The five teenage boys were setting up their tents in the Boundary Waters at an island campsite when they noticed a message scrawled in ash on a rock: Lost Dog. Named Tomah. Call DNR. A leash was left nearby.
That’s when the eight-day July canoe trip near the Minnesota-Ontario border for five members of a high school cross-country team turned into a dog-rescue mission.
After five days of paddling last month, the boys had a rest day, exploring the large island and collecting firewood.
“We figured the dog was long gone,” said Jonny Croskey, 17. “If the owners couldn’t find it, we figured we never would.”
Then they caught a glimpse of the Shetland sheepdog, or Sheltie, and forged numerous attempts to capture the fleet-pawed pooch.
“We tried to flush her out two or three times, but of course she’d run away,” Croskey said. “She was really fast and kept juking us and running back into the woods.”
The boys could run all day as cross-country captains, but Tomah could navigate the lower brush with ease until the boys gave up and went into their tents to sleep.
“All night, she was barking and howling,” Croskey said.
They saw Tomah sleeping in a nearby grove of trees, skittish and shaking with fear. They slowly moved in and grabbed her, fashioning a rope harness.
They plopped her in a canoe, paddled back to the pickup point and took Tomah to the U.S. Forest Service station in Tofte, Minn.
Not far away, 18-year-old Ashley Ross was trying to smile as she sold tickets at the Alpine slide ride at a ski resort. Her dad, Mike, had given her a puppy six years ago when his Army Reserve deployment in Tomah, Wis., ended.
“She’s my baby,” said Ashley, a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth. “She was the kind of dog you never had to worry about.”
Until “she kind of disappeared” on July 20 when Ashley, her family and her trusty Tomah took a weekend canoe trip to an island campsite.
They searched and scoured, “but there were lots of trees dogs could get through that were harder for people.”
That Sunday morning, Mike Ross said a prayer for the lost dog. They broke camp and left.
Then on Tuesday, Ashley’s father arrived at her job site at Lutsen.
“He didn’t think a phone call could do it justice,” she said. “For my dad to show up at work, I figured it was bad news.”
But when her father walked around the corner, she caught a glimpse of Tomah and ran for an emotional reunion. By then, the Minnetonka boys were halfway home, feeling pretty good about their rescue mission. Tomah had been on her own for three days.
“When we had to leave, my husband said a prayer, and God answered it by sending the five of you,” said Kelli Ross, Ashley’s mother. “Tomah is home safe with her ‘girl,’ our daughter, Ashley, again. And we are eternally grateful.”