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 canoe trip for five members of Minnetonka High School cross-country team turned into a doggie rescue mission.
After five days of paddling, the boys took a rest day on Monday, deciding to explore the large island and collect 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, commonly known as a 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 greater ease until the boys gave up for the night and went into their tents to sleep.
“All night, she was barking and howling,” Croskey said.
When they crawled out of their tents Tuesday morning, 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.
“We’d spent so much time trying to catch her, we were paranoid about her running away again,” Croskey said. “So we kept a close eye on her.”
They plopped her in a canoe, paddled back to the pickup point, where his dad was waiting, and took Tomah to the U.S. Forest Service station in Tofte.
Not far away in Lutsen, 18-year-old Ashley Ross was trying to smile as she sold tickets at the mountain’s Alpine slide ride. Her dad, Mike, had given her a puppy six years ago when his Army Reserves deployment ended. He’d been stationed at the base in Tomah, Wis., so she named her puppy Tomah.
“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 last weekend. Ashley joined her parents, boyfriend, aunt, uncle and cousin on a canoe trip, bringing her trusty Tomah along to an island campsite. On Saturday, “she kind of disappeared.”
They searched and scoured, “but there were lots of trees dogs could get through that were harder for people.”
On Sunday morning, Mike Ross said a prayer for the lost dog. They broke camp and left.
“That was the hard part, leaving and not being sure if she was stuck somewhere or couldn’t find her way back,” Ashley said.
On Tuesday, she saw her father had come to 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 and I couldn’t see her at first from where I was standing.”
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 back on their ride home, feeling pretty good about their canoe trip turned rescue mission. Tomah had been on her own for three days.
“Our family cannot thank you fine young men enough from bringing Tomah home to us,” Kelli Ross, Ashley’s mother, wrote on the Star Tribune's DatelineMN blog about the no-longer-lost dog. “We searched the better part of two days looking for her and it put a huge damper on our first canoe-in camping trip.
“When we had to leave, my husband said a prayer and God answered it by sending the five of you. Tomah is home safe with her ‘girl,’ our daughter, Ashley, again. And we are eternally grateful.”
Dog rescuers, from left: Nate Jensen, Riley Nelson, Jonny Croskey, Scott Kvidera and Casey Halbmaier
(photos provided by Tom Croskey)