Tails of survival

Teens follow message in the woods to rescue lost dog

July 26, 2013 at 6:13 PM ET

Courtesy of Tom Croskey
Courtesy of Tom Croskey
The five teenagers pose with the dog they rescued, Tomah (from left to right): Nate Janssen, Riley Nelson, Jonathan Croskey, Scott Kvidera and Casey Halbmaier.

Five teenagers were enjoying the tail end of their first adult-free canoe trip on Sunday when they found a startling note inscribed on a rock near the shore of a small island in Cook County, Minn. “Lost dog. Call DNR. Red Sheltie,” the charcoal-written plea read.

At first the friends, all current or former cross-country captains at Minnetonka High School, assumed the dog was long gone or had already been found. But the next morning, as they checked out Brule Lake island, they found themselves on an animal rescue mission.

“We were exploring the island and saw the dog, but of course it ran away,” Jonathan Croskey, 17, told TODAY.com. “We looked for about a half-hour.”

They returned to their campsite, but decided not to give up on trying to find the dog. The Shetland sheepdog returned to their area two more times that afternoon, and each time the runners darted after her, only to be thwarted by her skillful navigation through the dense forest. Their search continued for a few hours that night without success, though they were woken up several times by the dog’s bark in the background.

“But when we came out of our tents, it kept running away,” Croskey said. “We just couldn’t get to it.”

By the next morning, the dog’s skittish demeanor had changed. They found her lying still on the edge of their camp, where they quickly tied a makeshift harness around her body so she couldn't wander away again.

Courtesy of Tom Croskey
Courtesy of Tom Croskey
The original notice.

“It wasn't running or anything, so we slowly moved in to get a hold of it,” Croskey said of the dog. “We canoed back to meet my dad, and she was calm, but she seemed pretty scared at the same time.”

Croskey’s father, Tom, met the boys at their designated pickup point, and was surprised to find the group had gained a sixth member. “We were just pleased as can be,” Tom said. “This was the first time they were out on their own.”

Meanwhile, 18-year-old Ashley Ross was mourning the loss of her 6-year-old pup, Tomah, who ran off around dinnertime on July 20, during a family camping trip to the Brule Lake island. The family had searched the island unsuccessfully for two days, and notified the Forest Service of their missing Sheltie on their way home.

“We figured she’d find her way back on that cold Saturday night, but when she didn’t, everyone got a little more worried,” Ross told TODAY.com. “When we had to leave the island, we weren't sure what was going to happen.”

Ashley Ross's father, Mike, had brought home the dog in 2007 when his stateside deployment in Wisconsin was over. She named the dog Tomah for the city her dad was stationed in during his military service.

It was her father who got the call from the Forest Service on Tuesday afternoon, and went to pick up Tomah, though he didn't immediately tell his daughter about the rescue. Instead, he stopped by the Lutsen Mountains, where she was working, and gave her quite the surprise.

Courtesy of Jonny Croskey
Courtesy of Jonny Croskey
Forest Service officials helped Tomah find his way back to Ashley Ross by alerting her father, Mike. Tomah also wandered away when she was just a puppy.

“At first I was sad because when my dad shows up to work or school, it’s usually bad news. I figured they were going to say they didn’t find her or she wasn’t alive,” Ross said. “I was already crying by that point.”

But her tears of sadness turned into joy when her father stepped aside, revealing her lost friend.

“It was so exciting,” Ashley said. “I was most definitely surprised and very grateful.”

They took the very tired Tomah home, where the dog got some much-needed rest and returned to her normal self within a couple of days.

“Our family is very thankful,” Ross said. “We’re very lucky to have had people find her.”

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