Longville, Minn. – There’s a dog-sized hole in this lake community, but it’s filled with memories of a four-legged friend to all.
Bruno showed up in Longville one day as a stray puppy. By the time his run was over, he could nap beside his own statue.
That is, when he wasn’t napping in the middle of Main Street. Or by the gas pumps at the 1-Stop. Or on the deck at the Docksider Cafe, right by the sign that reads “No Dogs on the Deck.”
“That’s because he wasn’t a dog,” said Beth Holmdahl, who runs the information center for the Chamber of Commerce. “He was a townie.”
Bruno died a year ago in May, hit by a car as he walked along the highway. He was 14. But fans still show up in this town of 156 residents about 180 miles north of the Twin Cities, drawn by the legend of the shaggy red dog that belonged to everyone.
“We still get people coming to see his statue,” said Cynthia Holmer, who owns the Pine Company gift shop. “People leave dog toys and flowers.”
Holmer used to sell pillows with Bruno’s image on them. One day soon after Bruno’s death, “a man was waiting for me in the morning,” she recalled. “I had one pillow left. He said, ‘I have to have that pillow. My wife is in tears.’ ”
Bruno made the trek into town every day, year round, 4 miles from his home along state Hwy. 84. But he rarely had to walk back.
“People would give him a ride home,” said Stephanie Aaserude, who owns the Common Grounds coffee shop. “They’d open the car door and he’d just jump right in.”
Dawn Gilsrud, owner of Frosty’s Ice Cream Parlor, got used to seeing Bruno at her back door.
“We put our empties [ice cream tubs] in the backyard, and we’d find him with the empties on his head, licking them out,” she said.
All of Longville was Bruno’s domain, but he lived with Larry and Debbie LaVallee. Their son, Levi, remembers the day Bruno showed up.
“A gentleman saw Bruno out by the road, by my parents’ driveway,” he said. “This guy brought him to my dad’s shop and said, ‘Your puppy was out by the road.’
“And my dad said, ‘He’s not mine, but I’ll take him.’ ”
It soon became clear that Bruno needed to live in the larger world. The LaVallees tried keeping him tied up, but he’d break free.
“So Bruno started running, and from there he won over the heart of the town,” Levi LaVallee said.
Levi LaVallee is a snowmobile racer who’s won championships at the highest levels of the sport. He used to have a claim as Longville’s most famous resident, but in the end, he couldn’t compete with Bruno.
“We used to say, ‘Our son is a snowmobile racer,’ ” Debbie LaVallee said. “Toward the end, we’d say to Levi, ‘We threw out Bruno’s name first. I think he’s getting a little more popular than you are.’ ”
Bruno’s death, while sad, was perhaps a blessing in some ways, she added. He was going deaf and had arthritis. Sometimes he wasn’t in control of his bowels. The LaVallees had started facing the fact that they might have to put him down some day.
Now, they can always visit the carved wooden statue of Bruno that was dedicated by the town in 2015, with a stone inscribed “Longville’s Town Dog and Ambassador.”
“He was living his best life,” Levi LaVallee said. “It was pretty incredible to have that.”
“It really made everyone look at things,” he added. “Regardless of what was going on, you’d see Bruno and you couldn’t help but smile.
“It was a pretty neat thing for our little town.”