty of the students to make sure they and their peers have safe, fun college experiences. “Look out for one another. It goes by fast. It’ll be gone in the blink of an eye. Enjoy your time here. It’s the greatest thing in the world to spend four years on a college campus,” concluded Tuell. 

Tony Tuell is a dedicated member of the Colby community and says he really enjoys being on campus. In addition to giving poignant advice and cheerful conversation, Tuell works to keep the campus buildings comfortable and functional, and the presence of his dogs can always add a ray of sunshine to any stressful midterm week.