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.


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.

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 “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.

“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.”


The original notice.

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 “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.

“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.”


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.

8 Responses to “Teens follow message in the woods to rescue lost dog”

  1. Sandra

    What a wonderful ending to what could have been not so good an ending. Tomah is a beauty and I know you are so very happy to have him back. My niece had a Sheltie that was my “grand-dog” named Bandit who took off from their house just a few months after she got him from me. Her husband and I spent a night in the woods by their house searching and searching for the little fella with no luck – but the next day there he was close to the end of their drive under a trailer. They get frightened by the least little thing at times, but thanks be to GOD ours and yours were found.
    Be blessed and enjoy that baby!

  2. sharon

    Heartwarming, right down to my toes. Those kids are great. Thank goodness they were so persistent. Tomah and Ashley must be so grateful. There are some wonderful people in this world!

  3. Bobbie

    Wow, what a great story! Those kids make me very hopeful for the future. Now, Tomah, you need to stick close to home!

  4. Gloria

    Words can not express the joy I felt reading that some one cared enough to keep trying to find this beautiful frightened sheltie. ALL sheltie lovers could just feel the pain if our pups went missing. Our heart and soul would be devastated thinking about what might be happening to them.
    BLESS YOU ALL that helped in the rescue of little Tomah! My tears of sorrow and then of joy are still flowing as I write this note. We can only hope everyone could be so fortunate to have angels like Nate Janssen, Riley Nelson, Jonathan Croskey, Scott Kvidera and Casey Halbmaier. You are all owed a debt of gratitude and heart felt thanks for going above and beyond to help an animal in need!
    I am sure that little Tomah, as scared as she was, could sense these wonderful people could help her get back into the loving arms of Ashley and her father.
    A HUGE THANKS to YOU from all of us at Sheltie Nation. It is wonderful to read a story with such a happy ending!!!

  5. jo

    It’s so nice to read about a lost Sheltie being found & returned to her family! Kudos to the young men camping who did a great job getting Tomah out of the woods & back in her owners arms.

  6. Kimberly Agzigian

    I saw everyone involved being interviewed on the news. For the young men to go out of their way to look for Tomah speaks to their outstanding character. So happy for Tomah and her family; may they have many happy years together!

  7. Sullivan

    WAHOO! Good for Tomah, who we know was SO-O-O happy to be back with Ashley, you can tell from the look on her face she is quiet frightened and confused. Way to go everyone and especially congratulations to those 5 teenagers who went above and beyond what was expected, in order to help get this sweet little soul back to her home and family. Happy endings are W-O-N-D-E-R-F-U-L!!

  8. Tabitha

    I read this once before and cried my eye’s out. After reading it a second time I cried even more! Still crying. Sad story with a wonderful ending! I’m so happy Ashley and Tomah are together again, thank goodness for those boys!


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